October 18, 2016 - 12:23 PM
NEW YORK - The fallout over Billy Bush's lewd conversation with Donald Trump has left NBC's "Today" show unexpectedly looking for help in its third hour and Bush pondering how to resurrect his career.
Bush had been brought in only two months ago from "Access Hollywood" as "Today" looked for ways to bolster its 9 a.m. hour. The first two hours, hosted by Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, are the show's heart and the wine-drenched fourth hour with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb has developed its own clear identity.
Tamron Hall and Al Roker were Bush's co-hosts; He came in this summer after Willie Geist moved to Sunday "Today" and Natalie Morales moved west.
NBC wasn't talking Tuesday about potential replacements. Harry Connick Jr., the musician who launched his own talk show this fall, filled in Monday and Tuesday. Actors Christian Slater and Eric Dane are booked as guest hosts later this week.
There's no word on whether any of them would be interested in a permanent job, although "Today" made a point Tuesday of giving Hall a trivia quiz on Connick's career — a getting-to-know-you step that seemed odd for a short-timer.
The third hour features lighter fare: interviews with actors Nick Offerman and Ethan Hawke on Tuesday, a segment on the hosts of HGTV's "Fixer Upper" and another offering style advice to married couples.
One of the show's competitors, "Live!" with Kelly Ripa, has been involved in a host search of its own since the departure of Michael Strahan in May.
The audience for the third hour of "Today" is 68 per cent female, no doubt a factor in NBC's decision that Bush had no future there after wide dissemination of the "Access Hollywood" tape where Trump talked about groping women and Bush then asked an actress to give both men a hug.
Bush's exit settlement with NBC did not include a standard "no compete" clause, meaning Bush is free to seek employment elsewhere immediately. Some experts advised against that and suggested the settlement — Bush is widely believed to have received a sum of money from NBC because his contract with "Today" was new — would give him that luxury.
"Time is certainly on his side," said Tom Goodman, owner of the Manhattan public relations firm Goodman Media International. "He's young enough to make a comeback and reverse the current narrative about him, but at the right time."
Bush, who just turned 45, might be wise to start at an off-camera job, perhaps as a producer, he said. The internet could provide future opportunities, Goodman said.
Bush, nephew of former President George H.W. Bush, has a radio background. He hosted a nationally syndicated talk and music show that ended in 2014, an apparent victim of corporate restructuring. He did local radio in New Hampshire and Washington and hosted a short-lived "Let's Make a Deal" remake for NBC in 2003.
His years in Hollywood no doubt gave him a huge contact list, although there's some question about its usefulness. Two publicists took the unusual step last week of publicly criticizing Bush for his treatment of their clients.
Another veteran PR executive, Howard Bragman of Los Angeles' Fifteen Minutes, also said that Bush shouldn't hurry back. He said Bush should first offer an interview with a more contrite apology, perhaps shedding a tear or two.
When the tape became public, Bush apologized in a statement, saying he was ashamed and that it happened when he was younger and less mature.
"With the right apology and enough sincerity, I think people will forgive him," Bragman said.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016