Billy Bush, NBC Reach Settlement Over Donald Trump Tape
The 'Today' show host was caught on a hot mic engaged in a lewd, misogynistic and predatory conversation with Donald Trump during a 2005 'Access Hollywood' segment.
Billy Bush is out at Today after reaching a settlement with NBC.
"Billy Bush will be leaving the Today show's 9 a.m. hour, effective today," reads a memo from Today senior vp Noah Oppenheim sent out to staff on Monday. "While he was a new member of the Today team, he was a valued colleague and longtime member of the broader NBC family. We wish him success as he goes forward."
In a statement, Bush says: "I am deeply grateful for the conversations I've had with my daughters, and for all of the support from family, friends and colleagues. I look forward to what lies ahead."
A source close to the negotiations says NBC did not require a non-compete agreement in Bush's settlement. He is free to take another job immediately.
The Today show host was suspended, pending further review, on Oct. 9, two days after hot-mic audio emerged from a 2005 Access Hollywood taping in which Donald Trump made vulgar comments about women, including then-Access Hollywood co-host Nancy O'Dell. Bush is heard laughing and egging Trump on in the conversation on the Access Hollywood bus.
Bush, 45, and NBC were negotiating the terms of his exit last week, with Bush hiring prominent Los Angeles litigator Marshall Grossman to work out his separation from the network.
Grossman, who represented Erin Andrews in her peephole case and Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood in other matters, defended his client's role in the Trump tape, arguing that the then-Access Hollywood anchor was interviewing a fellow NBCUniversal star in The Apprentice's Trump, so he wasn't exactly in a position to challenge his interview subject.
"If Billy had been passive or responded 'Shut the f— up' to Trump, Billy would have been out of a job the next day," Grossman, a partner at Orrick in Los Angeles, told The Hollywood Reporter.
On Friday, Grossman told THR that he and NBC representatives were close to a deal. "The parties are negotiating a resolution of their differences at their highest level, and I am personally optimistic that the matter will be resolved upon terms satisfactory to both parties," the attorney remarked. Bush is said to make about $3 million a year under his Today deal.
Late Friday, the New York Post reported Bush is "likely" to receive a $10 million settlement, but Grossman told THR that report was false. "There's no $10 million settlement and that number has not even been discussed," Grossman told THR.
Negotiations with Bush were said to have been amicable, but they hit a snag because his team felt NBC News was pinning blame for the Trump incident on Bush.
Bush had been recruited to join the 9 a.m. hour of the Today show earlier this year amid faltering ratings for the third hour of NBC's morning news franchise. He supplanted Willie Geist, who now hosts the Sunday edition of Today and also continues to appear on MSNBC's Morning Joe. Sources at NBC News tell THR that Bush had already alienated many staffers at Today during his brief tenure there, including his co-host Tamron Hall.
The scandal has imperiled Trump's candidacy and sent Republicans of all stripes scurrying to distance themselves from the GOP nominee less than a month before the election. But for Bush, the consequences have been more immediate.
Sources at NBC confirmed to THR that Bush was heard bragging about the tape last summer, right around the time of the Rio Summer Olympics. Page Six first reported that Bush boasted about the tape during a party in Rio, when the former Access Hollywood host was making his debut as the newest member of the Today show team. NBC News sources maintain that the first time news management learned of the tape was the week it would become public, when someone inside NBC leaked it to the Washington Post. It's unclear why Bush did not immediately alert NBC News executives to the existence of the tape.
"NBC News did exactly what you would expect from a great news organization," an NBC spokesperson said in a statement after the tape was released. "As soon as we saw the tape and made the assessment it was undoubtedly newsworthy, we moved quickly and deliberately to get it published and to do so in the most responsible way."
Management knew the tape would have consequences for Bush and began immediately discussing how to handle the situation. On Oct. 7, the day the tape became public, Bush issued an apology: "Obviously I'm embarrassed and ashamed. It's no excuse, but this happened 11 years ago — I was younger, less mature and acted foolishly in playing along. I'm very sorry."
But an initial plan to let him apologize again on the Today show was nixed after the show's staff, which is heavily female, protested to Oppenheim, say sources. And by the evening of Oct. 9, less than two hours before the second presidential debate, Oppenheim sent an email to Today staffers informing them that Bush was suspended indefinitely.
"Let me be clear — there is simply no excuse for Billy's language and behavior on that tape," wrote Oppenheim. "NBC has decided to suspend Billy, pending further review of this matter."
NBC News began to look into Bush's behavior to determine whether there were other incidents of unprofessional and inappropriate behavior involving female colleagues. It's unclear what they turned up.
But in the end, the damage was deemed irrevocable for an anchor on a program with a majority female audience. There also was the very real concern that Bush would become a liability for the Today bookers if celebrities, particularly women, balked at being interviewed by him.
Full disclosure: Early in his career, Belloni worked as a lawyer at a law firm run by Grossman.