Being Billy Bush

Being Billy Bush

For This Television Correspondent, It's All About Connecting

By Kate Bolick '95


 
"The Bush League" was known for its gags. One time, on the air at 6 a.m., Bush called a friend who'd dated Gwyneth Paltrow the previous night to grill him about the details; another time he enlisted an intern to receive Simon Says instructions via cell phone on Good Morning America. Soon enough, it was one of the most popular radio shows in the city and remained that way for more than four years.

Of course, with a surname like his, one might be expected to go far in the nation's capital. But Bush has done everything within his power to downplay the fact that he's the nephew of the elder President Bush and first cousin to the Bush now in the White House. In 2001, when Billy Bush was invited to make his first TV appearance,as a guest on the entertainment magazine show Extra,it wasn't until he saw the episode that he learned the producers had decided to introduce him as the president's cousin. "I realized, 'Oh! They're using me. It's not that they think I'm funny on the radio.'" Here his normally jovial voice gets unusually somber. "I told them I'd never do their show again."

Fortunately, the news director of Channel 4, the NBC affiliate in Washington, had seen the piece and called to ask Bush if he'd try out their morning show. Channel 4 readily agreed to Bush's demand that his name not be associated with the president's. From there, one thing led to the next: his segments on Today in New York led to a call from Jay Ireland, the president of NBC Television, asking if he'd be interested in being the East Coast correspondent for Access Hollywood; two weeks later, CNN invited Bush to be morning co-anchor with Paula Zahn. Suddenly, this New Hampshire DJ turned D.C. radio personality had Manhattan in his pocket and a big decision to make. To Bush, it was a no-brainer: "On a bad, bad, bad night on prime time you've got seven million people watching. Getting coffee on a network is a better opportunity than anchoring anything on cable, cable news especially."

Bush likens his switch from radio to TV to "that white flash that comes out when you walk into heaven. It was amazing." Filling four and a half hours of live radio a day is hard work, especially when you've only got a staff of three. At Access Hollywood, on the other hand, there are 125 people working on one half-hour show each night. Bush still works hard and has to travel extensively, but he has more help, which is especially important now that he is married with two children. When a staffer drops in to say hello, Bush introduces her as his make-up artist, "an amazingly talented and beautiful person," and suggests this article be titled "The Perfect Working Environment."

It's clear after just a few minutes in Bush's presence,not only is he a born entertainer, he's made for television. "I can't help but chuckle when I see him on the tube," says Colby friend Matt Lapides '94. "His persona fits the job perfectly. In retrospect, we all should have known he'd end up doing this."

As Bush explains, the job demands that he be smart, versatile and relaxed. "This is not the Today Show. We are not doing long format interviews. This show is all about moments. It's about being off the script, and connecting."

Like the time he interviewed Sharon Stone: "It was a cold night. She had this great big white fur wrapped around her. I was like, 'Honey, I'm freezing here. Share the wealth.' So I took the fur off her and wrapped us both in it. The photo ended up in four magazines." Now, that's a moment.