By Lee Alan Hill
Named co-anchor of “Access Hollywood” in June 2004 after three years as New York-based correspondent, Billy Bush has been winning plaudits from executives as well as the audience in the role he has made his own.
Jay Ireland, president of NBC Universal Television Stations, said the style of a Billy Bush story isn’t that of a typical report. It’s more, he said, “Like someone who is telling you some stuff. He’s quick-witted, fun-loving and contagious.”
It doesn’t hurt that he’s telegenic, Mr. Ireland said. “All the women will tell you he’s a very good-looking guy-which he is.”
Mr. Bush has earned his bones on “Access Hollywood,” pulling in scoops and exclusives, including a tour in May of the Scientology Media Center as part of an interview with Tom Cruise, a segment that earned much attention for both Mr. Bush and the series.
He also won the first interview with Jennifer Aniston after she and former husband Brad Pitt disclosed their separation and an exclusive interview with Dana Reeve following the death of her much-admired husband, Christopher Reeve.
“Billy was on Channel 4 [WNBC-TV] in New York, our local station,” Mr. Ireland said. “He was doing special reports for them, and he really stood out. We were suggesting to ‘Access Hollywood’ that they have a stronger New York presence, and when they moved forward with that, we wanted Billy.”
He’s nephew to the first President George Bush and first cousin to the current President Bush but said that, due to the difference in their ages, they do not know each other well.
Mr. Bush began his career doing the afternoon drive show for WLKZ-FM in New Hampshire, later moving to Washington, where he hosted a midday show on WARW-FM. From March 1997 until January 2001 he hosted “Billy Bush and the Bush League Morning Show” on WWZZ-FM in D.C., then moved to New York to do segments for WNBC’s “Today in New York” morning series.
“We were very, very lucky when Pat O’Brien left as co-host and Billy assumed that role,” said Linda Finnell, senior VP at NBC Universal Domestic TV Distribution. “Yes, it was easier because he was already known to the viewers, and he works very well with Nancy [O’Dell]. They have great chemistry.
“Billy has brought something different to the show,” she added. “It’s a different sensibility. We always say that we let our audiences know we are not taking this too seriously. It’s entertainment news. Billy really effortlessly has that wink and smile that brings that to the viewers at home.”
Mr. Bush isn’t afraid to say that he’s having fun.
“Perhaps our edge is that we can be smarter and better interviewers,” Mr. Bush said. “I have a natural intellectual curiosity, but I approach what I do real tongue-in-cheek. None of the celebrity stuff should be approached seriously, for the most part. Unless someone’s house burns down or they have a personal tragedy, I say, just have fun.”