ALL-OUT WAR AT TODAY
Billy Bush is wreaking havoc at Today — and gunning for Matt Lauer’s job
He didn’t even bother trying to make a good first impression. After being promoted from his LA gig on Access Hollywood to Today in NYC, Billy Bush accepted an invitation to join longtime Today host Matt Lauer for lunch at Manhattan’s famed Four Seasons restaurant. “Billy initially agreed to join him while he was on a trip to New York City,” explains a Today insider. “But at the last minute, Billy canceled on Matt, citing other work commitments. He never mentioned rescheduling. Matt thought that was very revealing.”
The power struggle between them has only gotten worse. “Billy has made it known that he’s gunning for Matt’s job,” says the insider. “There’s obvious tension between them now.” And that goes for the rest of the Today family, too. Even though Billy, 44, has been on board for the third hour of Today for just a short time, his transition has been marred by charges of entitlement, arguments and ruffled feathers. “Instead of cheers, the cast and crew of the show have marked his arrivals with jeers,” says the insider.
Matt thinks Billy’s arrogance is out of control. “Billy feels he’s the expert on everything and has been demanding the most camera time. It’s absolutely obnoxious,” the insider explains of Billy, whose ego and tantrums were reportedly a big reason Nancy O’dell left Access Hollywood in 2009 after 13 years as co-host. At Today, Billy threw his first big fit when Matt was given NBC’S follow-up interview with disgraced Olympian Ryan Lochte after it was revealed that the story the swimmer had initially told Billy about being mugged in Rio was a lie. But Matt got the exclusive sit-down because “Billy’s first interview was a total disaster,” adds the insider. “He didn’t ask Ryan any hard-hitting questions when he had the chance.”
Even Today veteran Al Roker
is frustrated. On Aug. 19, Al, 62, got into an on-camera argument with Billy (who at one point told Al to “calm down”) over his continued defense of Ryan even after the swimmer’s story began to unravel. “Al’s the most easygoing member of the entire team and hates confrontation, but he feels it’s his duty to keep Billy in line and to just not let him steamroll over everyone,” says the insider. “He isn’t a fan.”
Neither is the rest of the cast. “There is a lot of resentment because Billy is only doing one hour of work, as opposed to Al, Matt and Savannah Guthrie,” says the insider. “And he also got a significant pay raise — from $3 million to $5 million. He had threatened to go to another net- work if he didn’t get it.” Even Billy’s own cousin, Today contributor Jenna Bush Hager, is distancing herself from him (see sidebar).
But the big bosses do like Billy. On Aug. 22, Willie Geist, 41, announced he would stop co-hosting the third hour of the show to focus on his other NBC gigs, and Billy would be taking his spot. “Willie was forced out,” says the insider. “Matt made a solid pitch to his bosses to save him, but it fell on deaf ears. Matt no longer has a lot of influence.”
And Billy’s ready to take over. “Instead of stepping back and figuring out where he fits in at Today, he already acts as if it’s his show,” says the insider. “Everyone wants him gone.” ◼