Noah Oppenheim, the senior vp in charge of Today, says the 48 hours after audio leaked in October of Donald Trump bragging about groping women to Billy Bush were a "whirlwind." Reflecting for the first time on the scandal that led Bush, 45, to exit the network, but did not prevent Trump from beating Hillary Clinton, Oppenheim describes the atmosphere as Bush became embroiled in one of the campaign's biggest bombshells.
"There wasn't an opportunity to catch our breath and say, 'What does this mean for our anchor?' " Oppenheim tells THR's Kim Masters in an upcoming episode of her KCRW radio show The Business. "It was all moving so quickly that I don't think there was ever a fully formed review of the ripple effects it was going to have."
NBC was criticized for initially saying Bush would be back on the 9 a.m. hour of Today before reversing course and suspending him after negative reaction grew to the 2005 Access Hollywood tape. Bush never returned to the show, negotiating a rich buyout of his three-year contract.
Oppenheim notes it was hard to consider Bush's role as the crisis was unfolding. "The weight of that tape - and the impact it was clear that was going to have on the presidential election and the complexity of bringing it to light - was far more front and center than the sort of personnel ramifications for us internally," he says.
Bush's reputation was further injured when, in the wake of the leaked tape, several publicists came forward about their own past negative experiences. Publicist Marcel Pariseau accused Bush of "rude and lewd" conduct and publicist Bumble Ward wrote on Facebook about Bush's past "dismissive" behavior. Oppenheim denied experiencing any such issues during Bush's short tenure at the morning show.
"I can honestly say that no one ever relayed that to me," Oppenheim says. "And in the months that he worked on our show, no one ever pulled a booking or avoided a booking because of it that I was aware of."
The search for Bush's replacement continues, Oppenheim says, as does the effort to prevent another similar mess: "We understand the challenge."
A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.