Originally posted Wednesday, March 27, 2019 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
At age 70, Bill Tush is 16 years removed from his last big job as a CNN entertainment correspondent and “Showbiz Today” host.
After he left that gig, Tush struggled to find steady work over the years, grabbing consulting jobs here and there. He said his quirky job history, which included his comedic turn as satirical overnight news anchor for Ted Turner’s TBS in the 1970s, didn’t help matters.
Tush said he spent 2014 in Nigeria helping launch a TV station. Upon his return in 2015, he was catching up with old friend and legendary Atlanta theater owner George LeFont.
LeFont mentioned in passing that he was seeking a new theater manager for LeFont Sandy Springs. Tush - seeking a job close to his home - volunteered himself. “I started the next day,” he said.
When LeFont retired in 2017, the new owner Brandt Gully spent $3 million of his own dollars to overhaul the 30-year-old eight-screen operation, replacing its plumbing, half-broken HVAC system, seating, sound system and screens. He installed a full-service bar and dubbed the new theater The Springs Cinema and Taphouse.
There is virtually nothing left from the original incarnation. But Gully decided to keep Tush.
Gully said he appreciates Tush’s work ethic, his reliability, his wry sense of humor.
“I like him a lot as a person,” Gully said. “I trust him. He’s super reliable and a hard worker.”
After spending years at CNN attending attending glamorous parties, covering red carpet events and interviewing A-list celebrities, Tush is now filling bags of popcorn, fixing the volume on films and grabbing stray wrappers from $700 reclining theater chairs. It’s not glamorous, but he enjoys the job.
“The biggest perk is I get to see free movies,” Tush said. “I come here on my days off just to watch films.” He said he doesn’t drink anymore and is no fan of popcorn, but he tries to catch every single new movie.
“He watches more movies than anybody on staff,” Brandt said. “He gives good recommendations. And he gets super excited when we show retro movies.” (The theater runs classic films twice a week. Next up this Sunday: the 1940 Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn drama “The Philadelphia Story.”)
And the new theater is attracting a far younger audience, which was Gully’s intention. “Most of the customers now are under 40,” Tush said. “It used to be like ‘The Walking Dead’ around here. If the show needed extras, we had’em here!”
Tush said he enjoys hanging out with the staff, who could be his children or even grandchildren.
“It keeps me kind of hip,” he said. “I go on Instagram and Snapchat with them.”
New employees, once given the head’s up, inevitably turn to YouTube to learn of Tush’s previous fame as a news anchor. Type “Bill Tush” into the search window and a CNN-created highlight clip comes up.
Alexi Alvear, another manager at the theater, teases Tush by calling him a “celebrity.” “He acts exactly the same as he did on television,” Alvear said. “He’s really funny.”
Occasionally, Gully said he’ll put those Tush clips up on the screens in the lobby for laughs: “He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s fun for all of us.”
With no news experience, Tush joined Turner when Turner started a TV station in 1974 called WTCG, which would eventually become WTBS. Turner let him turn a 3 a.m. newscast into a comedy show featuring a “Channel 17 news chicken” and German Shepherd Rex, the news dog.
With minimal budget, his show grew a cult following all over the country once WTBS went national as Turner’s “SuperStation.” TV Guide and NBC’s “Real People” did stories on him.
In 1980, he hosted a short-lived hour-long comedy show called “TUSH” that featured future “Saturday Night Live” star Jan Hooks. “The show debuted on December 7 so I joked it was the biggest bomb since Pearl Harbor,” he said. He then moved to Los Angeles and New York to host celebrity-oriented news shows for CNN over the next two decades.
Tush said recently hitting the big 7-0 was humbling even if he looks 10 years younger. “I hate this age,” he said. “Sixty didn’t bother me. Neither did 60. But 70 sounds like that’s it. It’s over. There’s no turning back. I even hate saying it.”
But he said he’s healthy and single. (He divorced his third wife Lisa in 2009.) He lives a mile from the theater in a modest apartment packed with memorabilia from his TV days. “I live in a storage facility,” he said. He’s thinking of selling or dumping a lot of it because “it feels like a shrine to myself.”
Moments after he said that, he received a call from his 29-year-old stepdaughter Lydia Martin. She’s engaged. “Congratulations! I’m so happy for you!” he told her. After he got off the phone, he said he is close to both his stepdaughters but not so much their mom or their family. "She may have to get a metal detector for the entrance” of the wedding, he said, with a bemused chuckle. "There might be people trying to shoot me!"
Tush said people of a certain age still recognize him. “They usually say, ‘You’re the guy who did the news with the dog,’” he said. “An old lady will come up and say, ‘I watched you when I was in high school!’”
For now, Tush has no plans to go anywhere and the fact the place is entirely new doesn’t hurt. “I’m a really big fish in a really small pond and I’m fine with that,” he said.
WHERE TO GO
The Springs Cinema and Taphouse
5920 Roswell Rd Unit C-103, Sandy Springs
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