Bill Tush is still just damn funny.
If that doesn’t immediately bring up a file in your memory banks, remember the 1970s, when Ted Turner owned Channel 17 in Atlanta, which later he branded The Superstation. Tush is the guy whose daft approach to the news earned him a cult following on “Channel 17 news early in the morning” in the ’70s and ’80s.
That led eventually to a long-term gig as CNN Senior Entertainment Correspondent, from which he retired in 2002. He now views movies from a different perspective — as manager of a Sandy Springs movie theater.
Tush recently took a few minutes to talk about his life and times, and to have a few laughs.
How did you wind up at the then-nascent Turner broadcast empire?
I came down here from Pittsburgh where I’d worked in radio. I wanted to see what Atlanta was doing because I heard it was a happening town. I went in with a tape [to WGST radio] and they said they could use somebody to do the afternoon oldies shift.
One Sunday afternoon I saw this TV station running old movies and realized I passed it everyday on the way to work. I popped in there with a tape and honest to God, how can you be any luckier? They had an announcer who had just quit, and they needed someone. I don’t know what it was that drew me to that and made me know it was going to be something. It just happened.
You were hired to be a booth announcer, do commercials and host movies, a great fit because you were a motion picture buff from childhood. How did you become the off-beat news guy?
[Station owner] Ted [Turner] wasn’t a big fan of putting news on our channel because it was a lot of money and you had to have a staff. We didn’t do that. We made more money running “Andy Griffith” and “I Love Lucy” and all those shows, so that’s how the [recorded news] thing in the morning started, at 3 a.m. (repeated at 5). It was using the required public service time up and it didn’t cost anything.
You did a straight, unadorned newscast at first, but then things began to get weird. What was the genesis of that?
One night we just started goofing around, me and the director. He said something to me in the middle of the news on the P-A system and I answered back and that’s how it started because we got away with that.
The wacky stuff found favor with Ted Turner. Can you talk about that?
We were like a bunch of little kids doing stuff on late-night TV and getting away with it. We did a takeoff on Channel 11. They had something back in the ’70s called “Pro News.” So, we came up with “Dull News.” (Uses his announcer voice:) “No matter how big the news is, we’re going to bum you out.”
The next morning, I’m at work at my desk and Ted walks by and he says, ‘I saw you doing Dull News last night. That was pretty funny.’ That’s when we really started to go nuts. It was sorta like we had his blessing.
You’re perhaps best known for co-anchoring with ‘Rex the Wonder Dog,’ which despite urban legend was a one-night thing.
If I get remembered enough to have an obituary and not just a death notice it will say, “He did the news with the dog.” It was one night before we were on satellite and there were maybe 60 people watching, but now everybody that even knows my name happens to have been up that night and saw me anchoring with the dog.
And another animal played a role in what you did?
There was a guy [on local TV news] in Atlanta who did “The News Hawk.” If you had a problem, you called The News Hawk. So, we came up with “The News Chicken.”
What about other favorite bits?
To this day this makes me laugh. They were building a new set in the studio. Ted had the idea we’d do sports updates during the baseball and basketball games, so they were constructing a new set much better than ours. They decided not to do the updates and the set was half-finished. I decided we were going to take over that news set. So, we dressed up in Army uniforms with toy guns and did a military takeover.
You have spoken highly of Ted Turner and still keep in touch. What was it like to work for him back in those early days?
It was so entertaining to work for a man like that, you didn’t know what was going to happen next and he was fun to be around. You just had this feeling you were on the ground floor of something. The feeling that was in that building, it was kind of like there was some kind of force there that said, “This is going to be something. Stick with it.”
You did a Turner-produced comedy show for a time (The Bill Tush Show), then a talk show gig in L-A before eventually moving to the entertainment beat for CNN. And you said you had some regrets about that period?
The biggest problem in my brain was I started believing a lot of my own press, that’s the only way to put it. If you’re not smart it goes to your head.
You became a manager at what was then the Lefont Sandy Springs movie theater several years ago. What’s it like when you’re recognized?
These little old ladies will come in and recognize me and they’ll say they used to watch me in high school. And I’ll think, “I forgot… We got that old, didn’t we?”
What do you think about the state of the movies nowadays?
It all comes down to the product. It’s not the movie theaters so much as what they’re showing. If you’re only showing junk, people aren’t going to come in and pay 15 dollars for a movie ticket to see garbage.
What movies have resonated with you lately?
I’ll give you an example. There’s a movie called “Belfast.” It’s brilliant. “Licorice Pizza” and “House of Gucci,” also great.
Any regrets looking back?
It was funny when I was 23, 24 years old and did the news with the dog on the crazy TV station, but nobody wants to see a 73-year-old guy doing the news with a dog. That’s pathetic. I should have a cup in my hand and be on a corner if I’m going to have a dog.
Looking back, if I’d handled it differently, I’d probably still be working in the business. I partied a lot, especially in the ’80s. I wish I had been more disciplined in my life.