BURBANK, Calif. — The television producer Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey is known for her terrifying candor. The nameplate on her desk at Telepictures, where she has run the celebrity news show “Extra” for 19 years, sums up her style: “I’ll be nicer if you’ll be smarter.” But even her longtime lieutenants were a bit startled by the way she laid it on the line for Billy Bush when she interviewed him for a job last year.
“I looked him in the eye and said, ‘I don’t know if you have enough humility for people to welcome you back,’” Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey recalled. “America loves a comeback story. But we have to like you for America to like you.”
Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey was overhauling “Extra” at the time and needed a new anchor. She had given Mr. Bush his TV start in 2001, when he briefly worked as an “Extra” freelancer. But he had been out of television work since fall 2016, when a leaked audio recording from “Access Hollywood” showed him laughing as Donald J. Trump bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
Mr. Bush was widely criticized for his role in the misogynistic off-camera conversation, which had taken place in 2005. He swiftly lost the plum job he had landed earlier in 2016 as a 9 a.m. host of NBC’s “Today” show.
After three meetings with Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey, Mr. Bush finally managed to win her over and get the anchor job. He told her about turning to his pastor after initially numbing himself with alcohol and how he had completed an intense self-analysis program in which participants identify negative patterns, with a focus on early-childhood conditioning.
“I’ve changed, and I’ve healed,” he said in an interview.
Now comes the test. As announced in May, Mr. Bush, the nephew of one president and the cousin of another, will re-emerge as the host and managing editor of the rebooted “Extra” on Sept. 9. The 30-minute program, now called “ExtraExtra,” will run on local stations in the early evening, with Mr. Bush based in Los Angeles and correspondents weighing in from New York, Nashville and Las Vegas.
It’s more than a high-profile comeback attempt, one of the biggest of the Time’s Up age, for Mr. Bush. Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey, who spent the early part of her career leading news operations at stations in cities like New York and Dallas, has also put her professional reputation on the line by giving Mr. Bush, 47, another chance.
But if anyone can keep his ego from swelling, it is Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey. During rehearsals in July, Mr. Bush had asked a delicate question: Should he start his first “ExtraExtra” episode by addressing the Trump tape?
“I think at the end of the show,” she said. “And you talk about how grateful you are for this chance — one, let’s not forget, given to you by a woman.”
Mr. Bush, whose father is the banker Jonathan Bush, a younger brother of George H.W. Bush, is returning to the media fray just in time for the heat of the 2020 presidential campaign. Imagine the ratings-grabbing spectacle: Mr. Bush interviewing President Trump. During the last presidential election cycle, Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton gave relatively frequent interviews to celebrity news shows.
But are viewers and image-conscious celebrities (and their gatekeeper publicists) ready to welcome Mr. Bush back?
It depends on whom you ask.
Theresa Coffino, an executive producer of the show, said she had polled publicists and stars and found that “Billy still has so much equity left in this town.” She continued, “Every single person said, ‘That guy got a raw deal. The man who actually made those comments on the tape goes to the White House and Billy loses his career? Not right.’”
The actress Kate Walsh, known for “Grey’s Anatomy” and the Netflix drama “13 Reasons Why,” said by telephone that she “absolutely” supported Mr. Bush’s comeback, adding, “Life isn’t fair. But he took a great challenge and turned it into an opportunity for massive personal growth.”
Mr. Bush has repeatedly apologized and declared himself culpable for goading on Mr. Trump. “I definitely added to the conversation,” he said in a 2017 “Good Morning America” interview. “I look back, and I wish I had stopped it. But I didn’t have the strength of character at the time.”
Henry Schafer, executive vice president for the Q Scores Company, which measures the popularity of celebrities and brands, said Mr. Bush remains a polarizing figure.
A poll conducted by Q Scores just before the “Access Hollywood” tape was leaked showed that 13 percent of the respondents who recognized his name ranked Mr. Bush as a favorite and 25 percent viewed him negatively — typical for his category of television personality. Mr. Bush’s favorable rating fell to 4 percent in 2017 and his negative shot up to 47 percent. A 2018 poll showed no improvement, Mr. Schafer said, and the company stopped tracking him after that.
Celebrity news shows — gushy, glossy, gossipy — have been a local-station staple since “Entertainment Tonight” arrived in 1981. But they are losing viewers and relevance at a time when cord cutting is on the rise and social media allows everyone to feel like an insider, reading Dwayne Johnson’s Twitter feed or Beyoncé’s Instagram. The rough-and-tumble TMZ.com and its broadcast sibling, “TMZ on TV,” which made its debut in 2007, have also upended the genre, making other tabloid shows feel formulaic and P.R.-driven.
“ExtraExtra” will run on stations owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corporation in many major markets. “Extra” had run on NBC stations in most large markets.
“We were offered ‘Extra’ in the past, and I really wasn’t interested, because the format felt a bit dated,” said Jack Abernethy, chief executive of Fox Television Stations. “But Lisa has revamped and freshened the format in a way that makes it more of a Fox show. Less of the press-release-based stuff.”
During a two-hour visit to the “ExtraExtra” set, it was clear that Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey and Mr. Bush enjoy jousting with each other. They told a story about how, at a recent gathering of station executives in Las Vegas, she had started a discussion about the revamped show by saying, “The p-word is ruining this genre.”
Mr. Bush was caught off guard. “Really? You’re going there right away?” he recalled sputtering.
“I’m talking about the prompter,” she shot back. “When a news show has become so scripted that you have to script the hosts’ ad-libs, that’s a problem.”
As anchor, Mr. Bush will spend little of his time reading copy from a teleprompter. Instead, “ExtraExtra” will devote about 30 percent of each episode to how-the-sausage-gets-made footage.
“This is watching a working journalist — a rarity in this genre — whose contacts in Hollywood are second to none,” Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey said. “Watching Billy call stars directly. Watching him racing against deadline. Watching him greet the Real Housewife who unbelievably arrives for an on-set interview with a 10-person entourage.”
The parts showing Mr. Bush behind the scenes will be in black and white. Adding to the tension will be a blue digital clock counting down to deadline; “ExtraExtra” reporters and editors have until 1 p.m. to “make the bird,” as Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey calls the satellite system that beams footage to stations.
A futuristic set includes a color-changing platform that Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey described as “a ring of fire, for my fireball,” referring to Mr. Bush.
Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey gave Mr. Bush his break in television in 2001, when his cousin, George W. Bush, had just become president. “I sort of yelled, ‘Find me a Bush!’ to my producers, thinking they would come back with one of Jeb’s cute sons, and instead I got Billy, who had been doing radio,” she said, winking at Mr. Bush.
“Extra” used him as a freelance correspondent. He hated that the show would incessantly mention his connection to the president. “It was an immediate falling out,” Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush anchored the rival “Access Hollywood” from 2004 to 2016 before joining “Today,” where he quickly made a name for himself by landing a contentious interview with the Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte.
Mr. Bush still holds some resentment about his time at NBC, where, he said, other “Today” hosts sought to undercut him during his five months on the show.
“You are left with stuff, no matter how much work you do on yourself,” he said.
After a pause, he continued: “I wasn’t going to feed Lisa some bull about being reborn and how it’s so amazing. But I could promise her one thing. I will absolutely be better at my job than I ever was.”
“Because I have empathy,” he said. “I do not like the tearing down of people and this lack of forgiveness and the shaming. I think the people I interview will appreciate that.”