Top 10 Incidents That Got TV Hosts Fired
VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Shocking but not surprising, these inceidents got TV hosts fired. Our countdown includes Matt Lauer, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and more!
Top 10 Incidents That Got TV Hosts Fired
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 incidents that got TV hosts fired.
For this list, we’ll be looking at TV hosts who were fired, or were pressured to resign, over specific actions, whether on-air or off.
Which incident do you find most shocking? Let us know in the comments below!
#10: Paul Pierce
This ex-basketball star played nineteen seasons in the NBA, his career spanning 1998 to 2017. Following his retirement, Pierce began working as an analyst for ESPN, but his broadcasting career was spotty and became marred in controversy. Everything came to a head on April 2, 2021, when Pierce streamed a racy video on Instagram Live. The video took place at a poker game and showed a mask-less Pierce smoking and drinking amidst scantily-clad women twerking. It was likely the last straw for ESPN, which is partly owned by The Walt Disney Company. They fired Pierce without comment, ending their tenuous four-year working relationship.
#9: Fred Willard
This late comic actor was primarily known for movies like “This Is Spinal Tap”, “Anchorman”, and “American Wedding”, but he also hosted the PBS reality program “Market Warriors”. This show saw professional antique buyers shopping for items at flea markets and attempting to re-sell them for a profit. However, his tenure as host came to an end in July 2012 when he was arrested at an adult movie theater on Santa Monica Boulevard. Willard was arrested on suspicion of lewd conduct. Willard claimed that he did nothing wrong, telling Jimmy Fallon, “If you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, everything seems suspicious.” To avoid charges, Willard was forced to undertake a sex ed diversion program.
#8: Pat O’Brien
This radio host and TV personality has been working in the field since 1981, covering numerous Olympic Games, sports finals like the World Series and Super Bowls, and hosting the likes of “Access Hollywood” and “The Insider”. However, he was fired from the latter in September 2008. O’Brien was already on thin ice, having previously been demoted and replaced as anchor by Lara Spencer. O’Brien subsequently penned a mass email that he sent to the show’s staff, writing, “Watching Anya and Lara pick out accessories makes the viewers want to vomit.” He explicitly wrote “I’ll get killed for this”, and he was right - O’Brien was immediately fired.
#7: Rick Sanchez
Joining CNN in 2004, journalist and anchor Rick Sanchez eventually began hosting the news program “Rick’s List”. But the same year, while appearing on the Sirius XM radio show “Stand Up with Pete Dominick”, Sanchez made highly controversial remarks relating to talk show host Jon Stewart. He called Stewart a “bigot” and proceeded to state, ["I'm telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they, the people in this country who are Jewish, are an oppressed minority? Yeah."] The comments earned Sanchez a termination from CNN.
#6: Phil Donahue
Perhaps the most influential talk show host of all time, Phil Donahue is known for hosting “The Phil Donahue Show”, which ran for 26 years from 1967 to 1996. The program is widely credited for being the first talk show to engage directly with audiences. In 2003, his MSNBC show “Donahue” was cancelled. However, a leaked internal memo suggested that Donahue was fired for his public anti-Iraq War sentiments. It was stated that Donahue would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war” and his program “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda”. Donahue later suggested that his firing came as a result of General Electric, the defense contractor that owned MSNBC at the time.
#5: Matt Lauer
One of the most popular news anchors of his era, Matt Lauer rose to prominence on NBC’s “The Today Show” before serving as co-host for twenty years. However, his long-term employment with the company came to an end amidst the Me Too movement. In November 2017, Lauer was terminated from NBC after he was accused of misconduct by a company employee while they were working the Winter Olympics in Sochi. This opened a floodgate, with Variety reporting further allegations. Journalist Ronan Farrow later claimed that NBC had long been aware of the accusations made against Lauer and that they had once killed a story exposing Harvey Weinstein after Weinstein threatened to expose Lauer and NBC in retaliation.
#4: Sharon Osbourne
Sharon Osbourne has had a thriving hosting career after vaulting to cultural prominence on “The Osbournes”. However, that certainly hasn’t precluded her from controversy. A March 2021 episode of “The Talk” saw Osbourne and her co-hosts debating Piers Morgan’s comments about Meghan Markle. Osbourne supported Morgan and publicly feared that she would be considered racist as a result. CBS conducted an internal investigation, stating that Osbourne’s behavior “did not align with our values for a respectful workplace” and that “it was clear the co-hosts were not properly prepared by the staff for a complex and sensitive discussion involving race”. “The Talk” subsequently went on hiatus, and Osbourne permanently departed the show.
#3: Bill O’Reilly
This Fox News host has always been a controversial figure, and he publicly settled a harassment lawsuit with former producer Andrea Mackris back in 2004. However, this was only the tip of the iceberg. In 2017, The New York Times reported that O’Reilly and Fox News had settled with five different women regarding assault allegations and potential lawsuits against O’Reilly. When this became public knowledge, nearly sixty advertisers dropped their support for O’Reilly, and he was subsequently dropped from Fox News. Just a few months later, it was reported that O’Reilly had paid Fox News analyst Lis Wiehl $32 million to settle a potential lawsuit. All told, Fox News and O’Reilly had paid out an estimated $45 million in out-of-court settlements.
#2: Rush Limbaugh
The late Rush Limbaugh was considered the most popular radio host in the United States, with his eponymous show being the highest-rated talk show in the country. In the early 2000s, Limbaugh briefly worked as a football commentator for ESPN. However, he garnered controversy for comments he made aimed against then-Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Limbaugh claimed [“I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. They’re interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well.”] After massive blowback, Limbaugh stated that “the great people at ESPN did not want to deal with this kind of reaction” and subsequently resigned from his position.
#1: Billy Bush
The nephew of ex-President George H.W. Bush, Billy Bush served as anchor on “Access Hollywood”, hosted his own talk radio show from 2008 to 2014, and briefly co-hosted NBC’s “Today”. He began his “Today” tenure in May 2016 but was fired the following October after the infamous Donald Trump “Access Hollywood” tape was released. This is the video in which Trump made his controversial remarks while speaking with Bush, including saying, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Bush was suspended from “Today” following the release of the tape, and the resulting controversy. About a week later, the suspension turned permanent, and Bush was let go from NBC.