Hollywood publicists are intensely curious about how TMZ will translate to the tube
By Alex Ben Block
HOLLYWOOD, CA (Hollywood Today) 9/7/07 — The real life antics of Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith turned Harvey Levin’s TMZ into a hot gossip web site, but how that will translate into a daily TV show is what top Hollywood publicists are wondering. The show launches Sept. 10 with a six days a week schedule.
Their opinion matters. To become an institution like “E.T.” or “Access Hollywood,” TMZ will have to break the curse that has tripped up shows before it like “A Current Affair,” “Hard Copy” and “Smoking Gun” that refused to play by the rules of the Hollywood PR machine.
Those shows, and others like the “National Enquirer’s Uncovered” faced a stone wall of uncooperative studio, network and personal publicists by their final days. That meant no permission to run movie trailers, series outtakes or studio clips. They couldn’t get studio-owned music cleared, even for a fee. They were off all invitation and party lists in a town where marketing events are often the place to be.
Now TMZ’s Levin, who has placed himself front and center as producer, host, public face and spokesman, are saying they don’t need the PR departments help. Here is what Levin told reporters gathered in Los Angeles last month for the TV critics semi annual tour:
“The premise of the show is the same premises as the website, which is we’re not ‘agenda.’ We don’t do red carpets; we don’t do junkets (where TV shows are invited to interview stars of a new movie or TV show), and ultimately publicists don’t control us the way they control traditional media because if you’re doing a traditional entertainment show and you want an interview with Tom Cruise, when the publicist calls you up and says, ‘If you do that story, we’re not going give you Tom Cruise,’ it means something. We don’t want the interview with Tom Cruise.”
“We’re going to be fair, but we’re not going to fear publicists. We don’t on the website, and we’re not going to on the TV show. And it is very freeing. It is one of the reasons we were able to do what we do on the website. We deal with all the publicists in town, and we have great relationships with them. They know they can’t bludgeon us. They know they can’t control us. They’ll work with us when we do stories and rather than getting mad, they realize we’re a place to go to manage a story even if it’s a bad story.
“We’re not going to back down and tell it in a meek way or a tepid way, but we’ll be fair. We’re going to have our attitude, but we’ll give them their say, and we’re going to carry that spirit over—because I know it sounds kind of trite to say we operate out of fairness and not fear, but it’s really true, and when you kind of have that as the mantra, it allows you to do things you can never do in traditional media.”
Tough talk and there is no question that there is an audience for this if Levin can pull it off. The public love to read inside attacks on the over paid, insecure, substance abusing denizens of the entertainment world, who are self selected for publicity overload by their own antics.
From Confidential magazine to the New York Post, we all love to watch the over paid beasts chewed up by the lions of journalism. There has always been a market for the National Enquirer, Star Magazine and other tabloid tattlers at the check out counter. Add more recently on the Internet, which has notched up the publicity yin and yang (good and bad) to a much higher level than in the past.
Lots of funny stuff now gets viewed by millions on YouTube, but that is often by happenstance. TMZ will be looking to deliver a daily dose of cele-retards for public amusement. You might call it RudeTube – they will ask the questions that polite interviews on morning shows and late night talkers don’t dare ask.
Jerry Springer viewers feel absolutely entitled to know intimate details of the private lives of people who act, sing or otherwise emote for a living. You can’t tell Howard Stern not to rag on celebrities or Adam Corrolla to take them seriously.
There is a new American cynicism among many, especially the young, who are wired into the world, but still not sure how to interpret it. Then along comes Harvey Leviin to make it all easy to understand, and amusing, because these wayward entertainers are so lame when not singing or telling jokes.
This is the celebrity culture warped and turned on its head; one step ahead of the next stalker, who then will feed the need by becoming fodder for TMZ.
That is the need that Harvey Levin wants to feed. This is not upscale journalism, with a civic minded point of view, looking for ways to improve the public good. This is down and dirty if it’s legal we will use it journalism, and we will stretch the definition of legal as often as possible to generate even more headlines. Levin says he is looking forward to pushing the limits.
The question is whether he can do it on syndicated television, and meet the standards of the Fox stations and other outlets carrying the new show. Even Jim Paratore, the former Warner exec whose company is making the show with Levin and Warner Bros. television’s money, admitted to reporters that they would not be able to do on TV everything TMZ has become known for on the web: “There are going to be different standards and practices. The broadcast show will meet broadcast standards and practices, but there will be things we do on the Web that we won’t do on television.”
What we will see a lot of is Harvey Levin, not only as the star of his own show, but also as the spokesman for TMZ out hustling his stories on morning talk, radio shows and where ever else that offers a dose of exposure.
One story that TMZ might tackle is telling us more about Levin. Put his name in Google and you will get millions of hits but almost always concerning his appearances to talk about Mel Gibson’s anti-semitism, Paris Hilton’s love note from the jail house or any of dozens of other stories TMZ has covered. What you don’t find is much real information on Levin, and certainly not his age.