- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

TMZ comes to TV

Wander through TMZ.com at any given moment and it’s easy to grasp what the Web site is gleefully pushing. There are stars smooching. Stars sunning. Stars looking hot … or not.

And, always, there are stars misbehaving.

TMZ broke the news of Mel Gibson’s DUI arrest and Michael Richards’ comedy-club tirade.

Looking for “new pics” about a car crash involving Hulk Hogan’s son? Or of Lindsay Lohan in any number of interesting activities? They’re here.

It all adds up to the Web’s most popular online entertainment site and, starting today, a television show. “TMZ,” joining the crowded field of entertainment news magazines, will test the bounds of the TV audience’s fascination with celebrity.

The new venture also is a groundbreaking bid to turn an online success into an even more lucrative TV commodity, a tantalizing possibility that has yet to be realized, notes Associated Press.

Harvey Levin, managing editor of TMZ.com and host and executive producer of the syndicated series, says he isn’t thinking about being a crossover pioneer. He’s just preoccupied with getting “TMZ” going.

“I am so charged right now. … We’ve been running test shows for a month now and I just want to put the show on the air,” says Mr. Levin, a lawyer who became a TV reporter, commentator and producer (“Celebrity Justice,” “The People’s Court”).

“TMZ,” which will be carried on Fox-owned stations as well as on a mix of other network outlets, is to air as a half-hour show on weekdays and in an hourlong version on the weekend. Locally, it will air weekdays at 6:30 p.m. on WTTG-Fox5.

When TMZ.com began in November 2005 as a joint venture of Telepictures Productions and Time Warner Inc.’s AOL, it was with the intent of eventually translating it to TV, said Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of Telepictures.

TMZ.com’s success was the prerequisite. According to comScore Media Metrix, it’s the leading celebrity-news site, with 120 million-plus monthly page views and more than 9 million unique visitors. (TMZ’s name is based on the phrase “thirty mile zone,” coined in a part of Los Angeles used for location shooting and subject to studio production rules.)

“TMZ” the show is “an important launch for us and a great way to tout that you can brand new projects other than on television and succeed,” Miss McLoughlin said. “Part of our strategy is to incubate all kinds of formats and talents and bring them to television.”

Whether a show can transition from a Web site “and then make money and get big audiences” has yet to be seen, says David Card, senior analyst at JupiterResearch. But, he added, “I can’t believe it won’t happen.”

Meanwhile, TMZ also faces stiff competition. The list includes “Entertainment Tonight,” the elder statesman of the Hollywood news shows, along with “The Insider,” “Access Hollywood” and, also from Telepictures, “Extra.”

“Celebrity Expose,” an hour-long weekly program profiling one star at a time, starting with Miss Lohan, debuts Oct. 1 on MyNetworkTV.

Yet Mr. Levin is unfazed by the list. In rapid-fire remarks, he asserts that “TMZ” is in a league of its own.

“It doesn’t feel like the other shows … We’re not sucking up (to stars). We’re not doing junkets. We’re not doing red carpets,” he said.

More ‘Californication’

Showtime is getting ready to engage in some more “Californication.”

The premium cable channel has ordered a second season of the series (starring David Duchovny), which has emerged as a hit since its Aug. 13 debut. According to Variety, 12 additional episodes of the half-hour comedy have been ordered, with production expected to start in April.

After a strong debut, “Californication” has impressed Showtime suits by adding viewers. Its last three Monday premiere telecasts have averaged 18 percent more viewers than the show’s debut, scoring Showtime’s best ratings for a new series since 2004, Variety said.

RLTV, AARP team up

Retirement Living TV, which plans to become a 24/7 cable network before year’s end, has signed a production deal with AARP to originate a number of series from the organization’s District headquarters, Variety reports.

First airing in September 2006, RLTV reaches viewers for a few hours a day on DirecTV’s channel 364 and Comcast’s CN8 Denver-based service. By 2010, 82 million Americans will be 55 or older — 27 percent of the total U.S. population, says RLTV.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports.

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