By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Maybe Washington isn't such a seething hotbed of gossip after all.
Even Hollywood hotshots, it turns out, are having trouble conquering Beltway culture.
TMZ.com reaped plenty of publicity when word leaked last month that the Tinseltown Web site was setting up a new site devoted to the behind-the-scenes foibles of the nation's capital. But the effort is sputtering and may never get off the ground.
"We haven't found the right people to work on it or the right mix of stories," said a TMZ staffer who declined to be identified while discussing internal deliberations. "It's difficult. We're not going to launch until it's right."
Asked if the venture might be scrapped, this person said: "No idea."
TMZ continues to break big stories in Los Angeles -- its latest scoop was obtaining a voice mail message of actor Alec Baldwin berating his 11-year-old daughter -- but has failed to find a Washington bureau chief. Although Harvey Levin, the former television correspondent who launched TMZ, made a recruiting trip here and dispatched a deputy to line up staffers and stringers, the target date of mid-April has passed with no indication that TMZDC.com is any closer to reality.
One person approached about employment, who asked not to be identified because the conversations were confidential, said TMZ executives do not understand that people in Washington are far less likely than those in L.A. to sell gossip items for $100 or so. This person also said that the type of gossip that TMZ is seeking -- such as whether Laura Bush is secretly smoking in the White House -- is not terribly exciting.
TMZ has been on fire since its launch 17 months ago. From Mel Gibson's drunken, anti-Semitic rant to Michael Richards's racist diatribe at a comedy club, its exclusives have helped the Time Warner unit draw more than 8 million online visitors a month, making it one of the most popular entertainment sites on the Web.
But skeptics immediately wondered whether a site that feasts on the antics of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears could find happiness in the town of Nancy Pelosi and Karl Rove. And if its initial difficulties are any indication, TMZ executives may be coming to the same conclusion.
"What we're looking for has not been done before," said the TMZ staffer. "There's a certain tone and sensibility to TMZ. We're looking for different things than the D.C. media are used to. We're not going to rush into anything."