TV Review

'TMZ': No Boundaries In the 30-Mile Zone

"TMZ" executive producers Jim Paratore, left, and Harvey Levin in the show's studio in Hollywood, Calif. Levin founded the TMZ Web site. (By Craig Mathews -- Warner Bros.)
By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

You might feel like taking a long, hot shower after watching the sleazy new daily entertainment show "TMZ." But you also might find yourself slathering on more muck the very next day.

Based on the popular Web site, the nationally syndicated half-hour show, airing locally on Fox-owned Channel 5, offers snarky, unsympathetic and sometimes mean-spirited takes on celebrities. Perhaps unjustifiably mean, but most of the time you don't mind seeing the celebs embarrass themselves.

The TMZ brand takes a C-SPAN-like approach to stars or has-beens behaving badly. Its team of videographers is seemingly everywhere in Hollywood, aiming its cameras at the famous and infamous, and letting the unedited footage speak for itself. For example: "CSI's" Gary Dourdan was captured on one episode last week getting into his car outside a bar on the Sunset Strip and driving off in what appears to be a drunken state. Former child star Corey Haim and Hollywood bad boy Andy Dick were also captured in a wobbly state.

"TMZ" couldn't have asked for a better time to premiere, having rolled out Sept. 10, one day after Britney Spears's bizarre, huffing-and-puffing performance on MTV's Video Music Awards. Spears has also shown up on the Web site over the past year for her divorce from K-Fed, questionable child-rearing abilities and wacky head-shaving and umbrella-wielding episodes.

Of course, it's not just Spears who made the most popular entertainment Web site, according to the Internet monitoring service Media Metrix. Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic tirade and Michael Richards's racist rant onstage were major scoops that helped put TMZ (which stands for Hollywood's "thirty-mile zone") on the map.

The Web site and TV show have also been right in the middle of this past weekend's O.J. Simpson arrest, and you can expect to see Simpson as a recurring figure on the show.

In August, 9.5 million unique visitors clicked on; the Web site tallied a total of nearly 120 million visitors that month, including repeat users.

So, America, you've asked for this show, and you've got it. "TMZ" is the new bad boy in a neighborhood that includes the more fawning "ET" and "Access Hollywood." "TMZ" debuted a day before celebrity blogger Perez Hilton's first TV special, "What Perez Sez," on VH1, which offered similar scathing commentary on the VMAs. VH1 says Hilton will host future specials revolving around major pop culture events.

But why watch TMZ TV when you can download all the celebrity gaffes at your leisure on the TMZ Web site?

For one, founder Harvey Levin, the show's executive producer, makes an oddly compelling host. Each show opens with Levin leading his troops in an early-morning meeting plotting their strategy for the show that night.

He goes around the room and asks his staff what they have for him; this serves as the show's sneak previews of sorts. On Thursday's show, we heard from one staffer: "Tommy Lee and Kid Rock is [sic] going to settle their score at a real freak show in Las Vegas," referring to an official rematch after their spontaneous rumble at the Sept. 9 MTV Video Music Awards.

"Taye Diggs is married but we don't ever see him with his wife," another staffer told Levin and the team.

There are touches of humor, as well. A segment about Natalie Cole not being able to get into a hot nightclub ends with a fake song: "Unadmittable, that's what you are."

"Kirstie Alley looks amazing . . . not," said a staffer in Thursday's show. That was a preview of a segment that aired later in the program, featuring pictures of Alley, who seems to have fallen off the diet wagon.

It can also be downright juvenile. Each night, there is a segment that pairs two celebrities celebrating birthdays, and asks "Who'd You Rather?" Viewers cast their votes on the Web site.

Those who decry the celebrity-obsessed state of our nation will be appalled by this show. But those whose subscriptions to US Weekly, People and Entertainment Weekly are in good standing will have a hard time not rubbernecking.

TMZ (30 minutes) airs weeknights at 6:30 on Channel 5.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company