Harvey Levin has put his stamp on daytime television. Harvey began his career as a lawyer, but moved into TV and became a driving force on The People’s Court for two decades, then created the hit daytime news magazine Celebrity Justice. A couple years back, Harvey agreed to become the Managing Editor of TMZ.com, a start up celebrity news and gossip online news outlet. As we all know, TMZ.com is now a major force in celebrity journalism and has achieved mainstream legitimacy in the news world. Now, Levin is bringing the online goodness of TMZ to television. Starting today, Executive Producers Levin and Jim Paratore are launching TMZ, the TV show, which will air daily in syndication across the country. Harvey recently took some time out of day to speak with us about TMZ and what viewers can expect from the show.
Below you will find the complete transcript as well as the mp3 audio file of the interview.
Harvey, you’re a lawyer. You’ve done People’s Court, created Celebrity Justice. How did all that lead to you becoming a managing editor at TMZ.com ?
I don’t know, I’m the least likely person to do anything on the Internet. I know very little about the Internet. What was intriguing about it was that you could create a news organization, and you could actually start breaking stories in real time. That appeals to me, and it appealed to me probably because of Celebrity Justice, which I loved doing. The problem with that show was it just had bad time periods, and so you couldn’t break the stories on your show, because you couldn’t hold them that long. So we’d end up breaking them on CNN and FOX, and I started thinking, and I thought the Internet’s the opposite of that, where you can get something at 2:36 in the afternoon on Friday, that’s when you break it. I just found that really appealing.
So, how did you become involved with TMZ?
Well, TMZ is a joint venture between Telepictures and AOL. When they formed the venture, they asked me to do it. And frankly, I said ‘No’ to them, because I had no interest in the Internet. A couple of months later I was about to do a production deal with a network, and then I started thinking about this website. I thought, you know, I can make this thing work, so I just went back to them and said I think I want to do this.
TMZ’s rise has been meteoric. When you came on board, did you think it had that sort of potential? Why do you think it got so big, so fast?
Well, I really did think that, because I kept some of the staff from Celebrity Justice. I did think we would surprise people by breaking these stories, and then over time they realized that we’d be a force.
But, what we didn’t realize at the beginning was how difficult it was gonna be, just technologically, to pull it off. Because we had a lot of speed bumps at the beginning, and also just in terms of programming, that I thought was gonna work. Some of it did, some of it didn’t, we just had to find a way.
Now at this point, TMZ.com is cited all the time by major news outlets, the cable news, everything. How much legitimacy do you think TMZ has given to online news outlets?
Well, I think it’s opened the door. I don’t believe, in fact it was funny when we started breaking stories on TMZ, we’d get calls from CNN and others, and they said, “Who are your sources?” And we said, “We’re not telling you who our sources are.” But they just didn’t believe that an online site would be credible or reliable, and I think we had to prove it over time to them, and we did.
Now moving on to the show, TMZ. Where did that idea come from and why now?
Well, I mean, it was always kind of a plan that if this became successful, that we could find a different platform and bring it there. It happened probably a little faster than everybody thought, but it always seemed like a good idea, and it’s a great idea to me now. I’m really into it, I think this show is gonna be really different from all the other entertainment shows. It’s gonna feel different, the subjects are gonna be different, and it’s gonna be really fun.
I guess the question is this: what will the TV show have that people can’t just go online and get at TMZ.com?
It’s a different form of storytelling. The website is stripped down, very basic, we don’t do tracking. We tell stories in a really tight way, and it’s got an attitude. This is gonna be storytelling with a major point of view, with an attitude where you still have the stories, and we’ve been doing it for every day for a month as if we were on the air.
We’re testing it out, and people like it because it’s real. I think just because you go on the Internet, doesn’t mean you’re not gonna go look at TV. And just because you look at TV doesn’t mean you’re gonna go on the Internet. I think they complement each other.
Can you explain the format for us? Will there be a host?
It’s so not host-driven. From the very beginning, the opening of the show is actually a few excerpts from our morning meeting where people, we’re pitching stories. The stories that we get that are gonna be on the show, you’re gonna get a feel of who the people are in the room, who are doing these stories. Then we’re just gonna start telling them. It’s not about reporters or hosts or anything like that, it’s about good storytelling.
The show is syndicated nationwide, right?
Can you tell us about premieres, and where people can see it?
Well, we’re on all the FOX-owned and operated stations around the country. In addition to places that don’t have owned and operated Fox stations, we’re pretty much everywhere. So if you go onto TMZ.com, you’ll see very prominent there on the right hand side toward the top, it says TMZ coming to TV, September 10. Check your local listings, just click on that, you can check the city and the time.
I appreciate it Harvey, anything else you want to say about TMZ before you go?
I think I got it, Oscar, but there’s one thing actually. On our Monday show we got an actor who you’ve probably seen in movies, and we got video of this guy putting a ski mask on and taking something from the garage of a certain place. It’s the wackiest thing and we’ve got all the videos, the whole thing, so it’s pretty interesting.
-Interview Conducted by Oscar Dahl
(TMZ Logo courtesy of TMZ.com)