TMZ is a celebrity news website that debuted on November 8, 2005. It was a collaboration between AOL and Telepictures Productions, a division of Warner Bros., until Time Warner divested AOL in 2009. The name TMZ stands for thirty-mile zone, the historic "studio zone" within a 30-mile (50 km) radius centered at the intersection of West Beverly Boulevard and North La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.
TMZ's managing editor is Harvey Levin, a lawyer-turned-journalist who was previously a legal expert for the Los Angeles television station KCBS-TV. The site claims that it does not pay for stories or interviews; however, Levin has admitted that TMZ does "sometimes pay sources for leads on stories". Levin has stated that "everything is researched and vetted for accuracy." A companion television series, TMZ on TV, debuted on September 10, 2007.
Seven months prior to the official launch of TMZ, America Online (AOL) had hinted that it was planning to launch a Hollywood and entertainment-centric news site that would be produced in conjunction with Telepictures Productions and had shown interest in launching a website featuring a focus mainly on celebrities. At the time of the launch, AOL confirmed that the site would primarily feature and consist of Hollywood gossip, including interviews, photos and video footage of celebrities and information pertaining to industry news on movies, television shows, etc. The site was described as "an effort to further feed the current American obsession with celebrities". Mike Shields of MediaWeek.com wrote, "the site also boasts of an expansive collection of archived star photos and videos", allowing fans to "trace changing hairlines and waistlines of their favorites performers over the years".
Since 2005, TMZ has signed Revlon, Chrysler, Hilton Hotels and New Line Cinema as charter advertisers to their website. The New York Times cited TMZ as "one of the most successful online ventures of the last few years." In October 2008, the New York Times reported that TMZ, at the time, was receiving more than 10 million viewers every month. Alexa.com ranked TMZ as the five-hundred-fifth most trafficked website worldwide and as the one hundred-fifty-fifth most trafficked website in the United States.
Levin has acknowledged that TMZ has passed on multiple notable coverage because he felt that, while the stories are true, he questioned how the sources obtained their information. Levin has acknowledged that TMZ pays sources, but in the form of a "tip fee". Levin stated that TMZ pays for photos and for 'tips' and or leads on stories, and defended TMZ's position by stating that the sources and tips are verified before being used and or reported.
In November 2009, TMZ's revenue was publicly disclosed for the first time. Telepictures (which TMZ is operated by) stated: "Subject to certain performance adjustments and the reimbursement of expenses, revenues are split evenly between the parties [...] Telepictures received payments of US$6.2 million for the nine months ended September 30, 2009, and US$12.7 million, US$9.6 million and US$3.0 million in 2008, 2007 and 2006, respectively." Based on released figures, TMZ's revenues for 2008 was US$25.4 million and is projected to have less revenue in the 2009 year with the revenue of $12.4 million in first three quarters of the year—unlike the previous year, which was within the US$15 million range.
On May 29, 2012, co-founder Jim Paratore died of a heart attack during a cycling trip in France. Paratore was known for his work in television production, producing several daytime and syndicated programs, particularly while serving as an executive at Telepictures (which co-produces the website's companion syndicated television series).
On July 28, 2006, TMZ was the first to report that actor Mel Gibson had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Along with releasing the story, TMZ also reported "exclusive details" about the case shortly after. In the report TMZ posted, it contained his transport to the station and time in custody, and quoted an "anonymous law enforcement source", and published four pages of a handwritten arrest report, via a PDF file. TMZ claimed the documents they posted were part of the original eight-page report which was written by the arresting officer, before the officer was allegedly instructed, by his superiors, to omit the inflammatory details about Gibson's alleged anti-Jewish comments and behavior.
On May 3, 2007, TMZ was the first to break the story, and exclusively obtain documents, stating that socialite Paris Hilton would be sentenced to 45 days in jail as her sentencing for driving with a suspended license after losing her license from driving under the influence of alcohol four months prior.
On February 22, 2009, TMZ released what has been identified as a police evidence photo of pop-singer Rihanna after she was assaulted by now ex-partner Chris Brown. Shortly after the photo's release, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) announced that it was investigating the leak and 'possible sale of the photo of Rihanna with a bruised and battered face after TMZ published them because the photo had been considered evidence. TMZ has claimed it obtained the photo legally but has not said how it came into possession of the photo. On February 24, 2009, TMZ was the first to break the story that, out of the US$1.6 billion Chicago's Northern Trust Bank received in federal bailout money, recipients of the money subsequently spent non-TARP dollars entertaining clients in Los Angeles at venues like the House of Blues that featured performances by Chicago, Earth Wind and Fire, and Sheryl Crow and gift bags from Tiffany & Co. Shortly after TMZ published the story, United States Congressman Barney Frank demanded that Northern Trust repay the money it received in the bailout. Northern Trust CEO Frederick Waddell sent a letter to members of the House Financial Services Committee, stating that the bank will repay the money "as quickly as prudently possible."
TMZ was the first to break the report of the death of Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009. The report was treated with caution by mainstream media sources at the time, despite being cited on rolling news channels. TMZ's scoop beat the major broadcast and cable news outlets by almost 3 hours, until CNN finally confirmed the story as well. Part of this delay was later explained as the other outlets' "stricter confirmation standards," but Levin claimed, during an interview with Huffington Post, that TMZ, at the time of posting the subject, verified the story and sources. "Well, before it was officially announced. We really knew this significantly before even what was going on, but this was, you know, crossing every t. We were positive when we put it up. We put it up when we were 100% positive." TMZ was also the first to receive the coroner's report of the singer on February 8, 2010, proving Propofol dosage and negligence killed the pop legend.
TMZ was the first to release a videotaped recording of a deposition of Justin Bieber regarding Bieber's bodyguard who allegedly attacked a photographer and threatened the photographer with a gun This deposition video, released in a series of shorter clips on March 10, 2014, labels the singer as, according to TMZ, "arrogant," "contentious," and "disrespectful." Each video in the series gained over one million views respectively and, when compiled by a third party, the YouTube video of the deposition generated almost six million views.
TMZ was the first to report on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's private conversation with his girlfriend V. Stiviano on April 25, 2014, in which Sterling allegedly had a problem with her associating with African-Americans, and telling her not to bring them in to Clippers' games. Four days later, the NBA banned Sterling for life and fined him US$2.5 million.
TMZ was the first to break the story on May 8, 2014, that a Wyclef Jean music video "April Showers" was banned by YouTube for a copyright infringement claim that the recreation of a controversial autopsy photo of rapper Tupac Shakur's body in the video was similar to a photo released in author Cathy Scott's book The Killing of Tupac Shakur. The next day, TMZ broke a second story that the video director, Hezues R', and Scott had settled the matter and agreed that Hezues R' would include a screen credit to the book at the end of the video.
On May 12, 2014, TMZ acquired security camera footage and was first to break the story of Solange Knowles physically assaulting sister Beyoncé's husband, rapper Jay-Z, in an elevator at The Standard, High Line in Manhattan, following the 2014 Met Gala. The employee who sold the footage to TMZ (after being auctioned for five days to the highest bidder, and reportedly sold for $250,000 to TMZ) was later fired by The Standard, High Line for breaching security policies of the hotel.
TMZ was the first to release snippets from the controversial Lady Gaga music video "Do What U Want", which notably featured R. Kelly and Terry Richardson, both of whom had previously been accused of sexual assault.
On September 9, 2014, TMZ posted a video appearing to show Ray Rice punching his fiancee in an Atlantic City elevator. Rice was released by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
Contempt of court motion
On June 20, 2007, a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee filed an emergency motion requesting that the TMZ website be held in contempt for its publication of the entire manuscript of If I Did It, O.J. Simpson's purportedly fictionalized account of the murder of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.
While actor Woody Harrelson was at New York City's La Guardia Airport, he had an altercation with a photographer for TMZ. Harrelson defended himself stating that he'd at the time just finished filming his scenes from the horror film, that consists mainly of zombies, Zombieland, and that he was "startled" by the TMZ photographer. "I wrapped a movie called Zombieland, in which I was constantly under assault by zombies, then flew to New York, still very much in character ... With my daughter at the airport I was startled by a paparazzo, who I quite understandably mistook for a zombie."
Blocked in the UK
On December 24, 2010, the gossip blog "Oh No They Didn't" reported that TMZ began blocking traffic from the UK, displaying the message: "Due to laws within your region, you are unable to view this website." Asked for further comment, TMZ responded that the blocking was due to "legal restrictions". The UK website "Popbitch Board" noted on December 31, 2010 that it is possible to get around the block by accessing the website through the Google Translate website. As of January 7, 2011, TMZ is accessible in the UK.
TMZ Live is a live-chat program from TMZ that features Levin and fellow TMZ executive producer Charles Latibeaudiere, and occasionally assignment manager Mike Walters, editor Kelly Berning and/or clip clearance producer Dax Holt filling in for one or both hosts. Other TMZ staffers (mainly those who regularly appear on TMZ on TV) also appear on the broadcast as contributors to provide additional outline of the story as well as to provide opinion. The live webcast takes place at the TMZ offices in Los Angeles, and is broadcast on TMZ.com Monday through Fridays from approximately 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (the length varies depending on the featured segments).
The TMZ Live television and Internet programs review stories that TMZ is covering on the website, and at times, features live interviews (most of which are conducted through webcam conferencing) as well as viewer opinions via Twitter, telephone and video chat (including Skype). In addition, the program features regular segments towards the end of each edition: "Viewer's Choice" (aired as the penultimate segment) featuring viewer questions or comments about stories featured in the broadcast, with additional commentary or analysis by the hosts; "Hate Mail," featured on the Wednesday edition of the webcast (the Thursday edition on the television broadcast), in which negative emails and letters sent by viewers (some of which feature potshots at Levin or Latibeaudiere) are read by the hosts; "Tim's Rejects," featured on the Thursday edition of the webcast (the Friday edition on the television broadcast), in which staffer Tim Nowak presents three offbeat news stories (that are not entertainment or sports-related) which are critiqued by the hosts; and "The Loser's Circle," featured on the Friday edition of the webcast (the Monday edition on the television broadcast) since February 2015, in which Levin, Latibeaudiere and TMZ on TV executive producer Evan Rosenblum judge a clip from a TMZ videographer that was originally rejected from being posted on TMZ.com by Levin or broadcast on TMZ on TV by post-production supervisor Chad Weiser following its initial pitch. "Tim's Rejects" and "Hate Mail" were previously aired as the last segment of their respective editions until April 2015, when they were shifted to the block preceding that occupied by the "Viewer's Choice" segment (at which point, all three segments as well as "The Loser's Circle" began to be followed by a story segment).
In March 2012, Fox Television Stations tested a syndicated broadcast of TMZ Live (which is an hour-long edited version of the live webcast that is broadcast on a one-day delay from its original tape date, with segments aired in a different order, mainly due to live interviews that require the segment to be shown out of order on the webcast for varied reasons) on its television stations in Los Angeles and Phoenix. In June 2012, SiriusXM Radio announced that the show would be aired daily on its Sirius XM Stars channel. In October of that year, the television show was expanded to seven markets, adding Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit and Minneapolis. On September 9, 2013, TMZ Live began airing on all 18 Fox owned-and-operated stations. The program began to be syndicated to stations outside of the Fox Television Stations group in the spring of 2014.
TMZ on TV
In the United States, the show airs in various timeslots on stations of varying network affiliation (primarily on Fox stations), mainly either in early primetime or after late local newscasts, with an hour-long 'best-of' program compiling select stories from the weekday broadcasts airing on weekends. The show covers stories similar to those found on the website and TMZ Live, with the main difference being that TMZ on TV largely delivers its stories in a humorous manner whereas a mix of humorous and serious news stories appear on the website and companion web/television series. TMZ offers viewers the option of being able to view the two most recent episodes of the program on TMZ.com after the episode's original airdate (being available for viewing for two days after the broadcast on weekdays and three days after the original broadcast on weekends). Chris Persell, of TVWeek.com, stated that the show is a "complement [to] the Web site, with news updates added to later airings of the show". Levin and Jim Paratore served as executive producers to the show, and the on-air cast originally included Teresa Strasser, John Fugelsang, Ben Mankiewicz and Michael Hundgen. David Bianculli of The New York Daily News strongly criticized the television show, its topics, and what he sees as its reporters' tactics and lack of professionalism.
Dax Chat is a live chat program on Ustream hosted by TMZ clip clearance producer Dax Holt. In the broadcasts, Holt talks to "Chizzlers" about celebrity gossip and articles that have been posted on the TMZ website.
Since the launch of TMZ, the website has faced criticism, varying from attempted boycotts to criticism of its journalism tactics and of its focus. It has been criticized for its usage of photographs and videos obtained from paparazzi. Some have questioned the effect that aggressive and obtrusive photographers have on the subjects they cover. Many of the videos on the site show, in the footage, that their paparazzi chase people (mainly celebrities)—a practice that has been called dangerous and "creepy". Over the years, some have called for a boycott of TMZ and of the accompanying show.
TMZ faced strong criticism for purchasing stolen items pertaining to the fourth Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. On October 2, 2007, IESB reported that a number of production photos and sensitive documents pertaining to the production budget had been stolen from Steven Spielberg's production office.
Movie City News, which strongly criticized TMZ for purchasing stolen items, remarked that the then-new website "wasn't getting off to a good start". According to IESB, TMZ had obtained some of the stolen property and was planning on running a story about the topic on their TV show, until the lawyers of the film's production company, Paramount Pictures, intervened. Shortly after IESB broke the story, TMZ broadcast details about the Indiana Jones production budget on their show on October 3, 2007.
Story gathering tactics
Tony Manfred of The Cornell Daily Sun strongly criticized TMZ in an article entitled "I Want My TMZ", in which Manfred criticizes various aspects of TMZ. Manfred described TMZ as being "a fusion of celebrity news blog and embarrassing video archive" and felt that the website had become "the poster child for the celebrity pseudo-news industry" and that the website has "distinct advantages" over "gossip magazines" because it can "show all the borderline pornographic clips that Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood can't."
Jennifer Metz and David Muir of ABC News acknowledged that TMZ has long been criticized for their "aggressive tactics, antagonizing stars with video cameras" and noted that those "encounters, capturing at times violent celebrity confrontations with photographers, receive hundreds of hits online, and critics ask if entertainment reporters are crossing the line." Metz and Muir questioned whether TMZ's tactics "go too far".
Ken Sunshine, publicist for Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio, stated that his clients disliked the website because it has a tendency to be negative towards celebrities when reporting on them. "I hate that they have anything to do with trying to put celebrities into the worst light possible and that they play the 'gotcha' game". The website has been harshly criticized for having a personality cult of figures such as Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton – celebrities who are known more as targets for paparazzi than for the work they do. In defense for TMZ's coverage, Levin said that certain celebrities are main subjects on the Web site because of their "relevancy" and because their relevancy helps draw viewership to the Web site. Liz Kelly of Washington Post attacked both Levin and TMZ in an article, stating "I know this is like spitting in the wind, but I have to say it: Harvey Levin, please stop it."
John F. Kennedy
In what The Smoking Gun called "a colossal screw-up", TMZ published an "exclusive" picture on their website of a man purported to be John F. Kennedy on a ship with several naked women that could have "changed history" had it come out during his presidential campaign. Despite having a Photoshop expert proclaiming the picture as "authentic", the picture was later discovered to have not been of Kennedy at all. The photo was discovered to have been part of a Playboy photoshoot from November 1967, which was later confirmed by Playboy representatives.
On March 15, 2013, members of TMZ's staff claimed that they had learned rapper Lil Wayne was in an "unstable" condition after he was hospitalized following a seizure and that the 30-year-old rapper had been placed in an induced coma and was breathing through tubes. Soon after the report was made, Lil Wayne's friend Mack Maine responded to TMZ's allegations on his Twitter account by stating that Wayne was "alive and well" and that he was currently at Wayne's bedside "watching the Syracuse game" with him. Maine also added that Wayne's condition was never that serious and that Wayne was never in a coma or breathing through tubes. Soon afterwards, Wayne's father stated on his Twitter account that Wayne was healthy enough to be released from the hospital. Approximately one hour after these tweets were made, Wayne himself stated on his Twitter account that he was okay.
On the week of January 16, 2013, Andre Lowe was killed outside of a nightclub in Hollywood. A nearby reporter from TMZ ended up filming the attack and it was posted to the website without permission of the family. On January 22, 2013, TMZ ended up taking down the video after over two dozen advertisers revoked ads for the website because of the campaign.