'TMZ Live' Ready to Talk the Talk

In TV development time, TMZ Live’s passage from birth to series has moved with the equivalent speed of a good Lindsay Lohan story.

It began its life as a Web series that executive producer Harvey Levin and other producers and reporters from TMZ shot to air on TMZ.com while chatting about the day’s stories. The live video show quickly migrated to other Web platforms, such as UStream. From there, it earned a test run on Fox’s KTTV Los Angeles, which also airs the half-hour entertainment magazine TMZ twice a day. The show then added a test run on KSAZ Phoenix, where it started airing last summer.

TMZ Live did well enough on both stations that on Oct. 1, Fox expanded its run to five more markets: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit and Minneapolis. Now, two months later, the numbers are in: With proven results, TMZ Live is poised to be cleared nationally.

“We’ve been happy with the ratings, we are very optimistic for the show’s future and we really like the business model,” says Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for Fox Television Stations.

Fox and Warner Bros. are expected to hammer out a deal this month, but both parties are interested in clearing the one-hour show on all of the Fox-owned stations for a fall 2013 start. From there, Warner Bros. would work to clear TMZ Live across the country.

“I’m not surprised TMZ Live is working because I think TMZ’s point of view is very compelling to people,” says Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of Telepictures Productions, the first-run arm of Warner Bros. Television. “TMZ Live follows suit with what you see working on television right now: shows that have topicality, a point of view, multiple perspectives, a brand that people like and the latest information.”

While TMZ is considered an entertainment magazine, reporting mainly on celebrity-focused stories, it’s more of a comic take on the day’s events in Hollywood (or the “30-mile zone” that Hollywood occupies, hence the show’s title). TMZ Live is more of a casual talk show about celebrity news featuring TMZ’s actual staffers.

TMZ Live is what a talk show should be these days,” says Levin, who launched the show on TMZ.com two years ago. “We talk about stuff that people care about in a way that they care about. The show works because I’ve got all of these people in the newsroom who are authentic, quirky, knowledgeable and really good at what they do. We don’t have anchors who read teleprompters. If the person worked on the story that we’re talking about, then he or she is the right person to talk about it on-air.”

Overall, TMZ Live is averaging a 1.1 rating/3 share in its seven markets, up 25% in rating and one share point in its time period compared to last November. This November, which was a strange month for syndication ratings due to massive ratings breakouts on the East Coast after Superstorm Sandy, the show is up 43% compared with its 0.7/2 lead-in.

Among the key daytime demographic of women 25-54, TMZ Live is up 75% this year to a 0.7/4 compared with last year’s 0.4/3.

Improvements over year-ago time periods and leadins are exactly what station managers want to hear when acquiring a show.

In Los Angeles, the show’s originating market, TMZ Live airs on Fox-owned KTTV at 4 p.m. and is improving its time slot among households by 40% over last year, when Warner Bros.’ Anderson aired in the hour. Among daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54 in Los Angeles, TMZ Live also is up, improving 20% to a 0.6/3 from last year’s 0.5/2.

TMZ Live’s best performance comes on Fox’s WJBK Detroit, where it airs at 2 p.m. and averages a 2.1/6 in households, up 61% from CBS Television Distribution’s now cancelled Swift Justice, which averaged a 1.3/4. Among women 25-54 in that market, TMZ Live is up 110%, to a 1.7/9 from a 0.8/4.

TMZ Live
also does well on KSAZ Phoenix at 3 p.m., where it’s averaging a 2.1/5 in households, up 23% from last year, when CTD’s Judge Joe Brown turned in a 1.7/5 in the time slot. Among women 25-54 in Phoenix, TMZ Live is increasing the audience by 71% to a 1.2/6 from a 0.7/4.

Neither Boston nor Chicago are quite as impressed by Levin and crew’s Hollywood chat as L.A., Phoenix or Detroit. On Fox’s WFXT Boston, TMZ Live is averaging a 0.5/2 in households, a small rating but still up from last year’s Swift Justice, which averaged a 0.3/1.

E-mail comments to palbiniak@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.