'TMZ’s Big Three Are in a Zone

TMZ stands for the thirty-mile zone that surrounds Hollywood, but TMZ the brand has far surpassed that boundary, with three TV shows spun out of the original website and a growing Internet empire that includes TMZ.com as well as Fishwrapper and TooFab.

While TMZ itself continues to be strong—leading all TV magazine shows among adults 18-49, tying CBS Television Distribution’s Entertainment Tonight for first place among women 18-49 and taking second place only to ET among women 25-54—TMZ Live is quietly growing.

“Harvey is a genius,” says Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, speaking of TMZ executive producer Harvey Levin. “Everyone said the entertainment news space was full, and then he came in with a different way of producing a show, looking at the space from a totally different point of view.”

On Monday, Oct. 13, Fox’s WNYW New York upgraded TMZ Live to 4 p.m., moving Sony Pictures Television’s Dr. Oz back to 2 p.m. On Columbus Day, the first day in its new time slot, TMZ Live scored a 0.7 among adults 25-54, 133% better than Oz was doing in the time period. That in turn led to Fox News at 5 p.m. also rating a 0.7 in that key sales demographic, up from its 0.4 season-to-date average.

“From a competitive standpoint, there’s nothing else like TMZ Live in the New York market,” says Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for the Fox Television Stations. At 4 p.m., TMZ Live competes with CTD’s Judge Judy and Warner Bros.’ Ellen in New York.

TMZ Live has built its case slowly and even now remains somewhat under the radar because the show is cleared on an all-cash basis, with no national barter time. Stations love that because they keep all of the show’s advertising inventory but it means the show does not appear in the national Nielsen ratings.

The show first started as a webcast, featuring TMZ executive producer Harvey Levin chatting with his coexecutive producers and reporters in the newsroom about the stories of the day. The show aired as a test on Fox’s KTTV Los Angeles in March 2012, with Fox’s KSAZ Phoenix coming on board in June. That October, five more Fox owned stations picked up the show.

Last fall, TMZ Live aired in 26 markets, including all of Fox’s markets, covering 43.5% of the country. This fall, Warner Bros. grew that coverage to 70 markets covering nearly 67% of the country. Meanwhile, the show’s core content remains the same: TMZ’s producers and reporters digging into the nitty-gritty of the day’s news.

“This show is authentically what a lot of shows are trying to be, but they don’t have the people who have the information and the knowledge to talk about the stories that we do,” says Levin. “Every show does celebrity news, but a lot of the people who do them are news readers who aren’t really reporting the stories so there’s no depth to what they are talking about. We break these stories; we aren’t hiring any reporters or anchors to do this stuff.”

Getting All the Breaks

Love it or hate it, team TMZ certainly breaks stories. In recent months, TMZ led the national media when it posted audio of Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks, leading to Sterling’s dismissal and the team’s sale, as well as elevator security-camera footage of Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice knocking his then-girlfriend, now-wife out cold, which led to an in-depth discussion of how the NFL is handling domestic violence.

Those stories, which TMZ first breaks online, drive ratings to TMZ Live, where viewers can get more information about all the major players. “When Ray Rice was happening over the summer, our numbers were terrific,” says Cicha.

Scoops aren’t as important to TMZ on TV, which plays more like a comedy that includes news stories, blooper videos and funny narration. TMZ, the original, is up year-to-year amongst all key demographics, climbing 25% among women 18-49, 9% among women 25-54, 29% among adults 18-49 and 22% among adults 25-54.

TMZ also just added a third TV show, TMZ Hollywood Sports, which was first tested over the summer on seven Fox owned stations in late-night time periods. While Fox was happy with the show’s performance, it didn’t have room for it in key time periods and it’s already double- and triple-running TMZ and TMZ Live in most of its markets.

TMZ Hollywood Sports started airing exclusively on Reelz at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Sept. 29.

“I love being on Reelz and being the anchor for their network,” says Levin. “This is a good move for us.”

Levin, team TMZ and Warner Bros. are constantly working to grow the brand: “Every day we are finding stories and breaking stories,” Levin says. “That just makes the shows better. This newsroom knows this stuff cold.”

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.