TMZ's New Approach To Celebrity News

Telepictures Prods. President Hilary Estey McLoughlin has a new assignment: heading Warner Bros.’ new syndicated TV series based on, the entertainment-news Website co-owned by Time Warner’s Telepictures and AOL.

After the Fox stations cleared TMZ for weekdays and an hour on weekends, Warner Bros. is hopeful that it can have it fully cleared in a few weeks.

It’s yet another entertainment magazine, but Warner Bros. promises it will take a different storytelling approach from Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood—and even Warner Bros.’ own Extra.

The goal is to attract the same demos that have made 13-month-old a top entertainment-news site by focusing on the lifestyle of celebrities, rather than red-carpet premieres. TMZ’s Harvey Levin experimented with the entertainment-news format on a different platform after Warner Bros. cancelled his syndicated Celebrity Justice show.

If it succeeds, Warner Bros. thinks a TMZ strip can attract younger viewers, as well as a better mix of men and women than normally watch a genre that is largely the domain of older female viewers.

McLoughlin, a Telepictures veteran whose unit produces six strips this season, took the top spot in August after serving as Jim Paratore’s second in command since July 2002. She talks to B&C’s Jim Benson about the new project and how she found the state of the syndication market at last week’s National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) conference.

Will AOL be involved in production?

Not so much in day-to-day production. But they have been terrific partners on the Website, and we expect that they will continue to support the show in terms of marketing and promotion.

Would you use a Time Warner asset like People magazine, which takes a similar approach, to cross-promote it?

Only in the sense of publicity. [Celebrity journalism] is a very competitive world. But they have all been great about crediting us for breaking stories and like to mention the TMZ name.

Is this the first case of a TV show’s inspiring a Website, which in turn inspired a TV show?

Celebrity Justice was used [in the formation of] as an example of creating a brand capable of generating a tremendous amount of publicity, even though it never had the television audience to accompany that sort of inspiration. So in that respect, it certainly did help inspire [the Website], though this show will have much broader content.

Syndication tends to over-saturate popular genres like talk and court. Do you think it’s getting to that point now with celebrities?

Syndication tends to have things that work, and we go back to those genres because they are the only ones that are strippable. It is interesting: If you looked at it on face value, the genre has had enough attention with the whole world of celebrity journalism. People have an insatiable appetite for it.

But [TMZ] will be unique in that it is not going after the same storytelling and approach as other magazine shows. It will have a different point of view. So it won’t contribute to saturating the Web. It is moving in a new direction and can be used to counter-program existing shows.

You’re a NATPE veteran. How would you describe this year’s relative to previous ones?

Honestly, I’ve been holed up in my [office] suite [at NATPE]. But my impression from a business standpoint is that there is a lot of focus on international and cable and that advertisers are here in bigger numbers. I’m getting the sense that NATPE is much broader than just syndication. This year, there is a very limited number of shows that are getting picked up. I’d be interested to see what stations will do with those time periods. There is lots of focus on renewals rather than selling new shows this year. I’ll bet there will be lots of double runs next season.

What are stations telling you that they want in terms of first-run programming?

I’ve had general conversations, and it seems like everyone is still looking for a huge hit in early fringe that could work as a news lead-in and against Oprah.

There is much less emphasis on daytime since stations don’t make their money there.