Harvey Levin, the former local news legal analyst and street reporter turned flamboyant infotainment show reporter and legal analyst, has bitten the hand that feeds him in his new role running the “interactive” Hollywood website TMZ.com.
TMZ sends kids with video cameras to stand outside hotpots to provoke celebrities to go wild. The site made a stir when billionaire scumheir Brandon Davis went off on a filthy obscene tirade against Lindsay Lohan, while his companion Paris Hilton giggled like a moron. Now it’s seeking headlines, claiming the Woody Harrelson attacked one of its operatives.
But Harvey might regret his latest stunt, trying to milk publicity out of a confrontation with a Hollywood good guy— an adult who stumbled into the silliness. Because TMZ is no renegade Internet independent. It’s a cog in the corporate machine.
And it could be throwing a spanner into the works.
A few nights ago, one of TMZ’s kids with a camera managed to bait Harrelson as he stepped out of a Hollywood nightspot. The actor asked the kid to get the camera out of his face. The kid mouthed off, and while a second TMZ stalkerazzi recorded a wide shot of the scene, Woody allegedly broke the kid’s camera.
That’s showbiz (and that’s probably why the second cameraman was stationed to record the confrontation). From Sinatra to Sean Penn to Tommy Lee, the subject occasionally bites back.
Harvey the lawyer doesn't get it. He sent the kid to the Hollywood Police Station to file a police report. Then he had the kid go to the Cedars-Sinai emergency room and took nice photos taken of the bruises.
First off: Woody Harrelson? We can see staking out Woody back in the day-- like fifteen years ago-- when he starred in Natural Born Killers, or when it was revealed that his dad the hitman had claimed to be part of the JFK assassination team.
But today? What interest would Harvey Levin have in a 44-year-old man? His site dines on celebutards: kiddie stars like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton.
The closest connection the site could come up with was Woody’s appearance in the recent movie “A Prairie Home Companion” (which features Lohan).
And that’s the problem for Harvey.
See, TMZ may appear to be a street-level website that allows the people to play celebutainment reporter.
But dig into the site and see it spelled out that “this site is controlled and operated by TMZ.com., a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, 1840 Victory Blvd., Glendale, CA 91201… Please forward any questions regarding other legal matters to email@example.com.”
Woody Harrelson’s new movie is distributed by Picturehouse, a specialty film company formed by New Line Cinema and HBO.
Both are divisions of Time Warner.
So a Time Warner company is attacking a Time Warner star, and through the ensuing bad publicity, possibly affecting the bottom line of a Time Warner movie.
Of course, there’s precedent again, going back to the rip-roaring days of Fox’s A Current Affair (and Premier Story producer Jim Sheehan tried to file charges against Princess Diana's driver when he was run over on a NYC street-- see Tabloid Baby, Chapter 31, and view the video here). But back then, the targets were fat and powerful, from Senators to CEOs. Sean Elder hit on it in a Salon.com article about Tabloid Baby author Burt Kearns:
"It was never journalism," Kearns says of what they were doing. "It was what the Australians would call a piss-take on journalism." And it was much safer -- and more just -- to "take the piss" out of public figures like Steven Spielberg, whose divorce from Amy Irving got the "Current Affair" treatment, including clips from "Jaws" that equated interloper Kate Capshaw with Bruce the Shark. This resulted in a phone call from Spielberg to Fox studio head Barry Diller, which Kearns interprets as follows:
"Barry, if I live to be 90, I will never do a movie for Fox."
Kearns estimates that cost the company around $500 million.
The uncomfortable conflict of interest followed as the A Current Affair team took over Hard Copy at Paramount. And it didn’t take long for the studio to replace them, and use the show as a bargaining chip to get celebrities to appear on their innocuous “Entertainment Tonight” (even promising George Clooney in writing that they’d keep him off Hard Copy if he’d cooperate with ET (then foolishly breaking the agreement and spilling the beans). The whole genre shifted from newsmaking, trendsetting, comment and satire to the safe, corporate celebsucking PR shizzle of ET, Extra and Access Hollywood.
TMZ is an offshoot of Extra--you know, one of those shows that vowed not to buy stalkerazzi footage.
Harvey, by the way, appears in Chapter 28 of Tabloid Baby, “Where’s The Bag, Mr. Kardashian?”, as a local news reporter who took himself very seriously, trying to play the tabloid game and almost causing a mistrial in the OJ Simpson case in the process.