Thursday, September 13, 2007
TMZ TV: Goodbye, Mr. Levin
Harvey Levin is a buffed, bronzed, dyed and pumped Mr. Chips, presiding over a class of pretty young boys at a West Hollywood version of a British boarding school. As Harvey stands with a pastel marker to scrawl celebrity names on a wall of glass, the young pretties compete for his approval by pitching him gossip stories. There’s a beautiful Death in Venice twink with a mane of streaked blonde hair, straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. Harvey fixes him with a smoldering, come-hither stare that has little to do with the story the boy is teasing...
And Monday's premiere of the televised version of the corporate porn-pushing gossip site TMZ.com was underway! Who’d have predicted that the nastiness, kink and coprophiliac sleaze of the website would be replaced by pure camp? While the website is a stinky cesspool, the TV show is a boys-only bubblebath—the television equivalent of that purple TeleTubby used by TMZ.com to mark the deaths of famous gays or conservatives.
But it was in the cards from the beginning. Aside from the queeny asides like "It's bewildering, Bitch!" (note to producers: a male co-host should not utter that line.), the frenetic, whiplash-inducing ride through rehashed video, movie clips, animated cut-outs and vaporous, wispy, dated stories, TMZ the TV show takes its cues— and replays many of the same stories-- from its mothership, Extra!, and the other infotainment shows that replaced storytelling and content with fast-paced fluff about ten years ago. Add the blurry TMZ.com video shot by its cut-rate kiddie harassment squad and the on-the-cheap graphics, and the show and look are a lot closer to the low-budget one-hour pop culture specials that clog and kill time on VH1 and the E! channel.
Harvey, with this Roy Cohn-meets-Barry Diller countenance, popped up throughout the first episode, but his putative co-hosts, all bent noses and too much pancake makeup, were hard to find. A dour Teresa Strasser, looking the worse for wear after months of battering by the execrable Adam Carolla on morning radio, literally got about three seconds of airtime near the end. Two of the pretty young boys had already appeared twice on the show before she and the other hired female made an appearance.
Boys, Boys, Boys
Harvey’s younger male counterpart, the left-leaning Hollywood scion Ben Mankiewicz, didn’t show up until Day 2, by which time someone in the hierarchy had demanded that executive producer Harvey add some females into his locker room opening. So two young women were hauled out to pretend to pitch Harvey stories. But the boy toy male model again returned for a cameo.
(Do we see a gossip item in the making?)
Ben was placed in the sequence to appear as if he was watching from the sidelines like a bemused Rafael Abramovitz. He followed up by pissing all over the TMZ concept by embarrassing the celebutard crowd Harvey has been elevating, with a “Jaywalking” segment meant to prove that they don’t know the year of the September 11th attacks.
Too bad that the 9/11 Q&A shtik has been done before, to greater effect, not only on Leno’s show, but on other television shows and more than once on YouTube (check out a version here that was posted in May). You're a copycat, bitch! Even so, it was a statement, a clear sign that Ben thinks he’s above the fray and that the clock is already ticking until the day he walks off the show in high dudgeon (we say it was in the cards from the day he was hired).
It was about six minutes into that second show that Harvey’s fetish object Matthew McConaughey finally made his first appearance in a shirtless paparazzi shot. Oddly, poor Teresa Strasser was made to read what was an apparently some kind of coded message signaling that McConaughey is gay:
“Adonis-chested Matthew McConaughey blew a fan…”
“...off last night…”
The line “Matthew McConaughey blew a fan” was definitely left hanging there, deliberately, long enough to get our attention-- and to have us think for a moment that he'd actually favored some lucky fan with oral gratification! Was that an in-joke among Harvey, Jim, Paul and the boys? Or did Teresa and Carolla's other boss, Jimmy Kimmel, give her the line reading?
Who cares? No one else noticed, apparently. And to be honest, we stopped there. After fast-forwarding through a lot of Episode 1, we didn’t even make it to the second quarter of Show 2, let alone Show 3. Everything we needed to know about TMZ the TV show was in that first 35 minutes or so. As it stands, the show is Harvey’s ego trip, and the gay meter is blowing… its top. Expect big changes ahead. Expect Ben to be gone. Expect a Rachel Dratch-Jane Krakowski-style female talent switch, and expect Harvey Levin to be shunted to the sidelines, Mike Walker-style, for his own good.
The stain of TMZ.com has spread indelibly across the Internet. TMZ the TV show is already irrelevant. Right now, it would fit in well at 11 pm on E! or the TV Guide channel and get that expected audience. But in the mainstream syndicated television market, it’s already time to count the little Harvey heads to cancellation.