After a few days of some heavy political pontificating I think I deserve to lapse into some froth and frivolity. Speaking of which, there could not have been a more opportune time for TMZ and its founder Harvey Levin to figure in my dream early this morning. In the Freudian world it must say something that even my dreams have become so “lowbrow.”
TMZ, for the uninitiated, is a uniquely American enterprise that derives its snappy name from ‘Thirty Mile Zone’, an area in Los Angeles where many of the movie studios exist. Unless you pronounce the Z in TMZ as zee the way it is done in America as opposed to zed in Britain and its former colonies the term loses its cadence.
TMZ is both a highly popular television show as well as widely followed website which derives its sustenance almost entirely from the celebrity-saturated culture that is so pervasive in LA. At its heart TMZ is a celebrity gossip outlet but it often breaks seriously big entertainment stories.
It is fortuitous that I dreamt of TMZ and Levin just three days before its TV show celebrates its fifth anniversary on September 10. TMZ is my daily must watch and it is my considered opinion that its cool dude staffers under the fine leadership of Levin produce an eminently watchable if ultimately empty show. I mean that as a genuine compliment. I don’t think people quite understand what it takes to be both so consistently engaging and yet transient; not unlike this blog, I suppose. Being able to stretch thin material without breaking it is a talent, a minor one but a talent nevertheless.
Coming to my “interview” this morning with Levin, he was splashed all across a near circular video wall in extreme high definition. I stood in the middle and made an observation, “Mr. Levin, I think TMZ is a remarkable accomplishment for what it seeks to do.” Harvey looked somewhat flummoxed by what I told him, thought for about two seconds and then burst into a guffaw. I could hear an accompanying wave of laughter among his invisible staff too. That’s it. The interview was over. The screen went dark and I woke up.
Although TMZ gives the impression of being a gossipy and fun show—and it predominantly is—it requires a great deal of work. The show is intrinsically unserious and consciously devoid of sanctimony. It is self-deprecating in a way that seems genuine. One can see that over the last five years its staffers have become quite well-oiled in their TV personae. I do not know any names but can recognize all of them. Together they generate considerable mirth often at the expense of celebrities as well as themselves.
I do not know who their announcer is but that voiceover plays quite a role in keeping the show breezy. The quips and cracks all sound perfectly off-the-cuff. I doubt if they are scripted and if they are, they are very well done. TMZ has in oodles that one fundamental ingredient for engaging TV—effortless chemistry among its characters. The whole atmosphere is one of impromptu conviviality.
If anyone at TMZ ever reads this blog, they might feel awkward at the serious dissection of what is essentially celebrity fluff. TMZ’s success lies in making it celebrity fluff worth wasting half an hour daily on. It may not be entirely accurate to classify TMZ as pure paparazzi. If celebrity chasing/gossiping were fashion, TMZ would be haute couture.
The only suggestion I have is to spend some more money on the cameras that their camera crew are armed with. Also a slightly better studio might be useful, although I understand the studiedly grungy look that Levin is going for. Someday soon I would like to do a feature story on Levin and TMZ for the IANS wire.