There are many media outlets competing for your attention on today's celebrity gossip scene, but only one with a highly-trafficked website, a hit TV show, a tour bus and a "reserved" computer at the Los Angeles county courthouse: TMZ.
Anne Helen Peterson has written a colossal, thoroughly reported and researched piece for Buzzfeed — a #longread well worth your time — titled "The Down and Dirty History of TMZ." You'll find details about the gossip juggernaut's beginnings as an AOL/Telepictures venture, how Harvey Levin became TMZ's managing editor, and how the brand honed its mission and tone. And there are a few things that may surprise you.
For instance: TMZ's red/black/white color scheme is a direct response to all the other ladycentric gossip sites and magazines, which are usually pink and yellow or pastel. As Peterson explains:
From the start, TMZ was working to cater to a market that it's cornered today: male consumers, many of whom wouldn't even consider what they were reading "gossip." Today, 42% of TMZ's readership is male; compare that to usmagazine.com (15%) and people.com (11%).
Additionally, it may seem that TMZ is always out to get celebrities. It is. But there's more to it than that. The agenda set up by Levin, a former lawyer, is slightly more complicated (emphasis mine):
With the [Paris Hilton car crash footage] and [Mel Gibson arrest report] as TMZ's two most visible scoops, it'd be easy to assume that its primary objective was simply finding incriminating footage. But again, according to multiple sources, TMZ didn't go after Gibson just because he drove drunk, or even necessarily because he was an anti-Semite. It was because the police attempted to cover it up. According to several of his staffers at the time, Levin was driven to tirelessly pursue these scoops by a desire to dismantle the unspoken but elaborate system that exempted the high-powered and beautiful of Hollywood from the rules to which the rest of the world were held. Levin had spent nearly 30 years observing the system — cops, judges, prosecutors, juries — allow the beautiful, wealthy, and powerful to misbehave, sometimes with total impunity. TMZ was his opportunity to right those wrongs.
Meanwhile, while you may think TMZ just publishes everything — all the filthy dirt they can find, on every celebrity — the editors actually hold back. For instance: Star magazine has been reporting all kinds of tension — and a possible divorce — in the Ellen Degeneres/Portia de Rossi marriage; you'll find none of that on TMZ, because the Ellen show is produced by Telepictures. (Recently, Radar, In Touch and Page Six had stories about Portia de Rossi doing a stint in rehab; there's not a word of that on TMZ.) Also, Peterson notes that TMZ kept the footage of Justin Bieber telling racist jokes in "the vault" for four years before publishing it. In the meantime, the site ran plenty of Bieber "exclusives" — little stories about his haircut and his love life, suggesting that there was a understanding, an agreement.
What else is in that vault?
The vault isn't a secret at TMZ — even the lowest on the staff ladder have heard whispers of its existence. As to what goes up on the site and what stays vaulted, that's a finer, more esoteric calculus — and one in which celebrities and their publicists have come to live in fear. As one source explained, "There's no doubt: [Harvey] Levin absolutely changed the way celebrities function today."
Hard facts and documentation have helped build TMZ into a recognized authority on celebrity happenings. But while TMZ is a $55 million brand, its success comes with unrest amongst the staff.
…In May 2013, former TMZer Catherine "Taryn" Hillin filed suit against TMZ executive producer Evan Rosenblum for gender discrimination, claiming she was told by multiple employees that "TMZ hates women" and favors male employees and alleging that Rosenblum "routinely yelled at and humiliated" her, calling her "f—-ing shit" and telling her, "I f—-ing hate this shit you hand in" and, "Don't be a girl." […]
Levin, according to one source, is "one of those gay men who's just never been able to get along with women." He's stacked his organization with young, bro-ish men who help make the tone and feel of the website masculine and definitively non-gay. […]
Cloaked misogyny, in other words, sells.
Lastly, while TMZ has retracted a story or two, this sentence is perhaps the most mind-boggling of them all:
TMZ has never been successfully sued for libel or defamation.
This weekend, take the time to read the entire epic piece, found here.