The people behind TMZ reached a lofty goal for the show's first full year in production: They made it a full year. At the close of 2008, the show delivered 52 weeks of original episodes, with only three days of repackaged material: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
That's eight weeks more than the 44 Warner Bros. contracted to TMZ's affiliates, but it's something the show always intended to do if it could pull it off, says Harvey Levin, TMZ's executive producer.
“Everybody is cutting back right now. We keep hearing about budget cuts and shows going on longer hiatuses,” Levin says. “We were the only show that produced 52 complete original weeks of programming in 2008. That really made a difference the last two weeks of the year. While all the other shows were doing features on 'the best baby bumps of 2008,' we were right there in the middle of some pretty big stories.”
Among the stories TMZ broke over the holidays, according to Levin, were the death of 16-year-old Jett Travolta while his family was vacationing in the Bahamas, basketball legend Charles Barkley getting busted for drunk driving on New Year's Eve and TV doyenne Heather Locklear copping a plea for a DUI charge in September.
“I think we were the only game in town for those two weeks,” Levin says. “And our Website, TMZ.com, is up 24/7, 52 weeks a year, and one feeds off the other. We ended up breaking some huge stories during the two weeks when everyone else was down.”
Adding eight weeks of production to a 44-week-per-year schedule meant TMZ had to keep a tight watch on an already shoestring budget. That translated to multiple jobs for every employee, and no high-paid talent or fancy sets decorated with LCD flat-screens.
“The premise of our show is that people are watching for the information and entertainment we put out there,” Levin says. “All the trappings that a lot of other shows have—big sets, high-end control rooms—those things don't matter to us.”
'NO FAT IN THAT PRODUCTION'
“I just visited TMZ last week,” says Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for the Fox Television Stations, TMZ's flagship station group. “It's inspiring to watch how they do this. Their structure is unlike any other syndicated program. There's no fat in that production.”
Fox recently renewed TMZ for two more years, through 2011, Cicha says. “We're extremely pleased to be bringing it back.”
TMZ.com launched in December 2005 and TMZ, the syndicated TV show, premiered in September 2007, with 2008 being the first full year the show was on the air. TMZ.com is the second most trafficked entertainment news Website, according to comScore Media Metrix, behind only Yahoo's OMG. In the first week of January 2009, the site's traffic increased by 2.3 million unique visitors, or 36% over the first week of December 2008, according to Omniture. The site also boasted a gain of 15 million page views, jumping to 73.7 million versus 58.7 million.
TMZ, the TV show, is the only entertainment newsmagazine to show year-to-year growth across all demographics. TMZ is up 5% in households, 17% in women 18-34, 17% in women 18-49, 8% in women 25-54, 38% in men 18-34, 22% in men 18-49 and 20% in men 25-54, according to Nielsen Media Research's live-plus-same-day average audience ratings.
By comparison, CBS Television Distribution's entertainment magazine leader, Entertainment Tonight, is down 12% in households year-to-year. CTD's Inside Edition has dropped 15%, NBC Universal's Access Hollywood has fallen 21%, CTD's The Insider has declined 21% and Warner Bros.' own Extra has decreased 6%.