Nearly 40 years after Andy Warhol’s visionary statement that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, syndicated gossip show “TMZ” uses his theory as its backbone. This snarkier version of the popular website is fluffed to fill 30 minutes by giving as much screen time to the crackerjack “TMZ” staff — not to mention just about any drunk stumbling around Hollywood — as it does to actual celebrities. Even the prophetic Warhol, a self-described deeply superficial person, would find this frothy.
With the cult of celebrity at its apex, a show as shallow as “TMZ” is hardly surprising, but one would expect to be at least mildly entertaining. Granted, with its irreverent tone, the show is a departure from the usual celebrity suck-ups, but when it comes to style and production values, “TMZ” makes the other shows of its ilk look like “60 Minutes.” This is only a boon for celeb stalkers, paparazzi, the stupid and the stoned.
“TMZ” did have the lucky break to debut the day after Britney Spears’ disastrous “comeback” performance on MTV’s VMAs. But instead of any kind of real industry perspective, viewers instead get TMZ staff commentary: “She looked like a circus pony shot up with horse tranquilizers.”
“I didn’t know they made stripper wear for butterball turkeys.”
It’s the sort of discourse heard around the water cooler in any office in America.
Subsequent episodes didn’t hold much more promise. Along with a few recurring inhouse segments, like Celebuspawn, which follows Hollywood’s knocked-up, and the online poll that pits two celebs against each other begging the question, “Who’d you rather?,” most of the content is rehashed from the Web, sometimes verbatim. TMZ.com gained a huge following for breaking several exclusives, including Mel Gibson’s drunken driving police report last year, and was the first to confirm the validity of word about “High School Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens’ nude pics. Consequently, the TV version seems like a step backward.
At least the show’s approach is unique. Story sessions begin early in the a.m., and the TMZ staff run all ideas — none too banal — past managing editor Harvey Levin. Viewers get to watch as various staffers bat around stories and tidbits the likes of which “Dirt’s” Lucy Spiller wouldn’t even sniff at.
Case in point: Levin is thrilled when someone turns up the lunch menu from Maddox Jolie-Pitt’s $19,000-a-year preschool in New York. Another segment that catches his fancy features a crew who followed former “Lost” star Michelle Rodriguez and captured this gem from her: “Milk makes me fart.” Then there’s a segment on the inebriated clubbers leaving Hollywood’s Les Deux who can’t remember the year of the Sept. 11 attacks. They can, however, name all of Brad and Angelina’s kids — proof, at least, that there’s a target audience for the show.