A lot has been said about TMZ and its founder, Harvey Levin, over the years—but there’s never been a feature that gives readers as close an inside look at the site as the New Yorker’s recent piece does. The feature confirms that yes, TMZ does throw some money around to get some of its scoops, and also explains some of the site’s other strategies to dig up information. But on top of everything, the profile is full of juicy behind-the-scenes details and quirky anecdotes. Here are some highlights. (Needless to say, the entire piece by Nicholas Schmidle is really worth a read.)
Levin’s obsession with staying youthful drove him to binge on blueberries:
Gillian Sheldon, TMZ’s first publicist, who later became a supervising producer, said, “Once, Sumner Redstone”—the former executive chairman of Viacom, who is ninety-two—“told [Levin] that one of the secrets of his longevity was that he ate blueberries every day. So then, for months, Harvey was, like, ‘Blueberries!’ all the time.”
TMZ basically operates like the CIA of celebrity news and gossip, and they are very sourced up at LAX:
In an e-mail from last year, a photographer reported having four airport sources for the day, including “Harold at Delta, Leon at Baggage service, Fred at hudson news, Lyle at Fruit and nut stand.”
Alec Baldwin really hates Harvey Levin:
Sample quote: “He is a festering boil on the anus of American media.”
One former employee was so scared to talk to the reporter that she came to lunch in a disguise.
Another stood me up; she later apologized, saying, “I was scared.”
Levin eschewed the usual corner office for a raised desk “in the center of the newsroom, creating an editorial panopticon”:
According to a former senior producer, “Anytime you went to talk to him, you felt like a supplicant.”
TMZ was almost named “Buzz Feed”:
While they were trying to pick a name for the new site, Buzz Feed was among the suggestions, alongside “Feed the Beast,” “Frenzie,” and “Thirty Mile Zone,” which Levin shortened to TMZ.
TMZ paid $80,000 for a Justin Bieber video they never ran:
The video depicted Bieber singing “One Less Lonely Girl,” but inserting the N-word into it.
A source close to the situation told me that when Bieber was informed of the leak he broke down, confessing that he had made the video a while back, as a joke, and that he thought he had deleted it from his laptop, which was later stolen.
Bieber’s manager, when asked for comment, pleaded with Levin not to run it, saying “You’re going to ruin this kid’s life.” Levin planned to run the video anyway, and told Bieber’s manager to have a statement ready by morning. But he changed his mind overnight.
Levin confided that he’d been unable to sleep. “A lot of people call me and tell me I’m an asshole—they say, ‘Fuck you,’ ” Levin said. “You didn’t. I’m not putting the video up.”