Levin co-founded TMZ in 2005 alongside the late television producer Jim Paratore, who used to work at Telepictures, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. TMZ’s celebrity news website quickly gained national attention and became a household name after breaking stories such as Mel Gibson’s antisemitic rants and Michael Jackson’s death. TMZ and its various television shows, including “TMZ” and “TMZ Live,” have long been a fixture of Fox’s programming.
“The unique and powerful brand Harvey has created in TMZ has forever changed the entertainment industry and we’re excited to welcome them to Fox,” said Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman and chief executive officer of Fox Corporation, in a press release announcing the acquisition. “TMZ has been an impactful program for our Fox television stations and broadcast partners for many years.”
The acquisition came at a time when Levin’s contract with Warner Bros. was expiring and he wasn’t expected to remain at TMZ if Warner Bros. continued to own it, the Wall Street Journal reported. According to the newspaper, TMZ’s reporting had “created tensions” inside Warner Bros., which has separate business relationships with the celebrities TMZ covers.
The rise of TMZ and TMZ Live
Ironically, the reason TMZ started making TV shows is that Levin’s boss at Warner Bros. asked him to.
“I didn’t want to do it because suddenly I was so into the web that I wasn’t into TV anymore,” Levin said during a 2013 lecture at his alma mater, The University of Chicago Law School. “And [my boss] said, ‘No, no, no, Fox wants to do this show,’ and I did not want to do this show. And we were thinking, ‘God, what do we do here?’”
Levin eventually landed on the concept of TMZ Live, where TMZ staffers discuss and poke fun at celebrity stories. Fox loved the program so much that it renewed it for three more years only two weeks after TMZ Live started airing on all its owned and operated stations, Levin said in the lecture. “[TMZ Live] worked because it was different,” he added.
Still, the show’s concept was a tough sell for Warner Bros. in the beginning.
“Warner Brothers—and I’m not trying to rag on Warner Brothers—but it is a traditional television company, and there was a lot of pressure to get an anchor,” Levin said in his lecture. “They wanted me to be an anchor and they wanted reporters. No. You know, it’s like ‘NO!’” In the end, Levin was able to bring his idea to fruition and TMZ Live was born.
The former lawyer credits much of his success to the skills he learned in law school.
“You project things five steps down the road, and you don’t just say ‘oh this immediate gratification is where I want to be,’ because everything has consequences,” he said in his lecture. When it comes to growing your business, strive to strike deals that get your business partners interested and invested in your success, Levin recommended. “If you’re successful after the first year, you’ll do a lot better in years two through 10,” he said. “And if you try to squeeze [your partners] in year one, you may not get year two.”
Levin has continued to lead operations for TMZ, which has been folded under Fox Entertainment, a division of Fox Corp. He could not be reached for comment on this story.