Five Reasons TMZ’s Harvey Levin is a Genius. Lessons for All Brands - Walter Sabo - MediaBizBloggers
Published: January 11, 2011 at 02:13 AM GMT
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Last Updated: August 8, 2012 at 02:13 AM GMT
By Walter Sabo
In June, Jim Paratore, the co-creator and co-executive Producer of TMZ passed away at 58.
This week, Harvey Levin’s creation, TMZ was renewed for three more years. A three year renewal equals miracle in Television.
TMZ is a syndicated show that usually airs six days a week in early fringe. If you watch TMZ occasionally, you believe it’s a clip show that primarily presents blurry video of celebrities running for their cars.
No one would watch TMZ for more than a week if that was the whole show and now we get to Mr. Levin’s genius.
There isn’t enough celebrity “news” on any given day to make a rating’s grabber show. Other entertainment news shows meet the challenge by airing dreary, canned sugary celebrity interviews. TMZ meets the challenge by having a group of smart, candid, clever, chatty writers, editors, clearance managers and producers talk about---each other.
The on air team does not spend much time reacting to the clips. Instead, they talk about what you talk about: Work, the boss and co-workers.
1. The Power of the Mirror. Viewers go to work. They gossip about co-workers and about the boss. They come home, turn on the TV and there is a group of people on TMZ gossiping about co-workers and mocking the boss. But instead of a so-1980s sitcom, the TMZ people really are at work.
That picture above is Shevonne Sullivan. “You can’t sayyyyyyy that!”, says Shevonne, furious at Harvey for getting it wrong about which celebrity had diarrhea in a gas station mens’ room. Let’s think that through. Harvey is a TV veteran, the creator of TMZ, a former CBS news contributor and a distinguished law professor, AND her boss. She’s ripping him one. What therapy for the viewer!
The team torments each other and the boss torments them. He’ll expresses great unhappiness with questions asked by the show's cameramen on the street. He tells his team, “Enough”. Like your boss he is cranky, presents wacky theories and uses big words incorrectly.
There are constant jabs about each other’s appearance, “She looks like a sexy Colonel Sanders.”
They mock diversity training, anything PC and have fun with religious stereotypes, notably Judaism:
“If Jews didn’t sell diamonds what would be left? Like Hollywood and accounting?”
“I was in an Asian supermarket last night and there were like hundreds of people…and they were really small.”
Lesson to brands: This is at 6:30 PM on VHF TV. Watch what your audience watches, they are not easily shocked. Did you see the TMZ story about anal bleaching?
2. Want to be on TV? No problem. During vacation periods, team members are out, so the chairs on the set must be filled.
The most watched stars, day to day are on the Internet. Video webstars. Self-Cast stars. Harvey fills the chairs with the celebrities in your life like the cashier at Cantor’s, the manager of the gym downstairs and the owner of the 76 station across the street. Those guests share celebrity gossip as peers on-set.
Lesson for brands: There is a camera on your customer’s laptop that allows them to make a video and send it to the world now. No gatekeeper. The more gatekeepers you employ, the less credibility you have.
3. Put the customer’s thoughts on stage. Throughout TMZ there is a running narration from a funny voice who makes snarky remarks about the celebrity clips and the people on set.
The narration voice says many of the things you are thinking. As a result, the show is engaging because it is flattering to the viewer’s ego.
Thanks to over-priced research, brands know what people think of them. Imagine how enhanced your brand’s credibility would be if you stated the NEGATIVES and had fun with them.
You’re thinking, our brand is VERY conservative. No it's not. The CEO listens to Imus or Howard Stern or watches TMZ or listens to punk bands or has a kid in re-hab. Good morning, it’s 2011. Just let go. It’s soap, chips and cookies. It’s not about the brand, it’s about the product.
4. The Website is different. Harvey understands that the Internet is not TV. Thousands of companies miss the opportunity presented by original online video. They make video that would look great on TV but doesn’t “print” on the Internet. Those videos are too slick, too HD. TMZ creates original videos for the website.
TMZ LIVE is a 30 minute video streamed and posted daily, hosted by Executive Producer and Host Harvey, and another random co-worker. (But never Kelly, why never Kelly? But I digress.) TMZ LIVE presents updates on the day’s news, and answers viewer emails. Every day, the boss answers viewer email. Every day. Imagine if your CEO got online every day and answered questions.
DAX CHATS. Dax, the blond spiky hair guy, who is a rights clearance manager, does a live stream show daily. He invites co-workers and celebrities to answer chat room questions live, unfiltered.
Lesson for brands: Internet demands separate creative. No filter=credible.
Eliminate Corporate Communications---a filter from the ‘70’s. Answer all emails immediately and preferably publicly. What a great show it would be to see the CEO of (insert brand name) online daily answering emails. The first CEO to do that will be the most beloved, respected and authentic in the world.
5. Keep your day job. Like many new companies, the boss at TMZ has kept his day job. Once a month Harvey flies to New York and hosts THE PEOPLE’S COURT. He has been on THE PEOPLE’S COURT for about 15 years. Of course his staff mocks him for that too.
It’s all quite brilliant, Harvey. Congratulations on your renewal.
Walter Sabo is the Chairman of Sabo Media, a company that offers executive-on-demand services. He has worked on-site to build out new digital content platforms such as Sirius/XM. His team was the first to discover the marketing clout of web stars, Internet organic video producers. They founded OMMA award winning HITVIEWS. The company placed brands such as CBS, TiVo and Mountain Dew inside UGC. In FM broadcasting he is a leader in the profitable sector of FM Talk and held executive positions at NBC and ABC Radio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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