TMZ: The website striking fear into Hollywood's stars

As Christian Bale found last week, no celebrity is safe from the attentions of the trashy showbiz site

When Christian Bale unleashed a four-minute foul-mouthed rant at an unfortunate crew member on the set of the new Terminator movie last summer, he may have thought that what happened on set would stay on set. Someone, however, recorded it, and somehow – no one quite knows how – the audio file turned up last week on the website TMZ, launching a download frenzy that has seen the recording spread around the globe, and spawning dozens of spoofs and parodies.

So it goes, in the exuberant and voyeuristic world of TMZ, a Los Angeles website founded on the principle that no detail of a famous person's daily existence, from Britney visiting Starbucks to Paris picking her nose, is too boring or tasteless to satisfy a prurient, celebrity-obsessed public.

In the three years since it was founded, TMZ (pronounced "tee-em-zee" – the name is taken from "thirty mile zone", a film industry term referring to the area around Hollywood) has become America's most influential purveyor of showbiz tittle-tattle. It sits third in the league of most-visited celebrity websites (behind People.com and Yahoo's OMG), has spawned a prime-time TV show, and is one of Time magazine's "25 websites we can't live without".

Its modus operandi is gloriously lowbrow: every hour or so, the site posts either a breaking news story, traditional paparazzi shots, revelatory documents or footage from one of its video cameramen who patrol the streets of Los Angeles, attempting to cajole passing stars into conversation.

Sometimes, amid endless videos of feral photographers harassing C-list celebrities, the site will distinguish itself by stumbling upon a genuine exclusive. Last week brought two cases in point: first, on Tuesday, came the Christian Bale audio file; then, the following day, TMZ received a private photograph of the "tween" sensation Miley Cyrus posing with a group of friends who were pulling "slitty-eyed" faces that were seen – by furious race relations groups, at least – to be an attempt to make fun of an Asian member of their group.

Both scalps represented notable additions to the trophy room of TMZ, which was founded in November 2005 by AOL and Warner Bros to harness the internet's then-untapped potential to break stories at breakneck speed. The site's leading creative force is Harvey Levin, a boisterous, camp and slightly seedy former lawyer and TV show-business reporter.

Two factors have driven TMZ's early success. The first is the involvement of AOL, which uses its search engines to drive traffic towards the website. The second is Levin's uncanny knack of getting his hands on prurient information that can be swiftly slapped on to the site. In July 2006, TMZ gained international attention when it obtained a police report regarding Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade at officers who arrested him for drink-driving. The following month, it published a copy of the birth certificate of Katie Holmes's and Tom Cruise's new daughter, Suri.

Levin is loved and loathed in roughly equal measure. To supporters, he's a maverick. "We don't do junkets. And ultimately publicists don't control us the way they control the traditional media," he once said. Yet to opponents, he's the commander in chief of a Wild West paparazzi gang that harasses celebrities in an effort to "create" a story without a sense of responsibility.

Meanwhile Levin's TV show, filmed at the TMZ office, is a monument to the dumbing down of the airwaves, revelling in the trashiness and intellectual bankruptcy of its unashamedly idiotic editorial staff.

"Levin approaches his job with the sanctimoniousness of a former political prisoner," Alec Baldwin wrote in his recent memoir. "He leads a cadre of self-satisfied twentysomethings who jump like rats from public relations sinking ship to sinking ship, offering ever fresher takes on Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and every other unfortunate soul who has the bad luck and/or awful judgement to walk, sometimes willingly, into the cesspool of modern American media."

TMZ's greatest hits

17 May 2006 Oil heir Brandon Davis spends four minutes telling TMZ why his ex-girlfriend Lindsay Lohan has the nickname "firecrotch".

28 July 2006 Mel Gibson is arrested for drink-driving in Malibu. TMZ publishes a police report detailing Gibson's anti-Semitic and sexist comments to the arresting officers.

20 Nov 2006 'Seinfeld' star Michael Richards launches a bizarre racist rant at a heckler in a comedy club. TMZ shows mobile phone footage.

11 Feb 2007 Shortly after Anna Nicole Smith's death, TMZ publishes images of the so-called "death fridge" at the scene, stocked with methadone and SlimFast.

17 Feb 2007 Britney Spears shaves her head. TMZ publishes the first pictures. Five days later, it shows Britney re-entering rehab.

19 April 2007 An abusive answer-phone message that Alec Baldwin left his daughter, 11, during a custody battle is broadcast by TMZ.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus all the build-up to Man City vs Chelsea and Everton vs Palace
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Polly Borgen at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012
peopleThe Emmy award-winner starred in Cape Fear, the Sopranos and Desperate House Wives
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam