TMZ’s Harvey Levin turns studio boss in ‘OBJECTified’
TMZ founder Harvey Levin, the lawyer-turned-TV-journalistturned-celebrity-news-tabloidtitan, is trying on another transformation: mini-studio boss.
The latest offering in the production line: OBJECTified, a weekly celebrity interview show premiering Sunday on Fox News (8 ET/PT).
It has nothing to do with TMZ, the rowdy, wildly successful and near-ubiquitous celebrity news website, owned by Warner Bros., that Levin will continue to run, or its broadcast spinoffs, TMZ on TV, TMZ Live and TMZ Sports.
“We’ve decided to turn TMZ into a studio that crosses platforms (from) the digital and social media that we’ve been in to the broadcast and cable space,” Levin says.
The 10-episode OBJECTified finds executive producer and host Levin (in a suit, and without his trademark giant drink cup) interviewing major figures in their homes about seven objects they own and how those objects mattered in their life stories.
TV’s Judge Judy Sheindlin is the focus of the premiere, and other subjects include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former California governor and Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger; former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan; lifestyle guru Martha Stewart; actor/filmmaker Tyler Perry; and Mark Cuban, the billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner and Twitter foil of Levin’s longtime sort-of friend, reality-TV-star-turned-president Donald Trump.
Trump was the first to be OBJECTified, in a November special that snagged 4 million viewers and earned a kudos-via-tweet from Trump, who hailed “the great Harvey Levin of TMZ.”
Among the objects Trump showed Levin in that show were a yearbook photo from the New York Military Academy and the chair from the boardroom of The Apprentice.
Nowadays, Levin is not so high on Trump, even after POTUS granted him an hour-long audience in the Oval Office on March 1, according to The New York Times, which described Levin as “the tabloid emperor.”
Levin was reluctant to dish. “He’s somebody I’ve known for 12 or 13 years, and honestly I’ve not had any dealings with in a long, long time,” Levin says. “I don’t want to get into it, but I’m ... disappointed (in Trump). I thought there was more hope than I’m seeing.”
He’s way more chatty about his new show.
“This has been such a labor of love for me,” Levin says. “It’s a different way of telling a life story. It’s intimate and a way to connect to people.”
This is not Levin’s first producing rodeo: In 2014, he launched Famous in 12, a reality show about a fame-hungry family challenged to become famous in 12 weeks. But CW canceled it after just five weeks because of low ratings.
Levin got the idea for OBJECTified after a Hollywood real estate agent called to talk about director Steven Spielberg, who was selling his Malibu house stuffed with objects from 40 years of his life and career.
“As soon as he said that, I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s a show,’ ” Levin says. “We’re telling stories of people through the objects that represent some period of their life. I’m interested in the stories that shaped them and turned them into the people they are today.”
It helps that his subjects are people he admires, such as Perry: His objects included chairs that once belonged to Abraham Lincoln; they hold deep meaning for Perry, Levin says.
“By all rights, (Perry) should not be successful — he was a poor, abused child with nothing going for him other than dreams, and what he’s been able to do with his life through faith, talent and perseverance is incredible,” Levin says. “I walked out of his house so uplifted.”
Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, whose successful invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the gossip site Gawker last year sent it into the ashcan of media history, told Levin one of his objects is the legal pad he doodled on during the trial. Hogan talked for the first time about how the case affected his life.
“He showed me the things he was writing at various points, his thoughts, his emotions and how they tracked with this trial,” Levin says.
Levin talked to Cuban about whether he would run for president in 2020.
“He’s awesome — I admire this guy so much,” Levin says. “A lot of these people, I read their biographies, I admire them, I’m interested in them.”
But the objects are key to the show, he says.
“They really change the dynamic” of an interview by relaxing the interviewee, Levin says. “They open themselves up in ways that are surprising even to them. There are self-revelatory moments.”
In OBJECTified, a buttoned-down Harvey Levin interviews prominent people in their homes about objects that influenced their lives. He begins with Judge Judy Sheindlin on Sunday.
Levin and fellow executive producer Jim Paratore have turned TMZ into a far-reaching celebrity-news franchise.