Move adds more programs to Fox’s syndication portfolio
In a surprising move reported last month, WarnerMedia parent AT&T is in talks to sell its TMZ franchise to Fox Corp. Today, the deal became official according to Deadline.
TMZ consists of the gossip website and the two syndicated television shows they spun off of, TMZ (alternatively titled TMZ on TV) and TMZ Live.
The discussions came as AT&T was looking to raise cash to pay off debt before the company spins off WarnerMedia as they are merging with Discovery Communications in a transaction not expected to be completed until next year. Last month, AT&T closed on the sale of its anime Crunchyroll group to Sony’s Funimation unit and sold mobile game studio Playdemic to EA Sports.
TMZ has aired on the Fox-owned stations since its 2007 debut and spin-off TMZ Live since 2012 including WFLD-TV (and occasionally WPWR-TV), where the shows have aired since their inception. The programs are hosted by Harvey Levin and were distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, owned by parent WarnerMedia. Levin will continue in the role as host and executive producer of both shows and editor-in-chief of the website.
“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 Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch. “TMZ has been an impactful program for our Fox television stations and broadcast partners for many years and I know Jack Abernethy and Charlie Collier will find creative ways to utilize and expand this content in effective and compelling ways for our audiences.”
Selling the franchise to Fox makes sense as they are taking over both shows immediately and bolster the company’s fledgling first-run syndication unit. Known as Fox First-Run, the company distributes Divorce Court, Dish Nation, and 25 Words Or Less, shows they retained as the rest of Twentieth Television’s properties were sold to Disney as part of a $71.3 billion deal with the company. Fox First-Run launches a fourth show today, the Jay Leno-hosted You Bet Your Life revival.
With Ellen departing after this upcoming season and the future of The Real in serious question, the sale of TMZ leaves Warner Bros. with very little first-run product with long-running syndicated strips Extra, The People’s Court, and Judge Mathis – all on the air dating back to the 1990s – as the only shows left and the smallest number of first-run shows in their portfolio since purchasing Lorimar-Telepictures in 1989. Prior to then, Warner Bros. was not in the first-run business.
TMZ – whose initials are described as “Thirty-Mile Zone” – the perimeter to determine compensation and working rules for entertainment industry workers around Los Angeles began as a controversial gossip site in 2005 but gained a solid reputation for breaking news scoops, with the deaths of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Kobe Bryant. The site and the TV show have often engaged in unethical behavior at times, including chasing down celebrities in public places and mocking them on the TV show. The hour-long TMZ Live has a different format, basically a discussion of the day’s celebrity news with staffers.
Ratings for TMZ have trended downward in recent years, with the recent report showing a 0.8 household rating but is in line with what most first-run magazine shows earn. TMZ airs weeknights at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. on WFLD, later time slots than it held in the past.