Want to make millions online? Get your hands on a celebrity's racist rant and start a website. Doesn't have to be in that order.
Bonus points if it's Mel Gibson.
It's hard to believe that less than five years have passed since Harvey Levin gave his gift of TMZ to Hollywood, a venture he founded in partnership with AOL that, at its launch, was more than a little hard to stomach. Eight months later, Gibson made it impossible to avoid.
Mel's original drunken, anti-semitic spittlefest was captured only in a police transcript, but it was a huge scoop for the fledgling property — and a watershed moment in American celebrity media culture. You remember where you were when you first read about it (and probably wondered, "what's 'TMZ'"?).
This time, Gibson's bile spewed from Radaronline, TMZ's closest competitor, now deep into its second year of existence. You will remember where you were when you first heard about it (and clicked over to Radaronline; possibly for the first time, to listen).
The web-only arm of American Media Inc. didn't come out of the blue here — Radaronline owned the Sandra Bullock/Jesse James meltdown this spring, a story that's more suited to its celebrity/lifestyles skin than TMZ's more confrontational, legal/criminal zone. And what seems like many scandals ago, Radaronline also had a vapor lock on the Octomom story, forcing newsroom managers all across California and the U.S. to squirm and dither at deadline for months. (Is it coincidence that Nadia Suleman and Oksana Grigorieva bear some resemblance, by the way?)
Radar's short run at TMZ has been impressive — though, as my friend and colleague Dominic Patten reminded me this evening, American Media has deep, thirsty roots in tabloid journalism. While the brand is fairly new, this is not their first rodeo over there.
But Mel Gibson was no doubt Radaronline's first big, national, irresistable splash. Once again, ol' Braveheart himself has put an online tabloid squarely on the map.
It's also now clear that in the celeb game, there's no brand-maker like a freakishly intense dive into batshit crazy anger — caught on tape. TMZ will be remembered for breaking Paris Hilton's jail sentence and the death of Michael Jackson … but those stories were going to come out eventually, and each was easily matched. Not so when you have the recording.
In that respect, I'd argue that Michael Richards' onstage N-bombs, which TMZ broke and posted four months after the Mel Gibson DUI arrest in November 2006, and Alec Baldwin's angry voicemail to then 11-year-old daughter Ireland the following March were just as important in cementing TMZ's place.
What's funny to me now is that Baldwin's berating and Christian Bale's verbal beatdown of a lighting grunt — another TMZ special! — seem quaintly safe when compared with what we just heard from the new kid on the block.
So Mel Gibson raises the stakes for TMZ vs. Radar — and also raises the bar on what constitutes a must-click celebrity rant.
Here's betting he's got more giving left to do.
Anyone want to start a website?
Follow Josh Dickey on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JoshDickey