All you cool cats and kittens dying for answers to your “Tiger King” questions following binges of the Netflix docuseries and its aftershow are sure to gain insights from Fox’s new TMZ special, which dives into the bizarre true-crime story of Joe Exotic. Airing tonight, “TMZ Investigates: Tiger King – What Really Went Down?” could also offer up new info to the “Tiger King” stars themselves, as Harvey Levin tells TheWrap the special reveals that some of those people are currently under federal investigation and don’t even know it.
“We found three federal investigations that are ongoing right now, targeting some of the people on that show,” Levin, the founder of TMZ and executive producer of the Fox special, said. “And they don’t even know that they’re targets because when I interviewed them they said, ‘Look, we’re not being looked at.’ Well, a couple of them definitely are and we know which agencies are doing it and why they’re doing it.”
The TMZ chief told us “a big thing” that was uncovered during the investigation for the special was that “the United States Department of Agriculture begged one of these agencies to get involved years ago and they just had no interest. And the interest was generated only because of ‘Tiger King.'”
Levin didn’t say which “Tiger King” stars are under investigation, so you’ll have to watch the special tonight, Monday, at 9/8c on Fox to find out.
Netflix’s “Tiger King” follows (and the title refers to) Joe Exotic, the owner of a big-cat zoo in Oklahoma. Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was found to be guilty of hiring a hitman to kill Carole Baskin, a rival of his in the animal world. He’s serving a multi-decade prison sentence for that and for animal rights crimes.
See below TheWrap’s full Q&A with Levin, in which he also tells us how much TMZ found out about what happened to Baskin’s husband, Don Lewis, and if he thinks Joe is actually guilty.
TheWrap: What is the biggest question that your special is going to answer that Netflix’s docuseries didn’t?
Harvey Levin: The first thing that you’re gonna see is the sheriff [Chad Chronister] say, No. 1) That he is very suspicious of Carole, and others, even though he says she’s not a suspect or person of interest. Then he says that he believes Don Lewis was murdered and he believes there was more than one person involved and that somebody got paid and that somebody helped. And he is asking for somebody to come forward when we did the interview with him and that he is inclined to give them immunity, even if they participated, if they can lead him to the big fish. So the fact that he’s offering immunity and that he believes that there were multiple people and he explains why he’s suspicious of Carole. So that’s No. 1.
No. 2) We found three federal investigations that are ongoing right now, targeting some of the people on that show. And they don’t even know that they’re targets because when I interviewed them they said, “Look, we’re not being looked at.” Well, a couple of them definitely are and we know which agencies are doing it and why they’re doing it and there was a big thing we found out that at least one of the agencies, the United States of Department Agriculture begged one of these agencies to get involved years ago and they just had no interest. And the interest was generated only because of “Tiger King.”
And then the third thing we get into, and this really kind of shocked me, is that we interviewed Allen Glover — he’s the guy that Joe paid the $3,000 to. Now, Joe says it was just to get him out of the zoo; Allen says it was to kill Carole. Well, I interviewed Allen and, in the interview Allen says that essentially was payback and that because of all the misery and the harm that Joe did to the animals and people, [he wishes he] could have done more to him. And if he had said that in the trial, that is what defense lawyers pounce on to show bias to discredit a witness and he was the star witness, because he’s the only person Joe gave money to. If he was biased, and if a jury even had a doubt and thinks maybe he’s lying because he hates him so much, the result in that trial could have been different, it could have been very different. Even the sheriff told me that he felt Joe was wrongfully convicted; he didn’t think the evidence was there. So this Allen Glover interview is interesting and somewhat troubling.
What do you think about Carole Baskin’s criticism of the producers of the Netflix docuseries, who she thinks didn’t show her in a fair light? And do you think she’s going to end up saying the same thing about your special?
Levin: Look, I can’t comment on how she’s going to view it. I have no idea. We didn’t talk to her. We tried to get an interview with her and her rep said she was going to decline the interview but referred us to something she had just posted where she said, No. 1) I didn’t do it, and No. 2) she kind of explains why she didn’t take a lie detector test. That’s something the sheriff is suspicious about. But she talks about that as well.
Do you think at a certain point people are going to get “Tiger King”-ed out and if you were worried about that at all when Fox approached you about the special?
Levin: No (laughs). I interviewed a woman from the New York Times who writes the culture and technology columns for them, Taylor Lorenz, and what she was saying was, the only two things that are keeping people sane in quarantine are TikTok and “Tiger King.” And I think she’s right.
How well can someone follow this special if they haven’t seen “Tiger King”?
Levin: I think you’re raising a great point because there’s a balance here. Because when more than 34 million people have seen it and you know whatever audience you get, a big chunk are going to be people who are familiar with the show and you also know people might watch who are not familiar. You can’t bore people with too much background, or you’re gonna lose them. At the same time, you can’t confuse new people to the point where they say, “I’m out.” So you gotta find the balance and hopefully we did. But that was something we were really conscious of when we put it together.
What do you think is going to be the biggest question left by your special?
Levin: I think No. 1), they’re going to be surprised at what the sheriff is saying about the investigation into Don’s death, and No. 2), they may cement or change or form an opinion about who they think may have done it. When I went into this, I figured Joe probably did order the hit. I’m not so sure anymore. And again, we’re presenting both sides. But I’m not so sure anymore. I’m not. This interview with Allen Glover was really troubling, it was really, really troublesome, and it came out in the doc. Why did prosecutors put the animal cruelty, animal charges in the prosecution when they were prosecuting him for attempted murder? There are a lot of people who really believe the point here was to dirty him up, that the murder for hire was weak and that when you present evidence that he killed tigers, it just makes the jury hate him. So people can draw their own conclusion on that. But I gotta say, I got questions about Joe, about whether he intended to kill Carole.
What are you thoughts on Donald Trump telling a White House reporter he’d “look at” pardoning Joe?
Levin: I think Trump was clowning him. It felt like it was just a sideshow thing. On the other hand, God knows what Trump would do.