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Issue: Spring 2014

The TMZ Hollywood Tour!

by Karen Yin

What happens when you pair TMZ, a leader in entertainment news, with Starline Tours, the top celebrity tour company in Los Angeles? You get the TMZ Hollywood Tour, a wildly irreverent show on wheels, featuring a member of the TMZ newsroom as your tour guide.

Turning the traditional Hollywood tour on its head, the TMZ tour provides an intimate look at Tinseltown, the celebrity playground which TMZ exposes daily on its popular celebrity-news site, TMZ.com, and syndicated television show, TMZ on TV. One of the first things the tour guide stipulates is, “There is no judgment on the TMZ bus,” freeing its passengers to poke fun at the famous, with minimal levels of guilt.

The TMZ tour specializes in current pop culture instead of old Hollywood. Often compared to a safari with celebrities, it goes on the lookout for actors, pro athletes, recording artists, producers, directors, anybody who’s famous — or has potential to be made famous by TMZ, like Kim Kardashian. Up to ten times a day, the TMZ bus rolls through the celebrities’ natural habitat to catch a glimpse of them strolling down the street or chomping on a panini.

“We didn’t need another general city tour,” says Starline Tours director Philip Ferentinos. “I don’t need to know the history of this or that. We needed a tour that was seeing Hollywood through the eyes of TMZ. They have so much material, it’s perfect.”

In the industry of celebrity, TMZ has a proven track record for breaking news, from Mel Gibson’s DUI to Michael Jackson’s death. The tour extends the TMZ brand into an immersive offline experience that takes you where the news happens.

Harvey Levin, founder of TMZ.com and executive producer of the TMZ show, says, “It became obvious driving around the city, there was a huge gap in the marketplace, that nobody was doing this. We have all these pop-culture stories that we’ve been doing for all these years. Why not package this?”

Tickets are sold at the Starline Tours kiosk in the courtyard of TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard for $55 per adult and $45 per child. On the bus, when the tour guide welcomes you to the “hooker and strippers tour,” no need to clamp your hands over your child’s eyes and ears: It’s mostly a joke. For about two hours, up to twenty-four passengers traverse the city in a red-and-black bus to gawk at landmarks with pop-culture significance, including the street where Hugh Grant picked up “lady of the night” Divine Brown, and locations of stories broken by TMZ, such as the comedy club where Michael Richards infamously flipped out.

According to Ferentinos, “We wanted to have this multimedia experience with a live guide who was independent from the driver, so we had to be in a larger bus. Starline decided to come up with this new design for a new type of bus — taking the sides off, having a big screen at the front.”

From the Sunset Strip to Rodeo Drive to Melrose Avenue, an upbeat and hopeful mood is sustained with polished shtick from the bus guide slash producer slash comedian slash paparazzo, who reminds passengers to “Keep your eyes open for stars!” (The guide, whom you may recognize from TMZ on TV, wears so many hats that it may be a bit like seeing the chef come out to bus your table.) Always one star-struck scream away from stopping the bus, she is ready to leap off with her handheld, which uploads to TMZ headquarters with a push of a button.

Levin’s philosophy is that everybody is a content creator, and this extends to the audience on the tour bus as well. “Hollywood is a city of true six degrees of separation. If somebody sees something, it becomes content. It doesn’t matter who catches it. Everybody has a connection with somebody, even if you’re from out of town, because you see something nobody else sees,” says Levin.

Since 1935, Starline Tours has organized premiere sightseeing tours, such as Malibu Stars’ Homes Tour and the original Movie Stars’ Homes Tour. In 2015, Starline Tours will celebrate its 80th anniversary. That’s eight decades of forging connections with celebrities and sharing its knowledge with tourists and locals. Its no-brainer partnership with TMZ has been awarded TripAdvisor’s 2013 Certificate of Excellence for consistently outstanding reviews by travelers.

Says Levin of TMZ and Starline’s collaboration, “We hire the guides, we train the guides, we put the content and the package and the show together, and they help with ticket sales. It’s been a really good partnership.”

Spliced with the guide’s hilarious commentary are flashy videos with TMZ on TV’s trademark snarky humor, which, if you’re not familiar with the show, would typically be private comments to your BFF but instead is now blasted from state-of-the-art loudspeakers on an open-air bus for the world to hear. The videos are refreshingly up to date on the gossip, keeping in line with Levin’s belief in making the TMZ tour about what’s happening right now.

Even during quiet stretches of the route, there’s something going on — songs to be sung, games to be played, T-shirts to be won. One game, “The finger or the wave,” is about never knowing how a celeb is going to respond to being accosted by a bus full of people. Ninety-five percent of the time, says the bus guide, they are pretty cool about it.

This “pure TMZ” look at Hollywood can entertain even the most jaded of locals. You never know what’s going to happen. Ever since Diddy was spotted on the tour’s inaugural outing in May 2011, the number of Hollywood talent encountered on the tour route continues to amaze. One day, it’s talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres in a Porsche — with Portia (di Rossi). Another day, it’s will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas at a food truck. You might be treated to the sight of Steven Tyler flashing a peace sign and blowing a kiss before speeding away, which happened to one lucky TMZ tour group. A sweet smile from Honey Boo Boo in the next lane drove another bus wild. The long list of celebrities caught going about their lives includes Celine Dion, LeBron James, Halle Berry, Ozzy Osbourne, CeeLo Green, Bai Ling, Wayne Brady, Mark Ballas, and Lady Gaga. Even Grumpy Cat, an Internet favorite, has come on the bus with her handlers to grumpily supervise distribution of “merch.” Levin, himself a celebrity, has been known to jump on and be “paparazzi’d” by his fans.

The TMZ tour bus makes its rounds daily. You can hop on the bus hoping for a spectacle, though the prospect of taking a selfie with your idol is unlikely. Rest assured that even if celebrities don’t emerge to congregate at known watering holes, the tour has been designed for maximum entertainment.

For the tour-bus schedule and more information, visit www.tmz.com/tour or call 1-855-4TMZ-TOUR (1-855-486-9868).

For information on TMZ Custom Charters, visit www.tmz.com/tmzcustomcharters. For information on Starline Tours, visit www.starlinetours.com.  DH