(Miami Beach) — Monday afternoon here at the annual NATPE convention at the Fountainbleau Hotel, I found myself in an elevator with someone I instantly recognized from his appearances on TV: Barry Levine, the executive editor and director of news at the National Enquirer.
Intrepid reporter that I am, I quickly blurted out, “So what brings the National Enquirer to NATPE.”
Levine, 52, said, “We’re trying to sell a TV show.”
That immediately got my attention. As the elevator stopped high above ground level, I followed Levine out onto his floor.
He began telling me about the show. We must have looked like a couple of middle-aged boobs just standing there chatting, when Levine mentioned to me that he had a DVD of the sizzle reel they had made to sell the show, and asked me if I wanted to accompany him to a hotel bedroom to watch it on a computer.
As we walked down the hall to the hotel bedroom — accompanied by a colleague of Levine’s — he told me more about the show. While long connected with print, at one time Levine worked at “A Current Affair,” so he’s not a stranger to the machinations of TV.
At one point Levine said the National Enquirer was hooked up with CBS’s Eye Too Productions for the series, but now they were on their own.
Citing two of the Enquirer’s more well-known stories, he mentioned their exclusives about Tiger Woods’ mistress Rachel Uchitel and John Edwards’ love child. The idea behind the National Enquirer TV show is to produce a weekly reality series — most likely for cable, Levine said — that would go behind the scenes of these kinds of stories.
Camera crews would go out with reporters as they investigated these stories, and that would be primarily the focus of the show. The Enquirer version of a procedural. I immediately thought “Absence of (er, “With”?) Malice” meets “CSI,” minus all the scientific mumbo-jumbo.
Part of the sizzle reel features reporter John Blosser, a real character who’s been with the Enquirer for decades. Proving to us his journalistic integrity, he shows off a shoulder tattoo that says “The Truth.”
Blosser then proceeds to tell how, during a stake-out, an Enquirer photographer finally got a shot of Tiger Woods in a rehab facility. As bad timing would have it, the opportunity to take the photo happened while the photographer was peeing in a cup (don’t ask); Blosser proudly tells us that the shot was taken without the photographer "spilling a drop.”
In the reel another Enquirer reporter breathlessly explains how she was able to rifle through a hotel trash can and find a baby’s used diapers. The soiled diapers were later taken to a lab and were used to help establish that the baby was John Edwards’ love child.
But wait, there’s more!
In a description of the show that Levine is giving out to potential partners here at NATPE, he’s written that there’s also “a former pre-med student from the Midwest [who] finds herself working in Hollywood as a rookie tabloid reporter. The young blonde is determined to learn on the job but she’s constantly battling herself — knowing fully well her reporting could destroy the careers and reputations of the story subjects she pursues!”
Levine also writes about Blosser that he “appears more comfortable working the trailer parks for sources than the he is at the five-star hotels he frequently finds himself staying it.” I must say, seeing Blosser in the sizzle reel, this description seems to capture him exactly.
Levine’s prose continues: “Producers and shooters will be embedded with the Enquirer reporters as they develop sources, run down leads, go on stakeouts and, in the end, confront their prey — all the time knowing that their editor wanted the story ‘yesterday’!
“Along the way, they may have to convince sources to take lie-detector tests [you see one taking just such a test in the sizzle reel] — and the practice of ‘checkbook journalism’ will be there for all to see — as some sources will demand pay for what they know.”
At this point I did NOT — I repeat did NOT — ask Levine to pay me anything to write this. And, of course, nothing was mentioned about some remuneration once he sees how this column turns out. How dare you!
Back in 2010, Levine and the Enquirer got a lot of publicity (articles in The New York Times, GQ, etc.) when the tabloid submitted some of its stories about Edwards for a Pulitzer Prize. (They didn’t win.)
But clearly Levine’s heart is really much more in the journalistic highlands. He told New York Magazine in 2010, “My dream was to be part of the era from ‘The Front Page,’ when guys wore press cards in their hats and did all sorts of crazy stuff to their competitors, when journalism was larger than life.”
“When newspapermen were right out of ‘Deadline — USA’ and ‘His Girl Friday’ and all the old movies. That’s the journalism world I wanted to be a part of. I couldn’t find it in mainstream journalism, but it existed in the tabloids.”
Now Levine hopes he’ll be able to capture that world on the Enquirer TV show, and that some cable network will be interested.
It seems like a good possiblity for a number of cable outlets. A companion to a Kardashian? A lead-in to Paula Zahn on ID? A lead-out after Nancy Grace on HLN? Anywhere on OWN (oh, stop being such a snob, Oprah!).
But maybe where the show would fit best would be on ABC Family, once a week after an episode of the “700 Club.” Talk about fair and balanced …