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Q+A: Harvey Levin of ‘TMZ’ talks his new slot machine, (lack of) height, Trump

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Steve Marcus

“TMZ on TV” executive producer Harvey Levin tries out IGT’s TMZ slot machine during the second day of the Global Gaming Expo on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Sands Expo Center at the Venetian.

2015 G2E: Harvey Levin

“TMZ on TV” executive producer Harvey Levin is flanked by Victor Duarte, IGT global chief product officer for gaming, and Nick Khin, IGT senior vice president of North American sales and strategic accounts, during the second day of the Global Gaming Expo on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Sands Expo Center at the Venetian. Launch slideshow »

TMZ on TV

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“TMZ on TV” executive producer Harvey Levin is flanked by Victor Duarte, IGT global chief product officer for gaming, and Nick Khin, IGT senior vice president of North American sales and strategic accounts, during the second day of the Global Gaming Expo on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Sands Expo Center at the Venetian.

The “Thirty Mile Zone” around Hollywood has become fertile ground for gossip — and nobody has plowed the field better in television than pint-sized personality and former lawyer Harvey Levin with his syndicated show “TMZ on TV.” He’s turned the program into the top brand of in-your-face entertainment news.

Now casino slot machine players and fans can go right alongside Harvey and his team of celebrity hunters from the very center of one of television’s most famous newsrooms and simultaneously tour hot Hollywood haunts to win big jackpot payouts.

Players wind up inside the slot machine thanks to never-before-seen “photo booth” technology that captures the player’s image and places it in exciting graphics and bonus events. You might not become a TV star on “TMZ,” but you’ll certainly become a slot star on TMZ.

Harvey unveiled the machine in partnership with IGT at last week’s Global Gaming Expo at Sands Expo in the Venetian. It’s a big machine that dwarfed Harvey with its touchscreen display of vivid video and amazing audio. The game includes three bonus rounds for big payouts. Hollywood hotspots such as the Viper Room, Improv and Boa Steakhouse are featured.

The TMZ game will be on casino floors early next year, but Harvey gave me a sneak preview at G2E — and we turned the tables on him. Instead of him chasing stars for gossip, I pinned him down to talk about his hit show and why Las Vegas isn’t featured with its star shenanigans.

So tell me how this game plays.

We wanted to make it a show, so basically you sit down and you go through a tour of all of the pop-culture spots and see all the people who we’ve made famous over the last 10 years.

Who have you made famous?

Some of them; Kim Kardashian, for example. It’s almost like our tour bus in Hollywood where you traverse Hollywood, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, and through it all there are games where you project yourself and become the celebrity.

If you can take a selfie, you become part of the game. Then you pretend you’re a celebrity, and you work through the trials and tribulations of being a celebrity in Hollywood.

Isn’t everybody for 15 minutes?

Well you’ve got it here. If you do it well enough, you literally will have 15 minutes.

Are you a slot player? Do you have any time away from television to play slots?

I don’t have time away to do much, but I love this game. I really do. I’ve got guys on my staff who did an amazing job, and IGT did an incredible job. It’s amazing to me because I remember sitting in the office when we first talked about doing it, and it happened fast.

To me it happened really fast. I mean, all of a sudden we’re looking at the slot machine, and I remember the first meeting saying what exactly is this going to be.

What’s the most you can win?

I don’t know. A gazillion dollars?

If you were covering this as a story, how would “TMZ” report this? Mad executive wins fortune in Las Vegas?

I guess I would start with he’s so short, he could barely get up on the seat. I would probably start with that.

Is that a reaction everybody gives you?

Ugh, all the time.

You don’t look as tall as you do on television.

All the time, and that’s the nice way of putting it.

Is Las Vegas fertile ground for “TMZ”?

You know better than anybody that Las Vegas is an enclosed place. It’s not like people are walking the streets and doing this and that. A lot of what we do in Hollywood is we’re outside restaurants and bars.

It’s different here. It’s not the same vibe, and that’s why to me the machine makes so much sense because to have a presence here is harder to do than in Hollywood.

In Las Vegas, you don’t get news being on the outside.

That’s true, but that’s why this is so cool, because Las Vegas is so us in a way that it’s a way of becoming part of it.

Do you think “TMZ” would ever expand to Las Vegas?

I swear to God, I never look beyond the next step and the next step. It’s just one thing at a time, honestly.

Is it tougher being a lawyer or celebrity journalist?

This is so much tougher. It was so funny because I haven’t been out to lunch in eight years. What I do is I always order from a place, and they bring it in and I scarf it down.

So yesterday I was telling somebody this in the office, I’m going to bring in a placemat and cloth napkin and silverware, and I’m going to pretend that I’m out to lunch next week.

Will we ever run out of celebrity news, or do celebrities always have bad habits to report?

It’s not just bad habits. A lot of stuff that we do is when they do really cool stuff. We just did something today that really touched me where Lisa Vanderpump, there’s this tradition in China where they’re torturing dogs, which is one of the most horrific things in the world, and we put her on, and it was amazing. She started this movement.

We do all sorts of stuff, but in terms of celebrity news, what it’s been going on for like, 100 years? That doesn’t stop. Napoleon was a celebrity.

Yeah, but we didn’t exist in those days, or, if we did, we got taken to the chamber and executed.

Hey, you did “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.” You were doing the peek-in long before anybody else.

This is true. Why do you think the public is so fascinated with the good side and bad side? What is it?

Babe Ruth was such a huge star in 1927 who they had a weekly column just devoted to his bunions, and people were into it. They were so into Babe Ruth that they wanted to know about his feet.

So this is not a new thing. Remember when Muhammad Ali became a conscientious objector, and everybody was fascinated with his life?

That was when celebrity news became real news.

Kind of — sometimes it’s news, and sometimes it’s silly, but we are always interested in the dimensions. This Babe Ruth story; it’s crazy. People were so into him that they wanted to know everything they could.

That must have been the first gossip.

When the studios started, they were all open where you could just walk in, and people started getting so interested in the stars. That’s when they started building walls around the studios because people were so interested, they needed to keep fans out. That’s the way that started.

Why have presidential politics in 2015 and 2016 become such celebrity fodder?

Oh, I think it was before this. I mean when you have Clinton playing sax on a late-night show, when you have Obama singing Al Green, it’s all part of the game. I think part of it is presidents now have to connect in some way. Everybody used to think you had to elect a politician who only thinks about politics, and nobody can be one thing.

You can be serious, you can be funny, you can be a bunch of things. I think people are expecting to see presidential candidates as human beings and not just somebody who can give a speech. I think that’s why they’re interested and why I think a lot of these candidates are going on Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel and going online and doing all the stuff they’re doing.

There hasn’t been a ratings driver, though, politically before Donald Trump.

Not like that.

That’s a phenomenon. Do you understand it?

I kind of do.

Is it because he’s a real-life Peter Finch from “Network”?

Network

I think people are so sick of politics that it doesn’t matter necessarily what his views are — it’s that he can express the outrage. I think the outrage for people now has become more important than what they stand for, and that may be good and dangerous. I think people want to send a message.

So if Donald Trump was playing on the TMZ machine, what do you think he’d do?

The first thing he’d do is he would try to own it.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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