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July 24, 2014

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The celebrity watchdog

Chatting with top Las Vegas entertainment reporter Alicia Jacobs

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Courtesy of Channel 3

In the final months of her reign as Miss Nevada, Alicia Jacobs figured life after pageantry would be filled with legal tomes, a clerkship or two and, eventually, a law career. When legendary entertainment manager Bernie Yuman (Siegfried & Roy, Muhammad Ali) marched the Las Vegas native into Channel 13’s offices in 1994, those plans took a turn.

Fourteen years later, Jacobs, the city’s first entertainment reporter, is also its preeminent one, courted by publicists for A-list clients and counted on by a slew of celebrity-watchers—including a certain eye-patched gossip columnist—for the dish on stars.

Last week, the UNLV alumna (bachelor’s in English) began taping for Las Vegas Uncovered, a nationally syndicated show described as a slicker version of Access Hollywood. The show is a culmination of a career-long dream for Jacobs, who chatted with the Weekly about Vegas’ endless celebrity magnetism, her most memorable interviews and why entertainment reporters should be taken seriously.

Pageants or interviewing an A-list celebrity: What’s more nerve-wracking?

Both, but pageants are more so because you’re walking around in a bikini.

You were a judge on the Starz Network series Looking for Stars, an entertainment correspondent for the Geraldo Rivera Show, and reported for MSNBC and Scarborough Country and are a contributing correspondent for E! Entertainment Television and Access Hollywood. What did I miss?

My job at Channel 3, of course, which is my main priority. To be able to cover entertainment in Las Vegas is a blast. I’m never at a loss for stories. What kills me is when I have to turn something down because it’s not physically possible to be in five places at one time.

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Tell me about Las Vegas Uncovered.

It’s independent of Channel 3, but some of the stories will go back and forth between the shows [Channel 3 newscasts]. It will be five days a week, shot on location. A set will be built later. It will be a sexier version of Access Hollywood. I’ve been approached about 10 to 15 times about hosting an entertainment show, but none of them felt right. This does. Access Hollywood started in a newsroom, and that’s what we’re looking at for this show. We expect to have the first show done in mid-August.

So Bernie Yuman essentially created a niche for you. Why?

He’s an old family friend. I’d done commercials and hosted telethons with the pageant; one day he told me I needed to be an entertainment reporter because the city didn’t have one on television. He walked me into Channel 13, we sat down with the general manager at the time and the news director, and he said, “You are going to hire her. She’s going to be the first entertainment reporter in Las Vegas television.” One week later I was working as an entertainment reporter. I was learning on the job.

But you had a show before you landed with Channel 13, Eye on Las Vegas. Did that count?

It was like Eye on LA, sort of a lifestyle and entertainment show. My first interview was with Ben Vereen. I was nervous; I was sitting there thinking, “Oh wow, Ben Vereen.” Eye on Las Vegas was shot on location all over the city, much like my new show will be. But the show was nowhere near the magnitude of three newscasts a day doing entertainment reporting. When I got to Channel 13, I had no idea about writing and editing packages. I was a one-man band. I wrote, produced and edited. Any celebrity that came to town, I interviewed them. Anything that was going on, I got myself there. My first interview for Channel 13 was Billy Ray Cyrus—he was big at the time. I’d never interviewed anyone of that magnitude before.

Who’s your biggest get?

Luther Vandross—he was my most rewarding. He was my favorite singer in the world. I don’t think I ever missed him in concert here. I saw him close to 10 times. I worked for years to get that interview. Every time he was here, I got turned down. I think his people finally just got tired and said, “Fine, we’ll do the interview.” When he walked out of the dressing room, I was in awe. It was a wonderful experience. Having to report on his death was tough to do.

Vegas has become more celebrity-saturated than ever. Has your job changed?

All of a sudden, in Las Vegas, you see two, three, four or five celebrities in a major hotel. They’re here, and they want to be seen, and we want to know what they’re doing here. Usually celebrities would come here and gamble and hide. In a lot of ways now, they go out of their way to be photographed and interviewed. It makes my job easier.

How long did it take to get publicists to trust you?

A long damn time. You look at me and my resume and you say, oh, she’s a pageant girl. They think I’m not going to be much of an interviewer. I had to overcome that first. Then I had to earn respect. People know now that I will be fair, but I will also tell the truth. In the beginning to get the interview, you have to play by their rules. Now, it’s 50-50. I don’t have to bend as much. I used to get called on fluff pieces all the time, which is fine; they’re great to do. But I’m also getting called on serious stories, too. Those are the types of things that Access Hollywood has picked up. Publicists call me now.

Some people see entertainment reporting as little more than glorified gossip. Ever been lumped into the same category as Perez Hilton or the Page Six folks at the New York Post?

I’d love to have his success. My favorite thing is doing interviews. I could do without the red carpet, even though I know it’s the sexy part of my job. I’m a reporter, first and foremost. I interviewed Steve Wynn. That is not gossip. That is journalism. That is years of working my butt off. He called me to do the interview. I’m getting those types of opportunities.

Do you approach interviews with those types of people differently than celebrity interviews?

I don’t usually look at press kits or come with a whole lot of questions. I’m tempted to. If it’s someone I don’t know much about, I will do a quick read over background information. On interviews, I go in and ask them what I want to know. I want it to flow like a conversation. Sometimes a previous question or a comment leads to the next question. I look for a connection. Steve Wynn loves dogs. So do I. The whole interview atmosphere changed because we realized we were both dog people.

Back to the gossip stuff, do you think that feeds into the notion that entertainment reporters lack news instincts and journalist chops?

As for the gossip stuff, I love it. I read it all the time, because it’s fun. I will talk about Britney Spears on the air, but that’s my least favorite stuff to do. There’s an appetite for it. But I also do real journalism. I broke the Katie Rees story, and that’s when these national entities started contacting me. [The 2007 Miss Nevada USA was stripped of her crown after tawdry photos surfaced of her baring her breasts and simulating oral sex with females and a male.] It wasn’t fluff. I had the facts from good sources. I worked the story. It really tested me as a journalist because it affected me as a former Miss Nevada. The whole world was making a mockery of Nevada, and she’s not even from here. But I had to objectively report only the facts.

Have you broken other stories?

Donny and Marie Osmond signing a contract to perform [at the Flamingo]. [Comedic impressionist] Danny Gans moving from the Mirage to reunite with Steve Wynn at Encore. I didn’t break this story, but I interviewed David Hasselhoff a week before the video surfaced. [In May 2007, one of the actor’s daughters filmed him lying on the floor, apparently inebriated and eating a hamburger.] I saw him at the American Idol finale two weeks after the video came out, and he thanked me for such a professional interview. I’ll never lose sight of the fact that Channel 3 is a news organization and that our job is to produce news.

And your interview wish list would be ...

Michael Jackson. I’m not a fan anymore, but I would love to hear his story, from his mouth. I’m trying hard. As well as Madonna. Mrs. Reagan. Ronald Reagan was a hero.

What’s the most profound thing a celebrity has ever said in an interview?

Dennis Miller. I didn’t know what to expect because he’s such a genius and uses a lot of big words. He was talking about Hollywood, and essentially it was all a joke, everything about it. It’s a job, that’s it. He said the only thing that matters is his wife and children, because if everything is taken away, he still has them.

Entertainment reporters have been around for some time. Now people are aspiring to the job. An episode of the Making It Big reality show featured a competition to see who had the requisite skills. When did it become okay to dream of growing up and being an entertainment reporter?

Entertainment reporters used to be at the bottom of the barrel. Not anymore. There was a survey a while back that asked people how they spend their discretionary income. Most said they spend it on entertainment. Again, I understand that I work for a great news organization and that as fun and exciting as my job may be, it’s also about news and economics. People spend money on entertainment. It’s a big part of their lives, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

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