New Poker Television Series
Dec 21, 2005  
2005 Jason Kirk  

Television is largely (if not entirely) responsible for the poker boom. Millions of people saw Chris Moneymaker win the World Series of Poker Main Event on ESPN and decided that they, too, wanted to play the game that let a regular guy from Tennessee bet $40 to win $2.5 million against the world's greatest players. Without those broadcasts being run time and time again for the better part of a year it's highly doubtful that the poker landscape of the last two years, which have seen such exponential growth in both the online game and in the number of land-based tournaments around the world, would have developed so quickly. There's a satisfying taste of irony in the fact that poker, a game once confined to back rooms or faraway casinos, is now an omnipresent television ratings monster that may eventually lead to the repeal of outdated gambling laws in far-flung locations.

To this point in the boom, it seems that no matter how much poker the networks produce and air, the public can't get enough of it. It's a dream come true for any television network with the rights to a big tournament series. With poker there's zero talent cost, and the players who lose provide the cash that winners will claim. With minimal overhead, a poker show can be one of the most profitable programs a network produces - at least as long as the public stays interested in the game. At some point ratings are bound to drop off in a new approach doesn't come along. Two new shows due in 2006 are taking a slightly different route than the traditional poker tournaments that have aired thus far. Their success or failure may well be a barometer of how strong the poker boom really is.

On Monday, December 19, FOX Sports Net announced the creation of the Pokerdome Series. The Pokerdome, an arena Fox is building in Las Vegas only for use with the series, will be located at a mall or a hotel in Las Vegas. This new venue will employ all sorts of technology to make the final product as viewer-friendly as possible, starting off with where the players play. The table will be encased in a box of one-way mirrored glass with microphones to capture everything, allowing the audience at the Pokerdome to see and hear everything transpiring at the table without affecting the game in any way. All the cards in play will have tiny computer chips embedded in them so the audience can keep track of which cards are out of play. There will also be a 15-second clock at the Pokerdome similar to that of high-speed tables at online poker sites, limiting the amount of time a player has to make a decision. It remains to be seen whether these changes will make a version of poker as popular as what's already being aired, but the one sure thing is that it will be different than the current formula for a poker show.

Fox is betting that technology and a small rule change will keep the public interested in poker, but the Game Show Network is taking a different approach. Instead of showing poker tournaments for its next series, GSN is turning to high-stakes cash games. High Stakes Poker is the creation of Henry Orenstein, the man responsible most recently for Poker Superstars on FOX Sports Net but whose legacy may well be the invention of the hole-card cam that allowed the World Poker Tour to revolutionize televised poker. This new series will focus on high-stakes cash games featuring some of the poker world's biggest names. Among others, the 13-episode series features Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Barry Greenstein, Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Jennifer Harman, Ted Forrest, Antonio Esfandiari, Todd Brunson, Freddy Deeb, and Sam Farha throwing chips around the table at the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas. GSN has brought in Gabe Kaplan, world class poker player and former star of television's Welcome Back Kotter, to provide analysis of the games. TV-host-about-town AJ Benza will serve as the show's main host.

GSN's High Stakes Poker is set to debut on Monday, January 16, at 9 PM ET. FSN has yet to announce an exact starting date for the Pokerdome Series.

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