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Poker on TV

By Paul McGuire

These days there seems to be a large quantity of poker programming on television. No matter what time of day or night, you can turn to almost any channel and catch a glimpse of a poker tournament or a celebrity poker game. Without a doubt, the most recent poker boom has been aided by television. With the addition of lipstick cameras or “hole cams” and being able to see player’s cards, an extra layer of excitement has been added to televised poker coverage. What used to be boring, was all of a sudden transformed overnight into some of the most thrilling and breathtaking entertainment on TV due to the technological advances of hole cams.

For years the World Series of Poker was recorded live to tape. The poker market was insignificant back then and hole cams didn’t even exist. The production value and quality of the WSOP final tables in the early 1990s were extremely low. The lighting was poor. The set was non-existent aside from a few banners because the production crew had very little money to work with. The graphics were bad and the announcers were often drinking during the taping. Everyone involved did their best but broadcasting tournament poker was not a priority for cable companies. It was neither exciting nor profitable. ESPN aired the episodes and did not care too much about the quality of the programming since they usually used poker as a filler during a weather delay or aired episodes very late at night when few viewers were watching.

European poker tv shows

In March of 2005, The Poker Channel launched on the Sky Network and became an instant hit in Europe. In the United States, there are different themed poker programs on a variety of channels but there is not a single channel specifically dedicated to poker. Currently on the Poker Channel you can watch home games hosted by Barny Boatman, Poker Night Live, and other European tournaments such as the British Poker Open or the European Poker Championships. On Eurosport, which is Europe’s version of ESPN, you can view hour long episodes of the European Poker Tour.

U.S. poker tv shows

In America, poker is aired on a variety of channels including ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC, UPN, the Travel Channel, E!, the Game Show Network, and Bravo.

  • ESPN: World Series of Poker, U.S. Poker Championships

    ESPN has had exclusive rights to broadcast the World Series of Poker including the WSOP Circuit events. They also televise the U.S. Poker Championships held at the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, NJ. ESPN is known for its over-the-top antics when reporting sports and many purists would argue that ESPN’s presentation of poker is ruining the game in an attempt to appeal to a younger audience and attract higher ratings.

  • Fox Sports: Poker Superstars, Ultimate Poker Challenge, Learn from the Pros

    Fox Sports hosts several shows on its network and affiliates. They are the home to Poker Superstars where you can find your favorite pros playing against each other such as Ted Forrest, Cyndy Violette, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, and Chip Reese. Fox also made poker television history when they aired the first ever live poker tournament Live at the Turning Stone in upstate New York. Phil Ivey won the first ever live broadcast poker tournament and it was a big success for Fox. They later teamed up with Full Tilt Poker and aired the first ever live tournament from Las Vegas in July, where pros like Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Andy Bloch, and Clonie Gowen slugged it out at the Wynn Casino.

    Fox and their affiliates also aired the first season of the Ultimate Poker Challenge which surprisingly received the highest ratings of all time for a poker program in the United States. Most recently, Fox added a poker program called Learn from the Pros that is hosted by Howard Lederer. Several top notch players like Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Erik Seidel, Phil Ivey, Erick Lindgren, and Jennifer Harman offer up advice on tournament poker and cash games.

  • The Travel Channel: World Poker Tour, Hollywood Home Game, Ladies Night

    The Travel Channel and the World Poker Tour partnership are two of the biggest reasons why poker is so popular today. The fanatical following of the WPT is partly responsible for the huge poker boom. The World Poker Tour, hosted by Vince Van Patten and Mike Sexton, quickly became the Travel Channel’s highest rated program as they followed poker tournaments and took their viewers all over the world along the way. With the stellar looks of the hostess Shana Hiatt adding eye candy to the show, the WPT became a big hit with audiences of all ages and sexes. The WPT also created Hollywood Home Game where several movie and television stars were invited to play for a seat in the WPT Championships at the Bellagio. The WPT also created Ladies Night, where the top females in poker competed against each other. The first ever Ladies Night was won by Clonie Gowen and became the highest rated show in the history of the WPT.

  • NBC: National Heads Up Championship

    NBC recently stepped up their poker coverage when they aired the National Heads Up Championship. The always entertaining Phil Hellmuth beat out Chris “Jesus” Ferguson to win it all. There are rumors that NBC will be making a bid to air the entire WSOP in the future.

  • Bravo: Celebrity Poker Showdown

    Bravo the Arts and Entertainment Network and home of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Inside the Actors Studio was one of the last places I’d expect to be a haven for poker. Yet, Celebrity Poker Showdown is one of Bravo’s top rated shows. Every week a series of celebrities ranging from a couple big time names and musicians to the sorry lot of aging B and C-list celebrities along with a few random professional athletes compete for their favorite charities while cracking jokes and drinking heavily. Taped at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, Celebrity Poker Showdown is hosted by Phil Gordon, who’s quick to point out the awful mistakes these amateur players make.

  • E!

    E! airs a version of a celebrity home game and it’s hosted by Phil “The Unabomber” Laak. It’s not as good as the WPT and Bravo’s version.

  • The Game Show Network: Battle of the Sexes

    The Game Show Network airs the Battle of the Sexes, which is a tournament where male pros like Amir Vahedi and Chris Moneymaker compete against female pros like Kathy Liebert and Clonie Gowen.

Every day a new poker show is getting added to the mix. At some point all this poker programming is going to oversaturate the market and ratings will decline overall for everyone. But for now, if you love poker, then there’s plenty for you to watch on TV.

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