Poker has actually been on TV in the United States since the 1970s.
Of course, there wasn’t much to see until they started using hole card cams in the early 2000s, bringing viewers right into the center of the action.
Poker’s popularity boomed when ESPN coverage of Tennessee accountant and amateur poker player Chris Moneymaker winning the 2003 World Series of Poker was broadcast. Of course, its momentum was also spurred on by the first World Poker Tour broadcasts airing that same year.
Televised poker may be old, but a new show debuting this spring hopes to reinvent the model.
Image is everything
The game looked easy enough to learn. It was certainly fun and exciting with all that money on the line. Plus, it appeared to be a kind of sport like no other, where amateurs could sit with the pros, and with a little luck, beat them at their own game. The American public fell in love with it. They watched in record numbers.
Poker got even more popular on TV in 2004 when the National Hockey League locked its players out and canceled the season. Sports networks needed something to replace the NHL and poker filled the void.
It was relatively cheap programming to produce. Plus, at least one industry wanted to advertise on every poker show it could. The thing is, the popularity of the online game helped turn some relatively small internet startup businesses into $100 million operations almost overnight. Online poker sites had big-time advertising budgets and were the perfect partner to support poker on TV.
Over the next seven years, poker continued to grow on TV, with online poker sites footing the bill. Most of the shows were simply ad buys for the sites. However, they continued to help show poker in a favorable light and attract more and more people to the game.
Celebrity Poker Showdown
Celebrity Poker Showdown, which aired on Bravo between 2003 and 2006, did even more for the game. The show brought on a variety of celebrities playing tournaments for charity. The list of top celebrities who stepped up to play on the show is a long one, including:
- Ben Affleck
- Don Cheadle
- David Schwimmer
- Sarah Silverman
- Jon Favreau
- Carrie Fisher
- Mimi Rogers
- Paul Rudd
- Rosario Dawson
- Norm Macdonald
- Matthew Perry
- Jason Bateman
- Cheryl Hines
- Chevy Chase
- Neil Patrick Harris
- Jason Alexander
- Rosie O’Donnell
Their star power and celebrity endorsement of the game made poker look cool. In turn, the show helped the game’s growth in an immeasurable way.
Can Poker Night recapture the early poker magic?
Celebrity Poker Showdown went away pretty quickly. Plus, a game once dominated by characters turned out to be more of a stage for math geeks. Poker soon lost a lot of that cool image it once cultivated. But things really took a turn for the worse in 2011.
The top online poker sites were indicted on various illegal gambling and money laundering charges. They were forced out of the US and they took the advertising dollars that supported so much of the poker on TV with them.
The TV poker landscape looked pretty stark for a long while. In fact, a lot of it has since moved online, where production value goes to die.
However, some good news emerged this week, as the burgeoning TV series Poker Night in America announced plans to launch of a new live “celebrity” version of its show.
Poker Night LIVE will air on CBS Sports Network and perhaps bring a little of the magic Celebrity Poker Showdown once created back to the game.
“Anything can happen on live TV and probably will with a table filled with celebrities,” explained Todd Anderson, president of producers for Rush Street Productions.
Hollywood and poker
The plan is to air the show every Tuesday for 13 weeks beginning March 20. It’ll be shot live on location from the Gardens Casino, just south of Hollywood, California. Anderson hopes to attract a number of celebrities from the worlds of poker and Hollywood:
“This will be unlike any poker show currently on TV. Poker Night LIVE will be more like a Hollywood home game brought directly into viewers homes with lots of interesting guests, lots of laughs and lots of live action.”
Poker Night in America host and hilarious comic Joe Stapleton will take a seat at the table to keep the fun conversation flowing.
It really sounds like something new and exciting for the game on TV. Plus, it could be exactly the type of thing that makes poker look cool again.
Another boom isn’t likely. In fact, poker may never grow to the heights it once hit. However, initiatives like Poker Night LIVE are certainly going to make sure it doesn’t float off into obscurity just yet either.