Posts Tagged ‘Simon Cowell

20
Aug
10

Televised poker: light entertainment or overblown reality show?

This week saw the second week of World Series of Poker Main Event coverage on ESPN.

The broadcaster had altered their coverage for the earlier events, adding a breakdown of position for each hand, and this was met with a mixed reception. Much of the criticism initially concerned the confusion which might arise in describing the blinds as “late position”, perhaps a mistaken attempt to simplify the concept of position for newcomers to the game.

While a small percentage of ESPN’s audience may be watching the World Series in an attempt to improve their game, they are almost certainly in the minority. A larger proportion of the viewership will be comprised either of those who already have a firm grasp of the game, or those who watch it purely for entertainment purposes.

WSOP presenters Norman Chad (l) and Lon McEachern

Those in the former category will be eager to point out the flaws in the approach – notably the fact that position is fluid and changes after the flop (an issue belatedly addressed after being ignored in the Players’ Championship coverage). The latter group, meanwhile, may be confused to the point they stop watching, reluctant to leave their comfort zone of watching the big pots and remarkable stories develop. Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore, the detailed positional analysis was gone by the time the main event shows came around, a simple ‘UTG+1’ in-hand graphic a tiny reminder of what we were missing.

This makes some sense, as it is no secret that footage of the World Series of Poker has in recent times begun to cater to a more mainstream audience. Hand analysis has taken something of a backseat as the programme becomes a platform for Norman Chad’s schtick, book-ended by fairytales and sob-stories which would make Simon Cowell blush. Detailed hand analysis has become the domain of podcasts and instructional videos, only occasionally creeping into even the more serious shows.

Indeed the mainstream appeal of World Series coverage is demonstrated by the fact that the programme goes out at prime-time in America. This is in stark contrast to British shows: in particular, the enduringly-popular Late Night Poker has remained late-night, failing to extend its appeal beyond the poker enthusiasts drawn to the show when it first came out.

Jesse May, the voice of UK poker

Even newer shows seem confined to the graveyard slot of midnight-1am, and broadcasters in this country seem more content with sticking to a moderately successful format than they do gambling on a style with a proven track record abroad. Something of a middle-ground has been established in some cases, with the enigmatic Jesse May recruited in an effort to provide larger-than-life American ‘excitement’ in the form of a raised voice and confused cries of ‘Holy Toledo’, but by-and-large the more subtle, low-key approach has been retained.

It is tough to gauge where we can go next in terms of televised poker, particularly with no noticeable intentions to replicate the grandiosity of the successful American format. Perhaps this goes hand-in-hand with the way poker is received in the UK, where there are few ‘celebrities’ in the game to draw an audience in the same way as Phil Hellmuth or Daniel Negreanu have done across the pond. Or maybe there is a fear that elevating poker beyond a diversion restricted to aspirational Euro-casinos or seedy backrooms may threaten the enviable tax-free status of the game.

Either way, for the time being we can be grateful for the choice we are afforded, allowing us to watch one of many British poker shows one week, and US-produced World Series or WPT broadcasts the next. Just think: it could be far worse.




Hi I’m Tom. I’m a freelance journalist, and I recently completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism at Cardiff University. In my spare time I like to play, watch and talk about poker. I hope you enjoy reading my blog.

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