Friends know I’m a bit of a poker addict. Love everything about Texas Hold ’Em, play it as often as possible and even read up on strategy in poker magazines. Hell, I can make a case that the final table of the World Series of Poker is the most dramatic television event of the year.
And I guess it’s not just me. When filming of the eighth season concludes in April, the World Poker Tour’s traveling TV show will have hit 178 episodes, surpassing small-screen staples "L.A. Law" (171 episodes), "The Flintstones" (166) and honing in on "Seinfeld" (179) and "The Golden Girls" (180).
Certainly, the poker craze — helped fueled by showman Phil Helmuth (right) — may have waned in the last couple of years since Chris Moneymaker won the World Series in 2003 and ESPN, currently offering up the World Series of Poker European edition, had found a new franchise event. But hardcore players have remained glued to the flop, the turn and the river, and while it might not be resonating with casual viewers as much anymore, televised poker is compelling as ever.
When WPT began offering poker in 2003, it became the No. 1 show on Travel Channel and, though the net doesn’t carry new WPT events anymore, it remains the top-rated show in the cabler’s history.
In making poker a spectator sport nearly a decade ago, WPT producers created databases of players, logged every hand dealt, and, probably the biggest innovation, used the "lipstick cam" to view players hole cards, which was clearly a difference maker when announcers had previously been forced to guess what cards each player had.
There has also been other monumental changes on the production side. The first WPT episode took eight months to edit, now the editing process moves, comparatively, at lightning speed. For the last two WSOP final table telecasts on ESPN, editing was done, literally, on the fly in order to call it "same-day coverage."
WPT, aired in 150 countries around the world, can currently be seen Sunday nights on Fox Sports Net.