Live shows could up ante for networks

One player asks how long taped broadcasts will last


July 30, 2005|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,SUN STAFF

Despite the success of the taped ESPN World Series of Poker telecasts, there is a question about whether audiences will be satisfied with getting their fix of flops, turns and rivers delayed over months, or if they will demand more immediate gratification.

Say, with live poker.

Professional player Howard Lederer believes that TV poker will have to take the leap to live broadcasts, despite potential pitfalls such as long stretches of boring hands and the unpredictability of how long a game will last.

"The more knowledgeable people are about the game, the more they're going to want live poker," Lederer said.

The drama of frequent showdowns in events that are taped and edited has captured the public's attention, Lederer said, "but that's just a small piece of the story. ... If people want to learn how the pros really play and win, they're not seeing that now."

Lederer was the color analyst for a rare live TV poker tournament broadcast by Fox Sports Net on July 13 at the Wynn Las Vegas resort while the WSOP was unfolding at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino a few blocks away.

The four-hour telecast featured the final stages of a tournament of top-name pros that began earlier in the day and was eventually won by Kristy Gazes, who collected $250,000 when she beat Ted Forrest.

To add spice to the telecast, players at the final table were hooked up to heart monitors to show that despite their best poker faces, even the pros suffer anxiety when faced with a tough call.

Fox Sports Net, which aired a live poker tournament last year at Turning Stone Casino in New York, plans to try more live telecasts while continuing a schedule of taped shows, including Poker Superstars. The Travel Channel carries the popular taped World Poker Tour, where the tournaments feature familiar pros more frequently.

"A lot of [poker] events aren't right for live," said Fox Sports Net executive vice president for programming and production George Greenberg. "What do you do with the World Series that has 5,600 players? I think it's going to a blend, both taped and live."

A major TV network will be jumping into the deep end of the poker pool when CBS airs a tournament Christmas afternoon as a kickoff to a series of 12 televised events that will pit pro players versus "Average Joes."

Though most players will qualify for the TV events in tournaments at land-based casinos, people will be able to compete for a seat at the Christmas final table online by playing in free games at an Internet "poker arena" affiliated with CBS and its poker partner, ProJo Poker Enterprises.

Still another element of the so-called ProJo games will be cash bounties the "Joes" can collect for beating the pros.

Clearly, the variations on presenting TV poker are proliferating as quickly as the game itself, but ESPN says it will stick with its proven formula of trying to spin yarns.

"If this were live coverage, we would have to play it a lot safer, for instance with wider shots so we don't miss anything. But with this as a taped event, we can take risks with tighter shots and going for the dramatic moment ... because we get to edit," said ESPN's poker coordinating producer Bob Chesterman.

"I realize that people watch the show for the hands, but in the end, they're entertained by the stories."

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