|October 11, 2005
Poker players have a lot to choose from on TV these days, and the programming carried by Fox Sports Net, or FSN, sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. But FSN actually began airing poker programming well before the poker boom. FSN certainly has its followers, but because the network specializes in local sports teams, it can be easy to miss out on the national programming they also air.
Not to be outdone by its competitors, FSN has added numerous poker shows that give a unique twist to the game. Much is the same as on other tournaments: poker pros, hole cameras, solid commentary, etc. But in addition to featuring professionals, FSN decided to take a chance with poker shows from Britain and Australia. They also air a poker show with new players who won a free tournament online, and even give live poker a shot.
Poker Isn't New Anymore. While FSN has added the amount of poker programming in recent years, poker has been carried for about seven years. The network shifted into high gear in 2003, when Chris Moneymaker and Doyle Brunson were among the headliners for the Showdown at the Sands poker tournament. This ran on Thanksgiving Day and was unique in that viewers didnít have to wait three months for the tournament to unfold. Instead, FSN aired six one-hour shows, back-to-back, repeating the final two episodes that night for those too busy with turkey and football during the day. FSN also went all out with 21 cameras, 21 tape machines, 12 instant-replay machines, three continuously running editing computers, and a special event NFL broadcast truck. In addition to these features, the Showdown at the Sands tournament featured a "rabbit hunting" camera. This allowed viewers to see the cards the dealer never flipped over, meaning they would know if it was a good lay-down or if the player who folded would have won the hand on the river.
And most poker tournaments air at least several months after they are taped, due to the extensive editing process involved. With Showdown at the Sands, viewers saw the action less than 24 hours after it occurred.
FSN followed this up with Late Night Poker, which started airing in early 2004 five nights per week, late in the evening (as the title suggests). Late Night Poker was a British import, taped in Wales. The show had a unique feel to it, taped in a dark studio with a poker-lounge type atmosphere. Late Night Poker also had cameras placed under the table, allowing the viewer to see the cards throughout the hand rather than just catching a glimpse with the lipstick cameras as on most poker shows. The show featured a mixture of pros and amateurs, and in Britain was an hour-long broadcast; it was cut to a half-hour episode on FSN.
In the summer of 2004, FSN debuted Poker Superstars. This aired over a 12-week period, in one-hour segments from the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas each Sunday night. The tournament included Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, T.J. Cloutier, Barry Greenstein, Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer and Chip Reese, who competed in a $400,000 buy-in No Limit Texas Holdem Event. In addition to poker coverage, the first installment of Poker Superstars featured unique segments focusing on poker strategy, with expert commentators (and all eight of the competitors) providing comments and tips to help the viewer improve his game. The grand finale of the tournament aired on NBC on Superbowl Sunday.
Along with the debut of Poker Superstars, FSN is perhaps most remembered for bringing the first live professional poker tournament ever to the airwaves in the United States. This was held at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in upstate New York. FSN also utilized a new computer system that interfaced with graphics generators, allowing on-screen card identification possible. The live broadcast was of the final six players, with Phil Ivey coming away as the champion. FSN was able to pull off quite a feat. Ratings were reportedly double what had been promised advertisers, and FSN received such a great response that they aired another live telecast the following summer: The FullTiltPoker.net Championship held at the Wynn Las Vegas, with Kristy Gazes taking home $250,000. For this event, FSN had each player wear a heart monitor, allowing viewers to see the heart rates of the players and how they reacted to pressure-filled situations. More live events are planned.
This past summer, FSN branched out with the airing of a tournament sponsored by Ultimatebet.net. This was a seven-week series where competitors qualified through online play for fun, playing against winners of other free tournaments. The winners were flown to Las Vegas to compete in tournaments, with $10,000 being given away each week culminating in a $200,000 winner-take-all event.
Starting last March and ending in mid-October, FSN has been airing the second installment of Poker Superstars. Seeing the ratings success with the first installment (a .48 rating on average), FSN upped the episodes from 12 to 36 hour-long telecasts, and the field of professionals also increased as well from 9 to 24. These 24 players competed in a series of games against one another, with the field of 24 being narrowed to 16 who advanced to the playoffs. From there the top point earners advanced to the quarterfinals and semifinals, with the final two competitors battling it out.
Finally, FSN took viewers to poker school in Fulltiltpoker.net Presents: Learn from the Pros. This isnít some one-hour special on basic Texas Holdem strategy. Instead, it is a 26-week series, with each episode airing one hour. The series premiered on Tuesday, Sept. 27, and will be airedevery Sunday at 4:30 pm local time with repeats on Tuesday nights at 8:30. Chris Rose of The Best Damn Sports Show Period and "The Professor" Howard Lederer host the program, joined by other pros.
Most poker TV programming has centered around no-limit Texas Holdem, and While ratings continue to hold steady and even rise for some programs, it doesnít take an economics Ph.D. to tell you that you eventually reach a saturation point in a market.
The folks at FSN arenít new to the game, however. George Greenberg, the FSN "poker guru" as a representative at the Minneapolis affiliate described him to me (actually the Executive Vice President of Production and Programming for FSN) knows what is needed for a show to be successful.
"Our poker is unique and distinct," said Greenberg. "Each series we put on the air is a distinctive brand of poker." Unique and distinct are perfect words to describe the poker shows on FSN.
Take the Ultimatebet.net tournament that aired over the summer. Putting a bunch of amateurs on TV that no one had ever heard of, who qualified by playing in online play-chip tournaments, would be a hard sell to many TV bigwigs. But the show worked because viewers could relate to it. In my home state of Minnesota, the state legislature recently allowed bars and restaurants to host free Texas Holdem tournaments with prizes up to $200 with the stipulation that there was no buy-in for the tournament. Now, tournaments abound every night of the week at many local bars. Obviously, Gus Hansen isnít going to walk into my local bar for a freeroll (although Phil Gordon did testify for this bill allowing the tournaments). But these play-chip winners are going to play like the people you'll encounter in home tournaments and small buy-in tournaments. By tuning into the Ultimatebet.net tournament you might not see the best of play, but you will learn from their mistakes.
Red Meat. In my conversation with Greenberg, I mentioned that one thing I loved about the poker on FSN was that it seemed like "red meat" poker in the sense that the productions were not jazzed-up with a guest appearance by poker hand coverage. Greenberg stated that the poker was covered "in a way that is "red meat," but each series we put on the air is a distinctive brand of poker."
I call it "red meat" because the poker on FSN seems like it's really for poker lovers. Other networks seem to try to shoot the moon at times, covering a biography of each player, some comedy, some poker history, spiffy graphics. With FSN, you get poker and solid analysis of the hands and the players. I taped the most recent episode of Poker Superstars to take a closer look. I specifically looked for non-poker content. The only time the show veered away from the table was a brief segment called "The many faces of Scotty Nguyen," lasting about 30 seconds. There was no lengthy biography of each player or coverage of non-poker events during the tournament. Even the set is impressive, with the well-lit poker table in the center of the room, instead of in what looks like the middle of a techno dance club like on other poker shows. No flashing lights, no dry ice smoke, no dark-lights intros like an NBA game, just a poker table under the lights. How refreshing!
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|Paul Kammen is an avid low-stakes poker player from the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He has played regularly at the Canterbury Card Club since it opened in 2000, playing primarily in low stakes Stud and Holdem games. Since then, he has played at various other casinos in Minnesota and Las Vegas, and also plays regularly at the low-stakes tables on PokerStars. He is the author of two books on poker, How To Beat Low-Limit 7-Card Stud Poker (2003, Cardoza Publishing) and How To Beat Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better (also available at ebookmall.com) and available soon in print.