The year was 2001. Chris Moneymaker won the title of World Champion and the popularity of Texas Hold’em exploded. It continued to explode for several years–at least half a decade by my reckoning. Eventually, the number of attendants to the Main Event stopped breaking records, though it still drew thousands of participants each year.
The broadcast of the main event, on the other hand, underwent a number of changes and reversions during this period. As things stand in 2016, the show is…okay. Not even good really. Just okay. Reasonably entertaining during much of its air time is honestly the highest praise I can give it. Now, poker in real life is never going to be able to compete with the ridiculous, obviously contrived, yet epic poker hands in fiction. That having been said, there are improvements that can be made. Well, one improvement in particular. If the WSOP broadcast was, say, a sitcom, my most scathing criticism would be directed at its cast of characters.
Poker Needs More “Characters”
I started following the WSOP broadcast with interest the year following Moneymaker’s win. (I only managed to be aware of the show’s existence when the 2001 game was down to 3 players.) I immediately liked that throughout the coverage, there was a set of familiar faces I could recognize. These people–Daniel Negraneau, Annie Duke, Phil Ivey, and Jean-Robert Belland to name a few, were entertaining to see play, and more importantly they were recognizable. Their names and their hole cards would pop up on the screen, and I’d instantly have a very good idea just who was playing.
Nowadays, the kind of antics or attributes that would make a poker player on TV stick out even in my memory are a thing of the past. For one thing, they change things around so often that there’s just too many people to keep track of. But the biggest problem is that more often than not lately, those players shown on the “Featured Table” just…don’t seem to have much ABOUT them on display to feature! Most are extremely reserved. Table talk is uncommon at best. And even when you DO get someone who brings a little energy to the proceedings, they tend to follow such a predictable subset of behaviors that even THEY aren’t memorable!
I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again. Poker–in particular televised poker, needs more characters. It needs more villains! People who the audience will want to see LOSE. I can’t think of a better idea for a ratings draw for them right now.
One More Thing
It occurs to me that I should probably put at least a little bit of new ideas into this post, so I’d like to talk about the death of a segment that should never have died. A sideshow act that injected much needed humor into a show that became less of what it once was without it, much like the man in charge of said act.
I’m speaking, of course, about Heads Up with Norman Chad. Norman Chad vs. a noted poker pro, mano a mano, in a challenge that always had little if anything to do with actual poker, but usually one that the pro was noted to have some ancillary talent in. Did Norman ever win? Yes. No. Maybe. It never mattered. It was hilarious as anything, and to this day there are salt deposits within my being generated from the fact that the segment recently became no more. I even wrote to–and got a reply from–the man himself via his Couch Slouch email stating that there were no plans to revive the segment. This is nothing less than entertainment injustice!