PokerNews has learned that World Poker Tour Enterprises and FOX Sports Net will soon announce an agreement that will bring Season VII of the long-running series to FSN on Sunday nights.
According to sources close to the deal, the WPT's Season VII will consist of 26 episodes and will air each Sunday evening, somewhere in the "prime time" (6-10 pm) hours for starting time. Each episode will be one hour long. The initial starting date and the exact starting time for the series' run are among the details still be ironed out as the show is fit into the FSN broadcast schedule. The sources did report, however, that longtime hosts Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten will return to their roles behind the microphone. The first two episodes will cover the Bellagio Cup in Las Vegas, the final table of which is being contested today.
Excepting a one-shot show on NBC, the new deal with FSN represents the third major broadcast home for the WPT over its long life. The WPT became a surprise ratings hit after debuting on Travel Channel in 2003, quickly becoming a must-view for poker fans searching for fresh poker content apart from repeated WSOP episodes. The WPT's quick success — featuring a stylized studio atmosphere, the friendly repartee and expert knowledge of Sexton and Van Patten, and the easygoing and beautiful camera presence of original hostess Shana Hiatt — gave the program a distinctive feel and allowed it to capture a diehard audience.
The WPT's success, however, drew other imitators, each eager to grab a slice of the pie that was poker's newfound popularity. Meanwhile, the WPT's original formulaic approach, while still stylish, also meant a struggle for the tour to find new ways to grow its TV audience. WPT's ratings on Travel Channel peaked in 2004, then began to slide slowly downward, and after five seasons the relationship between show and network ended. The WPT moved on to Game Show Network for Season Six, but despite strong ratings, a change of direction within GSN led to the WPT not continuing there for its seventh overall season. This led to WPTE exploring other broadcast opportunities, with FSN being one of the most logical possible homes.
FSN's long history with poker dates back to the "Poker Superstars Invitational" series and includes many other programs. An incomplete list of other FSN poker offerings includes "Poker Challenge," "Learn from the Pros," "MansionPoker Poker Dome Challenge," "Calvin Ayre Wild Card Poker" and "Best Damn Poker Show" among many others. The landing for the WPT at FOX Sports, however, represents the highest-powered poker brand name the network has been able to offer to date.
According to Steve Lipscomb, WPT Founder, President and CEO, "FSN and News Corporation are two incredible powerhouses in the television industry that have played key roles in the growth and popularity of televised poker. It couldn't be a better fit for WPT and our fans. We're thrilled."