Beginning in January, ESPN makes its next foray into dramatic television with the premier of "TILT", a series written by the creative team that was responsible for "Rounders" and starring Michael Madsen (Kill Bill, Vol. 2, Reservoir Dogs) as Don "The Matador" Everest, the master of the poker world. The story revolves around the fictitious World Poker Championship at the (equally false but well-done) Colorado Casino in Las Vegas and the behind-the-scenes battling and infighting of the poker world.
ESPN has not had what could be called a successful track record when it comes to their made for TV fare. Their first series effort, "Playmakers" was based on a professional football team. It then proceeded into racial inequality, steroid usage, homosexuality and adultery (just to name a few of their themes). While doing this, they proceeded to offend one of their prime programming tools, the National Football League. Testy exchanges were heard between the two regarding the content of the show and, after one dismal season, the "Playmakers" were banished to the bench.
Additionally, ESPN cannot have been said to have had great fortune with their movies either. Anyone who watched the dismal "3", based on the life of NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt or the equally abysmal "Hu$tle" about the travails of baseball's Pete Rose can and will attest to this. If it's produced by the crew in Bristol and takes longer than the average "SportsCenter", normally it isn't worth the time spent.
While there still may be some unsavory elements to the world of poker (as the recent robbery attempt of WSOP World Champion Greg Raymer showed), you can only imagine that "TILT" is going to increase that level twentyfold. In early previews, during the play of a hand at the table, one player launches himself across the table at an opponent to fight. Most would say that would NEVER happen, as it would be sure to earn you a ban from any casino in the world (now the fight may take place outside the casino, that's for sure). There is backroom scheming to take down "The Matador", and even the star of the show is not beyond some less than honest dealings.
Michael Madsen has the look and feel of a high stakes player, but the rest of the cast are virtual unknowns. In the preview of the show, there seems to be a little too much banter during the play of hands and the animosity between the combatants seems to be a little over the top. There will be additional cameos by true professional players (such as T. J. Cloutier and Daniel Negreanu), which will lend an air of authenticity to the series.
While you figure that there will be some artistic license taken, you can only hope that it won't be to the extent that ESPN went with "Playmakers." The game of poker is a truly dramatic event worthy of Greek theater and the background to the complex personalities of the players should make for enough drama alone. While I will take the deal for the opening of "TILT," it remains to be seen if I'll stay to the river.
More information in an official "Tilt" web page http://espn-tilt.com.