When I first heard about 'Tilt', I was filled with hope that a mainstream show based around poker would bring even more people into the poker world, and get a broader audience excited about our great game.
I was out the night of January 13th, when the show premiered, but I TIVO'ed the show, and actually watched it even though I got back late. I was eager to see how ESPN would portray the poker world. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. While much of the first episode was used setting up the characters, they still found time to throw some cheating, back room dealings, and all together unsavory material into the script, and set up the 'us versus them' storyline that would paint the series. The first episode also included cameo appearances from Daniel Negraneau, and TJ Cloutier, who one can only assume if they were allowed to read the WHOLE script, would have passed quicker than they pass on a 4 7 offsuit (on second thought, Daniel might play that).
I watched the second episode with a weary eye, hoping they were just trying to draw viewers in with sensationalism....only to be disappointed yet again. I left the rest of the series on TIVO, untouched until yesterday. Nine episodes of Tilt were filmed, and I figured if I could get my way thru the first five, I would have a good grasp of what the series was like top to bottom, and could work my way through this story.
Though the next few episodes were filled with a couple of hard to see coming twists, the bottom line is the producers, writers, and network personnel want a soap opera about the poker world. Some of the characters are redeemed a bit, but it goes far from showing any of them as particularly sympathetic.
Mind you, the poker world does owe the producers of 'Tilt' a debt. These men were the same men that believed enough to keep fighting, and get the film 'Rounders' made. Before Moneymaker, and the WPT, Rounders was the biggest thing to hit poker in quite some time, and gave the poker craze its 'soft launch'. Rounders, however DID have a sympathetic character, one that was trying to do the right thing for his friend, and do so via poker.
But, back to 'Tilt'. Ratings wise, the show did well its premier night, averaging a 1.64 household rating and a viewer ship of about two million. This was up over 40% from typical programming in that timeslot, but down 20% from the only truly similar programming, which was 'Playmakers', ESPN's first original dramatic series, a story about life behind the scenes of an NFL team.
Since that first episode, however, the ratings have fallen off, in fact fallen off quite substantially. In its second week, on Jan. 20, Tilt posted a 1.34 household rating, off 18% from its premiere. In Tilt's third week, which are the last published numbers I can find, the show managed just a 0.74 household rating, down 55% from its premiere.
ESPN cancelled "Playmakers" at the behest of the NFL, who were none to happy that the show featured wanton use of painkillers, and other substances, players sleeping with other players wives, and generally portrayed life behind the scenes of an NFL team as pretty damn unsavory.
Unfortunately, as hot as poker is right now, if the top people in the poker world called up ESPN top brass to request a similar fate for 'Tilt', they would meet Mr. Dial Tone....quickly.
But, it seems that the beauty of our natural supply and demand market will take care of Tilt for us. I can't see Tilt being renewed, but stranger things have happened. If I get a vote (which I don't), my vote is that 'Tilt - season one' can go straight to the bargain DVD section, complete with extras, and lots of bonus footage for someone out there to enjoy.