I think everyone who pays any attention to the goings on in the poker world over the last two years had at least a passing interest in how a network would cover a poker event that they put together for their broadcast. Any time a network tries something different, a disaster is always a possibility.
With the 'National Heads Up Championship" NBC showed that they can get how poker can be covered, even if they don't show a whole lot of poker. The program is the first of a series of six broadcasts leading up to the championship match. The championship match will be a two-hour special that leads into NBC's coverage of the Kentucky Derby.
The telecast was very slick, and it did seem to retain the style of an NBC event. Graphics were in the NBC mold, and everything looked a lot like 'Breakfast at Wimbledon'. The set was very well done, and it felt like an event.
The commentating was provided by all around "get him, or get Joel Meyers" sports guy Matt Vasgersian, and the expert commentary by Gabe Kaplan. The commentary (or lack thereof) was one of the better parts of the broadcast, as many times they let the audio from the table tell the story. In day one's 'featured' match, Doyle took on long time rival Billy Baxter, and the two exchanged pleasantries, and chatted it up through much of their play.
There was a 'sideline' reporter who chatted up the players after their wins, and was generally the Johnny-on-the-spot for interviews.
The first thing I noticed right away were the logos. NBC, a network held to standards more strict than cable allowed the players to wear the logos of the online room they endorse. Is anyone at Fox Sports Net, or the Travel Channel paying attention? Hello?
Also, about 50% of the commercials were for .net gaming sites. The best one is probably the Hollywood Poker one, where Vince Van Patten, and James Woods sit poolside, only to get beat by a 300 lb bodybuilder who is playing poker in between bench press sets, which I assume happens all the time. Anyway, Vince gets beat, and James Woods is wearing cucumbers on his face, to help his wrinkles....Certainly not hilarity, but good for a chuckle. Also interesting is the 'upscale' ad one room ran with Greg Raymer sitting in a room discussing matter of factly how you could be the next champ. This ad is in stark contrast to their usual ads with money falling around everywhere, and screen flashing 'WIN, WIN, WIN'. Yes, we know these are not gambling sites...thanks for the LARGE graphics reminding us of that.
Still overall, the show was pretty good. We have to have realistic expectations for the dawn of poker on networks, and, on balance, I think this is all we could have hoped for. There was not nearly enough poker coverage, as many of the matches, the only thing you saw was the handshake, and the result. There was a lot more 'human interest' stuff than I would like....all of which anyone who follows poker has seen half a dozen times. There were small cheesy segments about poker, and we saw the 'how to play hold em' segment for the 1,300th time, which never gets any more interesting, by the way.
This should be a happy day for the poker community, as our great game has finally found its way to the network stage. I know there will be haters, and those who will bash the coverage as being too everything else, and not enough poker. Those people may have a point, but we have to put our left foot in front of our right, and walk before we run when it comes to poker on network television.
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