Lon McEachern Discusses the Evolution of Poker on TV & the Human Factor

Lon McEachern and Norman Chad

The following is a guest contribution to PokerNews by poker commentator Lon McEachern, who has been commentating the World Series of Poker for thirteen years. McEachern and Norman Chad will be returning to the Rio All-Suite Casino in Las Vegas on Monday, November 4 and Tuesday, November 5 to commentate the 2013 WSOP November Nine, which will be aired on ESPN. Check your local listings. Here, McEachern talks about the evolution of poker on TV.

This year’s World Series of Poker telecast is my 12th edition of broadcasting the Main Event on ESPN. To look back on that first show I did with Gabe Kaplan is somewhat akin to the “cringe-factor” you get when you pull out your high school yearbooks and check out the rockin’ hair styles we sported for the portraits. It was cool then, but we’ve come so far.

If I had a publicist it would be easy to spin the press release, “McEachern Announces 2002 WSOP — Poker Boom Follows!” But, alas, as my current broadcast partner Norman Chad correctly points out, we were just passengers on the rocket that helped bring one of America’s most beloved games out of the back room and into millions of living rooms which in turn created a frenzy of activity for gold-digging TV producers who wanted to cash in on the craze. And who could blame them? Suddenly, with the fortuitous victory of 2003 World Champion Chris Moneymaker, poker was the “new” kid on the block — young, hip, and, rich. Hollywood sitcoms found ways to work poker into their story lines fueling the fire. Time, Newsweek, and The Wall Street Journal were just a few of the respected bastions of journalism that used their valuable column inches to report on no-limit Texas hold‘em. We were in the Golden Age of Poker.

But even gold would lose its luster if there is an oversupply. After riding a huge and profitable wave for several years, it seemed the casual fans had had their fill of all-in moments. The number of poker shows began to wither. Hollywood mostly moved on, yet the surviving few TV poker shows still had to find ways to capture a smaller, fervent, and more knowledgeable audience.

Lon McEachern Discusses the Evolution of Poker on TV & the Human Factor 101
Kenny Tran

One key factor that made poker so attractive to the average viewer was the effort made to get to know the players. Everyone has a story. Sometimes all you have to do is ask and the player will tell you, other times it takes some digging. I recall sitting in on an interview with WSOP bracelet winner Kenny Tran. The producer had prepared as best as possible and the interview was nearly over and I had a thought to ask about his family. Kenny, the son of a Vietnamese mother and American serviceman, then told us of his struggle to find his father whom he had never met. He was brought to tears telling us this story while we listened slack-jawed. It is these types of revelations that sing so loudly to the viewers and keep them coming back for more.

Televised poker today is a more streamlined, budget-conscious effort and because the core audience is more poker savvy there is more emphasis on how individual hands were played out. The nuances of the game are garnering more and more attention — and I think that is great, but we need to be conscious of what brought us to this point and remain loyal to presenting the human factor, finding the “Kenny Tran” at the final table, as it were.

I have heard people say, “Televised poker is dead.” Well, I heartily disagree. It is just changing. Yes, the number of shows on U.S. TV is fewer, but that, in and of itself, is not the whole story. Poker is available on the web as more and more events are streaming their tournaments live. We are still producing upwards of 40 new hours of poker each year on the world’s biggest sports network. Check out the extensive lineup of European poker TV shows, and with the expanding interest in the Asian world, there is no ruling out another, even bigger, poker boom. I just hope that Norman and I will have another ticket to ride.

Thanks for watching,
Lon McEachern

Catch more of McEachern's thoughts on his website at LonMcEachern.com and find more unique takes on the poker world by following him on Twitter @LonMcEachern. Also, be sure to follow PokerNews' live updates from the 2013 WSOP November Nine by visiting our Live Reporting section on Monday, November 4 and Tuesday, November 5.

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