Is Poker Night LIVE The Television Show Poker Needs Right Now?

Steve Ruddock February 28, 2018 1791 Reads
Poker Night in America

Poker Night in America is launching a new celebrity focused poker show in March.  Community response to the show, dubbed Poker Night LIVE, has been a mixed bag, making it the latest entry in the, “Is this good for poker?” debate.

Just what the Dr. ordered?

Poker Night in America’s new show is challenging two widely held beliefs about poker programming.

Those two beliefs are:

  • Viewers are more engaged when there is a lot of money on the line.
  • Viewers prefer watching high-level play with the best of the best competing against one another.

Poker Night LIVE is flipping both of these notions on their heads.

The game will be played for low-stakes ($5/$5 blinds with a $500 buy-in).

The lineups will consist of largely celebrity amateurs, with a single well-known poker name, and a poker personality, Joe Stapleton, thrown into the mix to keep the atmosphere light and the table talk flowing. To appeal to as wide a swath of celebrities as possible, PNiA is offering to go to the celebrities’ homes and give them a poker primer.

“This show is going to be different from any show that’s ever been done,” Rush Street Productions President Todd Anderson told PokerNews. “It’s really not as much a poker show as a late night comedy talk show. It’s more Johnny Carson than WPT.”

But is this really the first time something like this has been tried?

The answer is yes and no.

The Poker Night LIVE-Celebrity Poker Showdown connection

The premise itself isn’t exactly new. The show seems quite similar to Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown, which had a five-season run at the beginning of the poker boom.

What’s different is, Poker Night LIVE will be played as a live cash game, not an edited down tournament. It will be filmed at Gardens Casino in California and broadcast in close to real-time without editing.

Celebrity Poker Showdown was a show that I watched religiously. At the time I was playing poker professionally, and even though the show’s players were almost exclusively entry-level players it was still very entertaining.

The show simply worked.

Like Celebrity Poker Showdown, it appears that Poker Night LIVE wants to celebrate the rank amateur part of a person’s poker journey, even if that means hardcore poker fans have to sit through some commentary that will be the equivalent of a frequent flyer listening to the flight attendant safety instructions.

For instance, the first segment of Celebrity Poker Showdown explained the most basic game mechanics, from the button and blinds to five-card hand rankings. Hand analysis was also kept very simple.

It may be boring and something of a waste of time for seasoned players, but this quick primer and basic analysis meant viewers didn’t have to know much of anything about poker to understand what was going on. Furthermore, there was always a player or two at the table who was just as inexperienced as someone seeing poker on TV for the first time.

As Jessica Welman pointed out on Twitter, this “take celebrities out of their comfort zone” TV strategy has a long history of success.

Nor were people tuning in to see people compete for life-changing sums of money. The Celebrity Poker Showdown games were played 100 percent for charity, with participants’ chosen charities receiving prizes based on how they finished.

Each season featured five, five-person tournaments. The charities of the four players eliminated in each of the preliminary tournaments received $5,000. The winner of each preliminary tournament played in the championship, with their charities receiving:

  • Fifth Place in the Championship: $7,500
  • Fourth Place in the Championship: $10,000
  • Third Place in the Championship: $12,500
  • Second Place in the Championship: $20,000
  • First Place in the Championship: $100,000

Bottom line

Celebrity Poker Showdown worked, and the concept is sorely needed in an age of poker where GTO strategies and higher level analysis has become the norm.

Based on the early looks at the show, Poker Night LIVE has the chance to make poker fun again.

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