ESPN has been in the game for years. The poker movie, Rounders, features Matt Damon watching the classic World Series of Poker showdown between Johnny Chan and Eric Seidel.
Despite years of experience, however, ESPN has become the short stack at the table thanks to the Travel Channel and its hugely popular World Poker Tour.
Now... even more players are coming to the table, hoping to win big.
We'll start at the beginning with the granddaddy of poker, the World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshow casino. ESPN has shown the final table for more than a decade. It was packaged into a single show, and it drew a small audience.
Then came the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel. It was our first chance to see the hole cards as the game was played. It revolutionized the way we watched poker on TV, and America responded. It quickly became the highest rated show in the small cable network's history.
ESPN quickly responded, giving us the most-highly produced WSOP event ever. We saw the tournament from beginning to end. We saw hole cards at the feature table. We learned about the players away from the table. We met the masters and the dead money. And we watched an online amateur win it all.
The rest of the television world is taking notice. Starting December 2nd, Bravo will air Celebrity Poker Showdown. The lineup for game 1 is Ben Affleck, Don Cheadle, Willie Garson (gay friend on Sex in the City), Emily Proctor (hot blonde on CSI: Miami), and David Schwimmer. My money is on Don Cheadle... he was in Ocean's Eleven so I think that makes him the favorite.
On December 9th, you'll see Timothy Busfield, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Martin Sheen, and John Spencer, all from NBC's West Wing. Bravo and NBC are television partners (maybe GE owns both, I'm not sure). I predict this series will be a huge success.
NBC is certainly taking note, and will gamble on a poker special of its own. Air date? Try Super Bowl Sunday! The peacock network believes the non-Super Bowl watchers might stop by for a little poker action. I'll have to set my VCR... I'll be watching the big game. (UPDATE: Commenter Liquid Swords is right, the special will air from 4pm-6pm before the start of the big game. Now I can watch both.)
The Game Show Network doesn't have poker, but it will have its own world series of cards. The World Series of Blackjack. As a blackjack fan myself, I'll certainly give this a try. However, I suspect it will lack the drama of the WSOP because blackjack doesn't have the same player-to-player interaction.
Soon, there will be a cable network for gambling. The Casino and Gaming Television Network will offer a show of poker advice, tours of casinos and more. Its biggest roadblock will be finding advertisers. Family groups have already begun their campaigns against the network.
In the end, the big winner will be you and me, the poker players. I say the more poker on TV the better. It's helped lead to an explosion of poker online, and the more players, the more fish. And I'm sure we can all agree that's a good thing.