My Take on the WSOP’s Final Table

by Lou on November 18, 2008

It’s been more than a week now since the November Nine played down to a winner at the World Series of Poker’s final table. Like every other poker fan, I watched the action on ESPN. But I watched with an eye to assessing whether it would have been a better poker tournament if it had been played to conclusion in July—just like every other WSOP was—or if the nearly four-month hiatus contributed to the event’s success.

I could have blogged the morning following the event, but I wanted to let my thoughts and feelings settle down a bit, and give myself the benefit of reflection. After all, this was a mega event, at least by the standards applied to producing poker on TV.

Twenty-eight thousand pounds of TV equipment, including 20 HD TV cameras, were used to produce the final table. They used thirteen editing systems to get the final table turned around and ready to show in their “near real-time” format, one day after the event itself concluded.
I understand the long hours and quick turnaround needed to meet production schedules. But I also know that one should never confuse effort with results, and while the show itself was up to the standards of prior year WSOP TV productions (which were not shown in near real time), it wasn’t necessarily better.

While Peter Eastgate was working his way through the final table gathering chips, we really didn’t see much of him until the tournament was heads-up or close to it. I’d have loved to see how he garnered the chips he did, but we were left in the dark. Most of the focus was on Dennis Phillips, Ivan Demidov and Ylon Schwartz, along with some footage of short-stacked Kelly Kim’s fight to survive.

Eastgate, who didn’t exhibit the colorful persona of Phillips, Demidov, or Schwartz, was pretty much among the missing until the final table’s later stages.

I actually don’t think it is possible to produce really thorough coverage of the final table in the short time allotted for the show. So here are my suggestions for next year. And I only have two of them to offer:
Produce two shows. A two-hour broadcast can be shown on ESPN and designed to appeal to the casual poker fans who aren’t eager or willing to sit though a longer program. But for the diehard poker fans, a five-hour special could be edited and shown on ESPN-2.

There’s some precedent for this kind of sports coverage. After all, Versus shows short versions of their Tour de France coverage, along with a longer show, later in the day, that has a lot more of the racing that appeals to cyclists themselves, rather than the kind of overview coverage aimed at a more general, casual audience.

There’s no reason why the amount of footage could not be used to produce shows aimed at two different audiences: the hard core poker fan who would watch a long version, and a shorter show, for casual poker aficionados.

The other thing that needs to be done differently is to really generate some excitement leading up to the final table. While the November Nine members did scads of interviews and played in poker events leading up to the final table, most of the media coverage was highly localized.

I expected to see these guys on all the major TV shows, much the same as you see movie stars trotted out on the talk show circuit whenever they have a new film to promote. It was really disappointing that none of them got a chance to talk poker with Letterman, or play some cards with Ellen, or appear on any of the morning network shows. That would have been a real build up.

Moreover, any buildup time during the two weeks immediately before the final table was lost in all the coverage of the Presidential election, and deciding to schedule an event in conflict with the kind of coverage a national election generates is a strange decision.

I don’t think the nearly four-month hiatus was a bad idea; it just could have been done differently and executed better. If Harrah’s decides to go with a four-month hiatus next year, I’m hoping they give us two versions of this show, along with a plan to generate some real publicity for the players and themselves in the process.

Anything less just isn’t worth the effort.

{ 4 comments }

Champ November 18, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Good take Lou! We need your voice as they continue to refine the WSOP ME.

Steve Betts November 19, 2008 at 4:20 pm

I don’t think there is any reason why the final table could have been shown live somewhere -perhaps streamed over the internet.

That is how I watched the WSOPE Europe Main Event Final Table and I found it gripping stuff.

The picture quality was superb from the Betfair site and I commend them for that -although I think it was an ESPN broadcast.

I think your idea for an extended highlights package is excellent.

CSuave November 19, 2008 at 4:59 pm

I agree with you on the hype issue. But as usual I think Harrah’s hoped someone else would pick up the ball and run with it so Harrah’s would gain from someone else’s efforts.

Lawrence December 8, 2008 at 8:36 pm

I am an avid WSOP and WSP viewer. The production of this year’s final table was way over the top — too had too many commercials and not enough poker. And then, Michael Buffer? Eastgate and Demidov looked embarrassed. I like the idea of an extended show and/or watching the entire final table on the internet. Absent such a change, I am not looking forward to watching another TV “event” that takes too much away from the game.

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