Travel Net Exposes High-Stakes Poker Scene

Oct 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

At the moment, Steven Lipscomb has a winning hand.
As the creator and executive producer of “The World Poker Tour,” a breakout hit on The Travel Channel, he’s holding nothing short of a straight flush-possibly even a royal flush.
“What I wanted to do was transform poker into a mainstream sports sensation-and make it a great television show,” Mr. Lipscomb said. “I think what you look for in reality TV are shows that offer stakes and tension. And no one can match that in these tournaments.”
The idea was to film poker tournaments in some of the classiest gambling houses in the world and through an intricate dance of camera angles-the show uses 13 to 15 cameras-editing and technology, give viewers the vicarious thrill of playing in big-stakes games.
The show debuted on The Travel Channel in March 2003 and garnered a 0.85 rating in Travel Channel homes, or about 800,000 viewers, according to Travel’s research. The show has continued to build on its audience base through three rounds of prime-time repeats of the initial 13 episodes, averaging a 1.1 rating, which Travel said is more than double the prime-time viewership it previously drew. Executives at Travel have quickly anted up to keep the show for a second season and have an exclusive option to broadcast five additional seasons.
“As soon as this show premiered, it just popped for us,” said Rick Rodriguez, the channel’s executive VP and general manager. “This is a tentpole program that gives us a big, loyal audience and an opportunity to use it to promote other things on our schedule.”
The show’s producers are shooting the second season-four more tournaments are being added-with plans to roll out the new season the first quarter of 2004. Some improvements are planned, but Mr. Lipscomb is playing things close to the vest.
“A year and a half ago, no one cared about this,” he said. “Now the networks that basically laughed us out of their offices when we approached them are all looking to get into this market.”
Competitors are in fact ponying up their own entries in the poker game. NBC-owned Bravo, for example, just greenlighted a multipart celebrity poker tournament, “Celebrity Poker Showdown.”
Mr. Lipscomb sees only a monster in his future-that’s a good thing in poker, one that’s favored to grab the attention of viewers (The Travel Channel reaches more than 71 million homes) who enjoy the game.
“They’re all people like me, who maybe play in a regular low-stakes game,” Mr. Lipscomb said. “And the great thing about this show is if you watch it for two hours, you’re a better player when you’re done. What other prime-time sport can say that?”
The World Poker Tour
Network: The Travel Channel
Premiere date: March 30, 2003
Production company: World Poker Tour, LLC, a joint venture between Steven Lipscomb and Lakes Entertainment.
Time slot: Wednesday, 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET)
Cast: Hosts Mike Sexton, Vince Van Patten, Shana Hiatt
Credits: Steven Lipscomb and Joe Swift, executive producers
No bluff: One of the strategies of “The World Poker Tour” is to reveal to the TV audience the players’ “hole” cards. Executive producer Lipscomb says it’s part of the strategy to teach viewers, well, strategy.