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Another Hand for 'Tilt’?

ESPN has yet to decide whether it will ante up for a second season of Tilt after the poker-themed series finished its nine-episode freshman run with decent ratings.

The March 13 finale of the series, which stars Michael Madsen as “The Matador” — a malevolent and ultimately murderous casino card shark — garnered a 1.21 household rating and a 1.9 mark among the network’s target audience of males 18 to 34, second only behind the 2.0 rating for the series’ premiere.

Overall, the show averaged a combined 0.97 rating for its 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. plays on Sundays and Thursdays. That’s up 28% over the 0.76 rating during the same time period in first-quarter 2004, when ESPN mostly aired National Hockey League games.

But the show fell well short of ESPN’s first original scripted series, Playmakers. The skein about a fictional pro football team averaged a 1.8 rating during the premiere run of its only season.

Playmakers was cancelled when ESPN bowed to pressure from the National Football League, whose officials complained that the show cast pro-football players in a negative light.

Nevertheless, ESPN executives said they were happy with Tilt’s performance, particularly against the network’s target audience.

“The ratings — particularly the demographics — were much higher than the programming that was there a year ago,” said ESPN Original Entertainment senior vice president Ron Semiao.

“Do we wish the household rating was higher? Absolutely. But we’re happy with the show, and certainly happy with the demographics, particularly up against some strong competition.”

Despite its performance, the network has yet to green-light a second season.

ESPN envisioned the series as a limited run with a definitive ending, Semiao said, but would not rule out the possibility of bringing it back for another campaign. The network will repeat the series in its entirety on Tuesday nights, beginning July 19.

“It’s not a situation where we launched it saying we hope it can be on the air for the next five years,” Semiao said.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.