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First It Was Poker; Now It's Darts

Owing to the tremendous—and, for many, largely unforeseen—popularity of poker programs like ESPN's World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour on Travel Channel, several shows focused on niche pastimes have found their way onto the dial.

From blackjack to darts to Rock Paper Scissors (yes, Rock Paper Scissors), a variety of exceedingly esoteric indoor activities are grabbing viewers' attention—or at least hope to in the near future.

Michael Davies, founder of production company Embassy Row, believes that, as sports fans increasingly feel disconnected to big-salary/big-ego athletes like Barry Bonds and Terrell Owens, it's the Everyman endomorphs at the poker table or dart board that they connect with.

“The public's view of professional athletes has changed, and people can relate to these guys,” says Davies, whose eight-episode World Series of Darts will hit ESPN in July. On that show, an American will have a chance at a $1 million jackpot.

Davies, who brought Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and Wife Swap to the U.S., grew up on televised darts in his native London. He says another TV-friendly aspect of darts is that, while the viewer may never know what it's like to post up against Shaquille O'Neal, he can easily find a dartboard and see how his skills compare with the folks' on television. “Measuring yourself is easy as going down to the local bar or even down the hall,” says Davies.

GSN has its own World Series going on: It airs the third installment of World Series of Blackjack in June. That show helps brand GSN, formerly the Game Show Network, as “The Network for Games” and gives it more male viewers, as well as casino and merchandising tie-ins.

The niche shows are attractive to the right advertisers. Bud Light is sponsoring a nationwide Rock Paper Scissors tournament and may be on board when A&E airs the finals later this year. After all, as RPS requires only one hand, a beer sponsor is something of a no-brainer.