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NBC, Travel Toss More Chips Into Poker Pot

NBC, looking to capitalize on the cable network's successful World Poker Tour events, will broadcast a Travel Channel-produced tournament opposite the Super Bowl pre-game show.

The show is one of several poker-related events set to air over the next few months, as programmers up the ante in what has become an increasingly popular subgenre.

NBC will air the Travel Channel World Poker Tour Battle of Champions, an offshoot of the network's popular World Poker Tour series. Travel will produce the show, which will pit champions from tournaments aired on the network earlier this year, according to executive vice president and general manager Rick Rodriguez.

While Tour is performing well on Travel, Rodriguez hopes the added exposure on NBC would boost ratings for the series' second season, which begins in March.

"[NBC] approached us a couple of months ago with this opportunity, and we saw it as great timing because it's only a month before we will premiere the second season," Rodriguez said. "That's what we'll be promoting throughout the telecast."

To keep the franchise top of mind for Travel viewers, Rodriguez said, the network will run at least one poker special a quarter. Next month, Travel will proffer The World Poker Tour Ladies Night, featuring six women battling for chips and cash — five of whom competed on World Poker Tour. During the first quarter of 2004, the network will also air specials featuring celebrity poker games.

Despite its success with casino-based games, Rodriguez said poker will remain the only game in town on Travel.

"I see poker as a tent pole and something that we can promote our other shows, but it's critical that we don't go overboard," he said. "First and foremost, we're the Travel Channel, and we have to deliver on those means."

But the Travel Channel isn't the only network dealing poker programming. Fox Sports Net will dish out a Thanksgiving day plate of cards against traditional Turkey Day National Football League telecasts. FSN on Nov. 27 will show six, one-hour installments of the Showdown at the Sands from 12:30-6:30 p.m. local time.

FSN will turn around the tourney from Atlantic City — the winner of which pockets $1 million — less than 24 hours after it's played out at the casino, with the aid of 21 cameras and tape machines and a dozen replay machines, said the network.

Beginning Dec. 2, Bravo will trot out the six-part, one-hour weekly series Celebrity Poker Showdown, hosted by Kevin Pollak. The likes of Ben Affleck, Carrie Fisher, Martin Sheen and Tom Green will compete in games that will eventually pay out $250,000 for charity.

ESPN also continues to offer poker-related tournaments and events throughout the year. Next spring, Game Show Network will roll the dice on a weekly series, GSN Presents The World Series of Blackjack, in which players vie for a grand-prize purse of $100,000.

R. Thomas Umstead
R. Thomas Umstead

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.