Effective today, GSN will no longer regularly be broadcasting episodes of High Stakes Poker. Though it’s been a network staple for many years, flagging ratings have proven too much for the once popular poker show to overcome. As this poker blog post predicted back in February of last year, Norm MacDonald’s hosting performance was the first sign of trouble.
How the Mighty Fell
This poker blogger remembers how excited he was back in 2006 to hear that a high-stakes cash game would be debuting on television. The first show if its kind, in a departure from the tournament poker that had been exclusively broadcast until then, High Stakes Poker had millions glued to their TVs each week and talking about million-dollar pots around office water coolers. While the show’s success was undeniable throughout its first six seasons on air (save for perhaps the play of Daniel Negreanu, who always seemed to lose), the seventh season brought many unwelcome changes, alienating the fan base.
Aside from dismissing the game’s best poker commentator (Gabe Kaplan) in favor of the Saturday Night Live alumnus (MacDonald), High Stakes Poker became far less interesting in its final season because of the different lineup of players. Gone were household names like Phil Ivey, Patrick Antonius, and Tom Dwan, to be replaced with rich businessmen like Phil Ruffin, Robert Croak, and Bill Perkins. While six-figure pots weren’t uncommon, much of the excitement of watching the highest levels of poker being played was simply missing.
With the fall of High Stakes Poker, the game we all know and love is pretty much off mainstream television nowadays, save for the World Series of Poker. Indeed, formerly popular poker shows like Poker After Dark, The Big Game and even the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship have been axed from regularly scheduled programming. For the most part, this has been due to the lack of advertising revenues the shows were generating through sponsorships from online poker sites. With online poker having disappeared in the U.S. ever since Black Friday, and poker pros facing scrutiny for the patches they wear, sites like PokerStars have no reason to waste money on producing or sponsoring poker shows.
The one solace poker fans have for now is that ESPN’s coverage of the World Series of Poker isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, with a deal in place until 2017. Should online poker make a comeback in the U.S., sponsorship dollars might perhaps return followed by more great televised poker. If that does happen, we can only hope that the producers of High Stakes Poker bring back Kaplan (Welcome Back Kotter?) to host!