TV Networks embrace poker . . . again

ESPN seems to cover every major sport these days, with soccer being the fastest growing part of the portfolio. It’s amazing how much impact ESPN can have when they “bless” a sport. With poker, we saw a huge explosion in popularity over the past 15 years, and the amount of poker on television certainly fueled that growth, with ESPN being a huge part of that. Viewers will be reminded of that now that the World Series of Poker is around the corner, and ESPN will have plenty of coverage across its various channels. The WSOP poker buzz takes the game to another level, and every sport/game needs a signature event to take the excitement to another level, but poker on TV has become much more than just an annual circus around this event.

Poker on television has grown for years, though the shenanigans by the feds has at times thrown some cold water on the poker boom. That hasn’t done much to slow down all of the various television outlets desperate for entertainment content, so finding a poker game on TV usually hasn’t been that difficult. But the uncertainty surrounding the federal regulatory climate has had an some impact on the game. It’s always a buzz kill when big name sites get into a fight with the feds.

Now things are heating up again, as recent court decisions have basically given a green light to the states to set up their own regulatory frameworks. Unfortunately the dysfunction in Washington has made it impossible to get uniform rules throughout the country, but state actions are reinvigorating the poker movement.

Meanwhile, the television big wigs are paying attention, and we’re going to see another big push into poker content. Showtime will air the 2009 documentary “All In – The Poker Movie” about how poker became part of the mainstream culture in the US. This will be the TV premiere of this film. More TV shows like “Queens are Wild,” , a new reality show from NBC Universal is another example. It will follow four female poker players around the world. Babes and poker – we agree that’s probably a winning formula!

So get ready for the next TV poker boom!

  

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Top 10 Quotes from Day 1

The death march with cocktails begins anew!

The Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour kicked off on January 5th with the MTV family of networks offering up panels from TV Land (“Retired at 35” and “Hot in Cleveland”), CMT (“Working Class”), Spike (“Coal”), and Comedy Central (“Onion SportsDome” and “Tosh.0”). From there, it was on to a working lunch, where we learned of the TV Guide Channel’s new reality series, “The Nail Files,” while indulging in a grilled chicken salad and, to ruin any possible health benefits, followed it with a cupcake. With our bellies full, we moved on to the National Geographic sessions: “Beast Hunter,” “Explorer,” “Alien Invasion” and “Area 51 Declassified,” and “WILD on Snakes.” Next, we got a look at two new TV One shows, “Love That Girl!” and “Way Black When,” took a gander of Peter Lik’s new series for The Weather Channel, and the whole thing wrapped up with ESPN’s presentations for “Year of the Quarterback” and the BCS title game.

No, wait, I forgot: after all of the panels had concluded, the Comcast networks threw us a cocktail party which was attended by folks from E!, G4, and Style series. By then, though, I was running on fumes, so all I really did was enjoy the food (petite filets, buttermilk mashed potatoes, turkey sliders, and deep-fried mac & cheese balls…mmmmmmm), throw back a few bourbons, listen to Chris Gore rant about how awful “Tron: Legacy” was, and talk to Bruce Jenner for 15 minutes about his acting work, including “Can’t Stop the Music.” Indeed, the only time “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” came up was when one of his daughters called to tell him that they’d won Favorite TV Guilty Pleasure at the People’s Choice Awards. (He applauded me for “going retro” with my questions.)

Also, somewhere in between all of those panels, I had a chance to ask Betty White a couple of questions, share an interview with Jane Leeves, and do one-on-ones with Wendie Malick, Henry Rollins, Phil Morris, and the anchors and executive producer of “Onion SportsDome.” Arguably my most impressive accomplishment, however, was talking to Jerry Rice, asking a question provided to me by David Medsker (and tightened up slightly by Anthony Stalter), and having him seemingly believe that I know something about sports when I absolutely do not.

I’ll be revisiting some of the individual panels on a case-by-case basis as time allows, but in the meantime, here are the top 10 quotes from Day 1 of the tour. Hope you enjoy them, and see you after Day 2!

1. “What is this Betty White business? This is silly. Really, it is very silly. You’ve had such an overdose of me lately. Trust me. I think I’m going to go away for a while. It’s hard for me to say no to a job because you spend your career thinking if you say no, they’ll never ask you again, and if you don’t take the job, you know, that may be the end of it, but my mother taught me to say no when I was a girl, but that wasn’t about show business. So the result is I’m trying to cut down. I really am.” – Betty White, “Hot in Cleveland” (TV Land)

2. “Betty White is in the building. Did you hear that? I hope I get to touch her. I just had cataracts, and I’m still adjusting, but what I see is looking pretty good.” – Ed Asner, “Working Class” (CMT)

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“Basterds” at the box office

There are actually four new major releases coming out this weekend, but only one you’ll likely be hearing much about…and you’ve already been hearing about it, and hearing about it, and hearing about it, and we (mostly me) here at Premium Hollywood have been as guilty as anyone.

Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” is set to make upwards of $25 million says jolly Carl DiOrio of THR and The Wrap’s Lucas Shaw. Those of you who have been following this know that the film’s take has been given more attention than a lot of movies because many suspect it will be crucial to the fortunes of Harvey and Bob Weinstein, formerly of Miramax and now of The Weinstein Company. (They say that they’re actually doing okay.) Harvey Weinstein is such a well known character that all the makers of “Entourage” had to do was hire similarly proportioned character actor Maury Chaykin and call him “Harvey” and 1/3 of the audience probably knew who was referenced. The Weinsteins have always been something of a throwback to the movie moguls of old times with their seat of the pants judgments and risk taking, so that lends a bit drama to the matter.

As for the critical reception, it’s about as good as Tarantino and the Weinsteins could have asked for, especially given that the film’s Cannes premier was greeted with a chorus that some have described as negative but was really all over the place; some proclaimed instant love, others expressed varying degrees of disappointment, and others were baffled. Now, after some apparently very effective tinkering on Tarantino’s part, the U.S. chorus at is singing mostly in harmony with an 88% “Fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes.  Though there has been a smattering of controversy over the film’s “once upon a time in Nazi occupied France” tone/plot no-longer-surprises, it’s a far cry even from the debates over violence that raged over “Kill Bill, Volume 1.” Oh well, one less source of free publicity.

Inglourious Basterds There is an additional lure this time. For once, Tarantino isn’t reviving the career of his lead actor but is actually benefiting from the presence of an A-lister in no particular need of a comeback in Brad Pitt. The possible fly in the ointment is that we critics are different from other people: we see more films. No director on the planet so makes movies for movie fans as Tarantino and, as with his other films, there’s always the chance that viewers who aren’t fully steeped in cinema might be lost at sea. As Anne Thompson wrote a couple of weeks back after seeing what she thought was a greatly improved cut of the film:

“Inglourious Basterds” is great fun—for cinephiles. It’s not a mainstream movie. If it gets to $50 million domestic there will be cheers through the corridors of Universal and Weinstein Co. And it should easily do better than that overseas.

That second part of Thompson’s prophesy has already begun to be proven, with Variety‘s Pamela McClintock reporting Tarantino’s strongest opening yet in France, Belgium, and Francophone Switzerland. As for the reaction of regular ol’ Americans, only time will tell. Still, everybody seems to be expecting it to defeat the similarly male-leaning and violent “District 9” and at least match the $25.1 million opening weekend of “Kill Bill, Volume 2.

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Top Chef Masters: in a word, yuck!

Don’t be shocked….I will get to the yuck part in a minute. But first, last night’s episode, the third in the inaugural season of “Top Chef Masters,” began with the introduction of the four contestants….Rick Bayless from Chicago; Cindy Pawlcyn of Napa, CA; Wilo Benet from San Juan; and Ludo Lefebvre from Los Angeles by way of France. Their Quickfire challenge was another favorite “Top Chef” challenge, the color theme, where each draws a color and then has to create a dish based solely on that one color.

Rick had green and made a roasted vegetable dish with green mole sauce over a banana leaf. CIndy drew yellow, and made a vegetable curry over yellow tinted grits with corn tortillas. Wilo had orange, and made a salmon tartare with carrots and orange edible flowers. Ludo had red, and made a beet gazpacho and steak tartare. But he forgot the tomatoes, and then the wait staff forgot his beet juice, at least temporarily. The judges, former “Top Chef” contestants, liked Wilo’s salmon the best, giving him 4.5 stars. Rick scored 4, Cindy 3.5 and Ludo 3. Ludo, the Frenchman that he is, was bitter in falling behind so early.

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