Can we please find hosts for poker shows who understand the game and not hosts who have been in a Hooters calendar? I want them to know poker, not what shade of lipstick goes best with red patent leather pumps. The most painful moments of a poker television show should be watching your favorite player lose to a one-outer on the river, not the stilted interview that follows.
So, how did we get here? It all started when Shana Hiatt left World Poker Tour in 2005. She certainly was no Larry King when it came to one-on-one interviews, and she obviously was hired initially because she was eye candy for the predominantly male audience. But at the end of the day her genuine personality was the reason she stuck around for three seasons. Name one ensuing host who has lasted more than one season on the WPT or Poker After Dark. You can’t. Hell, now the hosts can’t even make it through one season. Layla Kayleigh was off the WPT more than she was on and now she’s gone. They brought in Kimberly Lansing for “sideline” reporting (which, roughly translated, means Layla can’t interview so we need to save face and bring someone who can) and rumor has it she might replace Layla next year on FSN.
Why are these women dropping like flies? Each of them was hired because of their looks first and interviewing skills second, and their physical appearances haven’t changed.
Maybe there’s some behind-the-scenes reason we’re not privy to, such as Steven Lipscomb and Mori Eskandani don’t want viewers getting too attached to them. Or maybe the guys want to keep it fresh.
What’s my theory? At this stage of the “poker boom” fans want to learn from the players. They want to know more about their thoughts and feelings at the table. Initially we watched televised poker because it was something different and we were amazed at what was going on at the table. Yet producers had to be concerned if they didn’t put something pretty up on the screen that men might get bored and change the channel. Enter Shana.
But you know what? The poker audience has evolved, and it wants more out of its hosts. That’s the real reason no one has lasted beyond one season. It’s the Curse of Shana Hiatt. The executives keep trying to find that “Shana spark,” almost like an unhappily married couple going on a second honeymoon. But it will never happen. And this curse is far-reaching, following Shana to another network. She was successful on PAD for two seasons, but then she became pregnant. Her replacement, Marianela Pereyra, couldn’t make it past Season 3. Up next on the Poker After Dark clock: Leeann Tweeden. Tick … tick … tick.
When Courtney Friel was hired to replace Shana on the WPT, we interviewed her on our Internet poker show. She thumbed her nose at Shana, saying she was only good for asking one question and then bobbing her head. Funny thing is Courtney, the supposed journalist, did the same thing. She wouldn’t know a follow-up question if one jumped up and bit her on the butt. Why? Because she didn’t understand poker! It was impossible for her to follow-up on what they were telling her because she didn’t know what the answers meant. And neither has anyone who has followed her. Sabina Gadecki? She was just a kid and everyone got bored of her. Layla? Please. Looks and personality only take you so far if you don’t comprehend the material.
How did producers try to combat this? By making sure hosts had long enough hair to cover the earpiece into which backstage experts feed them questions. But this plan continues to fail. Take a question Tweeden once asked Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, for instance. The former Hooters Girl, who now hosts NBC’s PAD and National Heads-Up Championship, was interviewing Ferguson and said “Do you use the semibluff often?” I just had to laugh while she nodded as if she understood Ferguson’s answer. Here’s a woman who has no idea what a pip is much less what David Sklansky once coined as a semibluff. I appreciate these “models” trying to ask poignant questions (even if they’re being provided for them), but wouldn’t it just be easier to get someone who actually knows what to ask without being prompted?
Friel told us Clonie Gowen and Isabelle Mercier had interviewed for the WPT job in 2005, but obviously they weren’t hired. Maybe these poker shows should reconsider hiring a poker player after all, or at the very least hire someone who is qualified to talk poker. Guys may not drool over them, but at least they’d be right for the job.
Around the tube: Bingo, bango Bollywood? Well, not quite. But the WPT is now airing on Zee Sports, India’s first private sports channel. Zee Sports will broadcast 19 two-hour WPT Season IV episodes. … The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas will host Season 5 of PAD, which will be taped Oct. 26-Nov. 5 and start airing Dec. 29 on NBC. … The 2008 World Series of Poker Europe, which ends Oct. 2, will broadcast on ESPN for the first time, though a schedule has yet to be released. ESPN plans to air eight hours of coverage. “Harrah’s has obviously put effort into making a lot of improvements to the event,” 11-time WSOP champion Phil Hellmuth said. “I would like to make history by being the first American to win a bracelet in Europe.” Stay tuned.
— Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me if you believe in the Curse of Shana Hiatt.