--Can six people sitting around a four-by-eight felt-covered table
make for compelling television? You bet. And bet they do on the
Travel Channel's addictive World Poker Tour, which concludes its
13-week run on June 25 with the $3 million championship from Las
Vegas. Filmed before live audiences at such sexy locales as Aruba
and Paris, the WPT is engrossing not only because huge fortunes
are won and lost but also because of the Hole Card Cam. The game
is Texas Hold 'Em, and thanks to tiny cameras, viewers see the
players' hole cards (the first two cards of a hand, which face
down) and thus get unfettered insight into who's bluffing and
who's not. The show's announcers (poker pro Mike Sexton and actor
Vince Van Patten) steer viewers smoothly through the nomenclature
of the game. "We've managed to put the audience in the seat,"
says Steve Lipscomb, founder of the WPT. "When you're watching
you feel like you're the one making the million-dollar decision."
More than 40 million Americans play poker, and the WPT has become
the top-rated show on the Travel Channel. Its three weekly
airings pull in 3 million to 5 million viewers. Lipscomb is
negotiating with the Travel Channel for a long-term deal (the
show will return next year), though he's also been approached by
three other cable networks. Looks like Lipscomb is holding a
pretty good hand.
--While all eyes will be on Lance Armstrong next month as he tries
to win his fifth straight Tour de France, Outdoor Life Network's
indefatigable Phil Liggett, a.k.a. the Voice of Cycling, expects
other U.S. fireworks. Liggett, who'll be covering his 31st Tour,
predicts that Tyler Hamilton, Armstrong's former U.S. Postal
Service teammate, will finish among the top three. Hamilton was
15th in the race last year. --R.D.