ESPN Goes All-In With Same-Day World Series of Poker Coverage

By Carolyn Braff
For the first time, ESPN is providing same-day coverage of the final table at the 2008 World Series of Poker — a great draw for spectators but a turnaround challenge for production personnel. Most poker shows have weeks to post-produce their final-table coverage, but, in order to show the final $9.1 million table on Tuesday night, ESPN will be turning around its show in a matter of hours.
“The biggest challenge is the unknown,” explains Jamie Horowitz, senior producer of content development for ESPN. “No one has ever attempted this type of poker programming. We have 56 hours to produce a show that normally takes a month.”
The final table began play on Sunday Nov. 9 at 1 p.m. ET. Once the field was reduced to two players, play was stopped. The final two players spent Monday Nov. 10 in a media day and began play on the final table at 1 a.m. ET. Play continued until a champion was crowned, which took place mid morning on Tuesday Nov. 11. That left ESPN with less than 12 hours to turn the show around to air from 9 to 11 p.m. ET on Nov. 11.
“In terms of short turnaround, the only thing similar is working on an Olympics,” Horowitz explains. “We are very lucky to have two lead producers — Matt Maranz and Dave Swartz — who have great experience working on short-turnaround productions. We all worked together under Sam Flood [coordinating producer, NBC Sports] for NBC’s track-and-field coverage for many years and learned what makes these types of shows work best.”
Helping to make this show run seamlessly is a staff of more than 70 people, who have brought a little bit of New York to the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In order to provide the highest quality of same-day event coverage, ESPN brought its post-production operations to Sin City.
“We have built an edit facility in the parking lot behind the Rio,” Horowitz explains. “We effectively moved the entire New York postproduction to Las Vegas. That’s exciting television.”
Forty cameras will be used for the broadcast, including hole-card cams, which show a player’s face-down cards; spy cams; and cameras for the flop. Fifteen microphones will be placed throughout the set, and After Effects will provide graphic enhancements for the show.
“This change has helped make the World Series of Poker a part of the sports conversation,” Horowitz says. “You see it in the papers, the trades,
SportsCenter, etc. On Tuesday Nov. 11, one player will walk away with $9 million, and, that night, you will see it on ESPN. That’s exciting television.”
Coverage of the $9.1 million final table begins Tuesday night with an encore presentation of the one-hour preview special at 8 p.m. ET.