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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

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ESPN gets plenty of dramatics for final table telecast

16 Nov 2009

By Gary Trask

ESPN got its wish when the World Series of Poker Main Event final table unfolded in dramatic fashion. But in a bit of twisted irony, the excessive amount of extraordinary hands that played out during what was the longest final table in WSOP history made Jamie Horowitz and his crew's job that much more difficult.

"We certainly had a lot to work with, that's for sure," said the ESPN Senior Producer who oversaw the network's "same-day coverage" of the final table for the second straight year. "It's a challenge to pull off what we just did, and believe me, it was difficult to leave some of the hands out that we did. But that's the nature of the beast. Anything you do in TV, you always find yourself leaving stuff on the floor that you wished you could have got in. But unfortunately we didn't have a five-hour show to fill."


ESPN Senior Producer Jamie Horowitz. (photo by Eric Harkins/IMPDI)

The final table telecast – which aired Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EST – lasted 2 ½ hours this year instead of the normal two hours, a move ESPN made to accommodate more hands, particularly during the heads-up portion.

"The extra time made a world of difference," Horowitz said. "It gave us some flexibility. And I think we did a great job of taking advantage of the extra minutes."

In all, ESPN showed 32 hands out of the 364 that were played over the course of the two days. Seven of the hands shown were heads-up between eventual champ Joe Cada and runner-up Darvin Moon. Last year, ESPN showed just two hands of the heads-up portion of the event.

Another change to this year's schedule was a day off in between the time the field was narrowed from nine players to two and when the heads-up portion began. Horowitz said that his team had the first hour of the show in the can by the time the day off ended, but were still editing right up until the afternoon on Tuesday to complete the entire show.

"We were up against it, but that's how it is with poker editing," he said. "To be honest, if they told us we had until Wednesday of next week, we still would have been editing up to the last minute. You can always make it better."

Horowitz said that the trickiest part of producing the telecast was the balance between capturing Phil Ivey and telling the story of Darvin Moon and Joe Cada.

"There was such an intense interest in Phil Ivey we felt compelled to fully explore his narrative," Horowitz said. "But at the same time we had to build up to the heads-up match between Darvin and Cada. It was not easy to do, but I think we got it right."

Ivey was indeed a major draw for the telecast. In fact, almost the entire intro to the program – a segment edited by Dylan Boucherle, the lead editor on the project – focused on Ivey's attempt to become the unquestioned greatest player in the game. And despite the fact that Ivey finished seventh, he wasn't eliminated until deep into the second hour of the telecast.

"Every time we picked a spot where we would eliminate Ivey, someone would say, 'Hey what about this hand? We have to show that one.'" Horowitz explained. "Ivey was such a critical part of the story. We felt that we simply had to get as many of his hands in there as possible."

Just before Ivey was eliminated, Cada was at his low point of less than 3 million chips. His rise from having just five big blinds left all the way to the chip lead took about eight hours of real time and 154 hands, but ESPN had to build that story line rather quickly. Cada obviously had to do some scrambling to get back into contention and was fortunate to catch some cards in a couple of dramatic hands. Horowitz said that he and his fellow producers always make an effort to show a good mix of hands that show a player's skill and good fortune, but he admitted it can be difficult to do.

"You don't want to show just the hands where they get lucky, but yet those are the hands that are the most dramatic and make for the best TV," he said. "Joe obviously had to play some great poker to get in position to win it. We tried to portray as much. But when you have a hand with a huge pot and a guy hits a card on the river, you can't leave it in your pocket. It's got to be in there."

Ratings for the final table telecast were down slightly from last year. The telecast earned a 1.8 household coverage rating in an average of 1.8 million households, down from the 1.9 rating earned for the 2008 finale. But overall, this year's WSOP ratings were up 8% as a whole. And in the key demographic of males ages 25 to 54 the ratings were up a whopping 13%. Horowitz credits some minor tweaks that were made to the telecasts, like the choice of music or the focus of telling more of the players' stories away from the reel. Another change that he feels helped the ratings was that they broadcast six more episodes of Main Event coverage than the year before.

But most of all, Horowitz credits the final table delay that was introduced last year.

"Allowing us to build up the telecasts to a final table that nobody knows who will win has made a huge difference," said Horowitz, who had praise for the entire crew that put the final table telecast together, particularly for Matt Maranz and Dave Swartz of 441 Productions and the announcing team of Lon McEachern and Norman Chad.

"We've come a long way from two years ago when there were a lot of naysayers out there wondering if this would work. Sometimes the traditionalists can get fired up. They don't want to change anything and they don't want to be innovative. But when it ends up working, they all seem to go away quietly and I think that's what's happened here.

"The final table is now a real special night. It's something that I know I look forward to every year now and I hope our telecasts now have every poker fan out there making it a must-see."

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