In recent years, poker has experienced a boom in popularity that can be largely attributed to televised poker tournaments. The two most popular poker programs on TV are the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour and ESPN's broadcasts of the World Series of Poker. Together these programs are responsible for introducing millions of people to poker.
The way viewers perceive the game of poker is largely the responsibility of the show's commentators. Both ESPN and the Travel Channel use two commentators for their broadcasts. These four men are well known in the poker world and act as ambassadors for the game.
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Lon McEachern (ESPN)
Lon McEachern is the Bob Costas of ESPN's WSOP duo. While he does a great job covering the action, it is pretty evident that he has never played the game he is covering on a serious level. Think of McEachern as the "Mr. Obvious" of the two. Most of his responsibility is to connect with the viewers who know very little about the game of poker. To a seasoned poker player, his comments are often very elementary. However, this is a needed part of ESPN's broadcast due to the fact that a fair portion of the viewers know very little about poker.
Lon McEachern is very professional and plays the role of the straight-man on ESPN's broadcasts. He shares lots of information about the World Series of Poker and its participants, and then gives way to co-host Norman Chad who shares his opinions about the topic in question. Occasionally Lon has to use some quick wit to keep his co-host's ego in check.
At times Lon can come across sounding overly enthusiastic. While it is his job to pump-up the WSOP into sounding like the greatest thing on Earth, sometimes it gets a little annoying.
Norman Chad (ESPN)
Norman Chad is a naturally sarcastic sports personality who gels with the poker world. An experienced poker enthusiast before beginning TV work, Chad's one liners on ESPN are loved and hated across the poker community. He is never bashful to share a witticism with the viewers at the expense of a poker figure.
Norman's often humorous comments on Phil Hellmuth have evolved from pure disgust to an undying fan-hood in just three seasons of WSOP broadcasts. In regards to Hellmuth's ability to entertain, Chad went so far as to say "Phil Hellmuth completes me" during an airing of the 2005 WSOP Main Event.
The commentary style of Norman Chad is most likely to entertain seasoned poker players and anyone with a propensity to enjoy sarcasm. However, many complain that his jokes are lame and that he is hard to take seriously. Nonetheless, he and Lon McEachern enjoy a great chemistry that has gone a long way in contributing to the success of ESPN's WSOP broadcasts.
Vince Van Patten (The Travel Channel)
Vince Van Patten is the bronze-skinned poker commentator for the World Poker Tour. Van Patten has been in acting since the age of 13 and has enjoyed playing poker with his Hollywood friends for most of his adult life. He also spent some time as a tennis professional, reaching as high as 41st in the world rankings back in 1981. (source: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0887701/bio)
Vince's role on the Travel Channel's WPT broadcasts is to be the "cool" guy that entertains young viewers who are enamored at the idea of making millions playing poker. His "cool guy" role is necessary for the show when considering how dry his co-host, poker player Mike Sexton, appears to viewers.
Vince demonstrates a fine understanding of poker. He is second to none in terms of using his hotshot persona to build up regular-Joe poker players into wizards of the universe for the entertainment of the viewers. Vince does this by offering catchy nicknames by which to remember the final table participants. For those who know a lot about poker, Vince's enthusiasm for these regular guys tends to get annoying towards the end of most broadcasts.
Unlike the WSOP commentators, Vince and his co-host offer their commentary at the exact moment the poker action is being recorded. So while Vince's comments may not be as clever as Norman Chad's, one must understand that everything said by the World Poker Tour's commentators is ad-libbed.
Mike Sexton (The Travel Channel)
Mike Sexton is by far the most accomplished poker player among the four commentators discussed in this article. Sexton has finished in the money of a WSOP Event 37 times, with one bracelet win. No stranger to the final table spotlight, Mike Sexton offers invaluable insight on what is going through the minds of the WPT final table participants.
Mike's role as a WPT commentator is to help viewers appreciate the complexity of the game. He does this by pointing out the reasons why a player's actions were correct or incorrect in a given instance.
The WPT is revered by some as the most comprehensive poker broadcast on television. Mike Sexton's commentary, though at times mundane, is chiefly responsible for the high level of respect shown by some poker buffs towards the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour broadcasts.