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Poker News | World Poker News

Interview With Mark Mayer, Executive Producer of The Big Game

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Recently, PokerWorks had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Mayer, The Big Game executive producer, to discuss this new entry into the televised cash game arena, as well as the state of televised poker in general.  Mr. Mayer has extensive background not only in poker production, but also in sports programming as well, where he has won multiple Emmys for his work.  We spoke to him in the middle of a busy day of editing.

PokerWorks:  One of the innovative ideas of this show is the Loose Cannon (the player who qualifies for the show online, and is staked by PokerStars to play against the professionals).  Why did you choose this concept?

  The Loose Cannon is a person who is very relatable for the audience member who isn’t a high-stakes player.  The idea is that vicariously, through the Loose Cannon, I get to sort of live out my dream of playing against the pros.  These are people who love poker, and some of them are terrific players who would never get a chance to play this high, whereas others are much closer to what we think of as amateurs, who have qualified and done everything they can do to make the show, but aren’t quite as good as the other ones.  

PokerWorks:  The combination of Chris Rose and Joe Stapleton as announcers is one of the best teams we’ve ever seen on television.  How did you come up with them?

Having had a background at Fox and with PokerStars through the Million Dollar Challenge, I was very familiar with Chris Rose, and he was my first choice for this job, because I know how fun and hard-working he is, and how seriously he takes the job.  Joe is someone who came to us through PokerStars.  They’ve had their eye on him for some time, and we sort of mixed and matched and auditioned some folds, and right from the jump, Joe and Chris had chemistry together.  Joe is knowledgeable, he’s funny, and he’s credible and in the poker community there aren’t too many people who fit that bill.  We feel we’re on to someone who’s at the very beginning of what’s going to be a terrific career calling poker.

PokerWorks:  One interesting variation in the game is that the player on the button pays all the antes for the table.  Where did that idea come from?

Through the course of developing the show, we got a lot of input from the players, and this was something that came directly from them as an idea that they prefer, and in my mind if it made them comfortable it was cool for us.  We want this to be a player’s game, and it was something they felt strongly was what they wanted and it was easy to implement.  

PokerWorks:  What makes for a great table on the show?

The best tables are when you see a lot of action, and the right kind of talk.  Guys who are really enjoying one another, maybe giving each other the needle a little bit, but in general it’s about having fun at the game of poker, and so when we’re able to convey that fun, while having an action table, and then you layer in a Loose Cannon who’s not afraid to mix it up a bit, that’s what works.  We loved having Tony G. and Phil Hellmuth on the show for that reason.  Tony clearly loves playing poker, and he loves mixing it up, but you can tell he’s having fun, and what we like is guys who are having fun at the table.  When it gets mean-spirited and uncomfortable, I don’t think anybody likes that, but I don’t think we ever got there, and that allowed us to see Phil Hellmuth in a different light.  He was self-deprecating Phil, and you don’t get to see that guy too often.  He was a joy to have on the show.

PokerWorks:  The relationship of the players with Amanda Leatherman, who stays on the set while the game is played, is quite different than on other shows.  What was the idea there?

We have such a unique opportunity with Amanda.  The poker players really love her, and she really knows the game, so the concept is as if it’s her house, and she’s hosting her own home game.  She can come over and sweat the table (which she will be doing this week), and in another week four of the six players flock to her couch to give their opinions on what’s going on at the table.  We wanted to give her carte blanche to do whatever she wants, to make it a little less scripted and a little more real, so that we are seeing a genuine interaction between her and the players.  The players have the freedom to just leave the table and go talk to her whenever they want, and it makes for a better show.  Amanda is a joy to work with and a real pro.  We are very lucky to have her.

PokerWorks:  What do you see as the future of poker on television?

  I think it’s heading in two different directions.  I think that there is more poker being programmed for the hard-core serious player, and this show is one more in that direction.  We’ve worked really hard to incorporate the statistical side of analysis into the show because that’s the way the younger generation is playing it online.  I think that there is no saturating the desire of poker purists to see how high-stakes players think and play.  And then, I think programming is going hard in the other direction as well, where we’re seeing poker entertainment shows designed to appeal to a much broader audience, which is the idea behind the Million Dollar Challenge.  And I think we’re going to keep seeing both, to satisfy both the existing players and to keep trying to introduce new people to the game who’ve never played.

PokerWorks:  Any last thoughts for our readers?

Yes, two.  First of all, your readers should know that we’ve shot and edited about half of the shows, so there is still time for you to qualify online to be a Loose Cannon.  Secondly, there are still areas of the country where the local Fox affiliate isn’t carrying the show, so we invite you to go to to watch all the episodes, which are posted the morning after they air.

PokerWorks:  Thanks so much for your time

You’re very welcome.

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