High Stakes Poker ****-***** High Stakes Poker is superior to most poker shows because it's a real cash game, with high stakes and great players. It's the opposite of the typical short-handed, made-for-TV, all-in-fest tournaments. Unfortunately they don't show all the hole cards; and the commentary is too focused on entertainment and covers up the more interesting table talk (some do consider Gabe Kaplan to be a top-flight analyst however).
Professional Poker Tour **** The PPT's strength is that it shows tournaments from the beginning, so we get to see poker at full tables and with deep stacks. I like Mark Seif's commentary, though others give him bad reviews.
World Poker Tour, Season 4 **** Entertaining, but they show too few hands (perhaps 20%); accelerate the blind structure for the television table, making it a bit of an all-in fest; and only show the final short-handed portion of the final table. They do have some of the biggest tournaments and the most famous players.
Aussie Millions **** A high-quality broadcast, similar to Fox Sports's Monte Carlo Millions broadcast.
Boston vs. NY Poker Challenge, Season 2 **** Excellent commentary by Adam Schoenfeld makes this show worthwhile, and I like that they show every hole card at the beginning of the hand.
Poker Dome *** It's harder to follow the action on Dome than on other poker shows because it can be hard to distinguish the unknown players, and the commentators frequently don't bother with play-by-play. Among the shows' advantage are that they show a large percentage of the hands and they show all the hole cards at the beginning of every hand (which is the current best practice in that area). The odd format (pot limit preflop; winner-take-all, shorthanded single-table tournament) is a disadvantage. You can learn a lot from this show, especially about short-handed poker and playing against bad players.
Wild Card Poker *** Yes, it sometimes seems like a self-conscious ad for Calvin Ayre, Bodog's billionaire owner, but I like watching it.
Poker Superstars III **-*** Poker Superstars features some of the biggest stars in poker, is a polished production, and Howard Lederer's commentary is good. Unfortunately it's the ultimate example of a made-for-TV, shorthanded all-in fest (due to high and quickly escalating blinds), and it has an odd, multi-round playoff format. It's good as light entertainment, but it's not the show for learning how to play in any game you'll ever actually see.
Ultimate Poker Challenge **-*** The UPC generally shows the final seven players of small-buyin tournaments at a Las Vegas casino. It's generally one show per final table, so they only show a small percentage of the hands. On other occasions, however, they've taken multiple episodes to cover a tournament, or even shown an entire heads-up battle. The UPC is a lower-end production than most poker shows on TV, and Chad Brown isn't a natural host (though his content is fine). He has a different co-host each week, and they vary from poor to great (Barry Greenstein is in the latter category). I will give UPC credit for showing real tournaments rather than made-for-TV events. Additional commentary is here.
Championship at Red Rock, Qualifying Rounds **-*** These are a series of six-person single-table-tournaments where the winners play in Fox Sports' live broadcast on Thanksgiving Day, 2006. It's a polished production, with Howard Lederer's good commentary. Unfortunately they don't show folded hole cards; few people play this made-for-TV format (short-handed, short-stacked, winner-take-all single-table tournaments) in real life; and we don't see many hands. For those reasons it's near the bottom of televised poker shows in learning value.
World Series of Poker, 2006 ** It's a pity that ESPN has the contract to broadcast the most important event in poker: they don't take poker seriously. They show a very small number of hands, and don't even show most of the hole cards for those hands. Often they'll flit around the room to show the ends of hands at tables without hole-card cams, choosing to cover everything badly rather than a single table well. They spend a lot of time on human interest stories and other non-poker content. They have a comedian (Norman Chad) as a host, which reveals the truth about ESPN poker: because ESPN executives aren't interested in poker they assume that their audience isn't interested either, and they have to throw in some comedy to get people to watch. ESPN's poker coverage is by people who aren't interested in poker, for people who aren't interested in poker.
Celebrity Poker Showdown, 8th Series ** With the loss of Phil Gordon, who I consider to be the best poker announcer on TV, this has declined from one of my favorite poker shows to below average. Hellmuth is less willing to criticize the celebrities' play, so there is less learning; in fact I wouldn't be surprised if that is why he took over from Gordon. I'm just not much interested in watching it any more.
2005 US Poker Championship ** ESPN is interested in entertainment, not poker. This show has all the usual ESPN weaknesses: they don't even show the preflop action for some hands; they flit around the room to show all-ins where there aren't even hole card cams; they show a very small percentage of the hands played; Norman Chad; etc. The 2004 USPC broadcast was much better: it had more drama than just about any poker tournament I've seen on TV.
National Heads-Up Poker Championship, Season II ** Heads-up isn't a type of poker many of us play very often, and I just think 2 hours of this a week is more than I want to watch right now.
Inside Poker ** Skippable show about poker hosted by Matt Savage.
Speed Poker Championship *-** Maybe I just watch it when I'm sleepy, but I find it hard to follow: who's who, what table position they're in, etc.
Intercontinental Poker Championship * Pretty much everything that's bad about poker on TV: an invitational, made-for-television, shorthanded series of all-in-fest single-table tournaments in an odd "playoff" format that doesn't exist in the real world of poker. You could say the same things about Poker Superstars, but at least that has better commentary and is more watchable.