The 2006 US Poker Championship may be the worst poker broadcast I've ever seen, ranking at or near the bottom for both education and entertainment. I give it one star, my lowest rating.
It's not so much the broadcast of a competition as a clip show: it's more like SportsCenter than a game broadcast. It is mostly highlights of a few big hands. Do pocket aces really show up more often at events ESPN broadcasts?
If I hear Lon McEachern say "action already underway" one more time I'm going to throw something at my TV. Since when did preflop play stop mattering? ESPN never shows all the hole cards, often doesn't show the preflop action at all, and sometimes skips to the showdown... often just showing us the results of hands on tables that don't even have hole-card cams (I call this flitting, because they're constantly flitting around the room). And can you tell me how high the blinds are? Most people will miss that, if flies by so fast. The show is less about poker than just about any poker show on TV. That makes this show a zero as far as education value (improving your game).
Other shows do it better. The WPT just tries to do a good job covering the final six players of a tournament. The Professional Poker Tour covered an entire tournament, one table at a time. With the 2004 US Poker Championship, ESPN did a reasonable job of telling the story of a tournament (remember John D'Agostino's meltdown at the final table?). Following a single player's path through a tournament would be an interesting model too, though no one has tried yet. But ESPN is so busy flitting around the room covering multiple tables and doing human-interest stories, trying to cover everything, that they do nothing well. They don't follow anything long enough for us to get to know the players, or follow the story of a table.
True, some shows are worse than this in some respects. Some have lower production values (e.g. Passport Entertainment's productions like Ultimate Poker Challenge), but ESPN has the money to do it right. True, they do show real events, while some others show made-for-TV events; but the fact is that ESPN has the contracts to broadcast some of the most important events in poker, and they butcher them. The World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour broadcasts may not be perfect, but they do a better job with major events than ESPN does.
Norman Chad should be doing poker commentary about as much as Billy Crystal should be in the booth at a football game (no offense intended Billy). He disrespects viewers by not taking seriously the game they choose to watch, and only serves to interrupt Lon McEachern's play by play. The graphics don't show the action either, which, given Norm's interruptions, is a serious flaw: sometimes we just don't know the action.
As for entertainment value, the 2006 USPC is also at the bottom of the heap: it's one of only two poker shows I can remember that just don't hold my attention. I find myself constantly drifting, and having to rewind to find out what happened.
ESPN has the contract to broadcast the most important event in poker (the WSOP), and they have more money than any other regular poker broadcaster. They should make a point of being the best poker broadcaster... but just rising to the level of their other sports broadcasts would be a huge leap forward. They need to totally revamp the way they broadcast poker. For example, I'd like to see them cover a manageable amount of poker well (one table at a time, ignoring the rest of the room); I'd like to see them putting more extensive information on the screen than other poker shows, eliminating the need for play-by-play; and I'd like to see them have a pair of top analysts providing commentary (e.g. Phil Gordon paired with Greenstein, Raymer, or Schoenfeld). ESPN, please gut your current televised poker operation and start over.