Poker After Dark has one great strength: it shows most of the hands. It is also fairly entertaining. Unfortunately it's a very contrived, made-for-TV show. Overall it's a mixed bag, and I give it three stars.
The format is one of the show's greatest weaknesses: it's a shorthanded, winner-take-all single table tournament. That format is rare in the real world. I can think of four forms of NL Hold'em that are common live or online, so why are they choosing to show a format that I'll probably never play?
It's clear that the producers have encouraged the players to gab it up. The results are sometimes contrived and uncomfortable, as they're bound to be when you ask people to do things that aren't in their nature. That even applies to Shana Hiatt's pieces: players getting up to talk to her at intervals (or Shana butting in after a hand) is contrived, and her incessant nodding to what they say appears uncomfortable as well. Occasionally the players tell an interesting story, but in those cases we can't usually follow what they're talking about anyway (a well-done weekly poker news and gossip show, or interview show, would do the job better). With sometimes-overlapping dialog, Poker After Dark isn't one of the few shows where all the table talk is audible (e.g. the World Poker Tour and Celebrity Poker Showdown).
The incessant chatter can make it hard to follow the action as well. There are just too many distractions on this show. Sometimes Shana does interviews while a hand is in progress, which I find offensive, and I've had to rewind to pay attention to both, something most viewers aren't going to do. To make it easier to follow the action they need to put all the hole cards up at the beginning of the hand, or at least leave them up for longer. Putting up all the hole cards at the beginning is great for getting a feel for hand values. The transition effects used on the hole-card graphics take up too much of the limited time that they're up, and need to be eliminated.
Ali Nejad's comedic commentary during early shows really infuriated people. In later shows he pulled it back to a much more limited commentary, which fares a lot better. I'd have preferred if they went the whole way with the experiment however: eliminate the commentary entirely and provide better onscreen graphics so we don't need it.
The use of cash in a tournament variously confuses or offends people (the latter among those who understand why the producers do it). If I were on the show I couldn't resist tipping the cocktail waitress with some of that cash (I'm a rebellious type). I'm also offended that they get the players to pretend that the show is filmed over a week; and that they alter the blind structure depending on how many hours they've filmed.
I watched one of the Director's Cut episodes, then stopped watching them. It was focused more on table-talk and antics than poker (even more so than the weekday broadcasts), and, oddly, had background music.
A lot of people have commented that Shana Hiatt just doesn't look as hot as she used to. Others have asked why the cocktail waitress is there, as she mostly just sits there with a frozen smile on her face.
Poker After Dark just doesn't have the things that made High Stakes Poker, from the same production company, a hit. High Stakes Poker seems real and Poker After Dark doesn't. High Stakes Poker has a lively atmosphere (where the dialog seems natural), beautiful set, and stunning cocktail waitresses, none of which Poker After Dark has. Poker After Dark doesn't have High Stakes Poker's high stakes. In fact many people have noted that the players just don't seem to care if they win or not. Are the stakes too low, the buyins covered by sponsors, or the prize money split in advance by the players?
I wish Poker After Dark were more realistic and focused on poker (as opposed to table talk). Ideally, I'd prefer to watch film of real games rather than shows that are made for TV. Poker After Dark is one of the more contrived, reality-TV-like poker shows out there. It achieves an average rating primarily because they show most of the hands. I wish they'd chosen to show a high-stakes cash game instead.
See also Media Commentary About Poker After Dark.