Daniel Negreanu to Appear in Poker Drama Television Series
Phil Hellmuth may be the undisputed king of the World Series of Poker, but if he wants to keep his status as most visible to television cameras, he is going to have to step up his game. In a recent interview with PokerListings.com, Negreanu discussed a new poker-themed television show in the works called “Four Kings” and his role in its filming so far.
Directed by Mars Callahan, who wrote, directed, and starred in the 2002 film Poolhall Junkies, “Four Kings” is a half-hour scripted show that revolves around four friends who live together in the penthouse of the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. The plot summary on IMDB continues:
Three of them are world class poker players and the fourth is a bookie who makes the line on absolutely everything. Together they travel the world in search of the highest stakes games with the most colorful of characters. With a loyalty and integrity level that is rarely seen, these four best friends stick together and watch each other’s backs through everything that comes their way in their search for becoming world champions.
While much of the cast is known, who exactly is playing each of the four friends is not exactly clear. Based on the cast list and what Negreanu said, it is likely that comedian, actor, and avid poker player Kevin Pollak (best known for his role as Hockney in The Usual Suspects) is one of the leads, along with Robert Iler, who played A.J. Soprano in the legendary HBO series, “The Sopranos.” Negreanu also mentions Willie Garson, best known for his long runs on “Sex and the City” and “White Collar” (and, I should add, commanded an under-appreciated performance in the short lived HBO series, “John from Cincinnati”). Callahan himself is also listed amongst the actors, as is Gerry Bednob, perhaps most famous for his role as a foul-mouthed, angry electronics store employee who gives Steve Carrell’s character sex advice in The 40-Year Old Virgin.
Negreanu will be playing himself in at least one episode. “I was just in L.A. and we shot the second episode,” Negreanu told PokerListings. “They’re shooting the whole season but I don’t know when it’s going to be released.”
Nor does he know on which network it will air, as it has not been picked up yet. He did say, though, that it has garnered plenty of interest.
Television shows – and movies, for that matter – that center around gambling traditionally have not done well. The last poker-themed show aimed at mass audiences was “Tilt,” which aired on ESPN in 2005. It was a cheesy, over-the-top drama about a group of poker players who hate a mean-spirited, cocky poker legend named Don “The Matador” Everest, played by Michael Madsen. It was generally an awful show and is best watched nowadays for its comedic value.
Another gambling-related series, “Luck,” ran for one season in 2012. Despite an all-star cast featuring the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Michael Gambon, Dennis Farina, and Richard Kind, and generally favorable reviews, it never quite caught on (this writer was never really able to get into it). Ultimately, though, it was the death of two horses during filming that cause the show to be cancelled. The second season was in production, but HBO decided to scrap the show.
Typically, any time someone tries to create some sort of television or film entertainment about poker, it fails because the poker is not realistic enough for hard-core players and too hard to relate to for non-poker players. There seems to be only so far one can go with a poker story line and that is not good enough for both viewing camps.
Daniel Negreanu feels “Four Kings” will be different. “What I’ve liked about the script so far is that it’s not about poker,” he said. “That’s what they do, they play poker for a living; but it’s not about the game, it’s about the lifestyle. I think it has the opportunity to be mainstream, which is most important.”
He added, “If it’s just a show that poker players are gonna watch, then it’s not going to last. But this is something I think everyday people who don’t play poker may watch and actually become more intrigued by the game. Some of the poker players may look at some lines and say ‘Oh, that’s cheesy,’ but it’s not for you, it’s for the mainstream audience.”
Negreanu also hopes that the success of the program can help boost poker’s popularity like Rounders did back in 1998 (that was 17 years ago – I feel old). Poker obviously had a boom in the early-to-mid “aughts,” but Rounders gave the game a push into mainstream consciousness. In recent years, poker has fallen back to being more of a niche interest rather than a more popular one, so if “Four Kings” does strike a chord with audiences, who knows, maybe poker can begin to ascend once again.