The year was 2006, the popularity of Poker was at it's absolute apex, and networks were chomping at the bit to get as much of the game on television as possible. Shortly after GSN's debut of High Stakes Poker, NBC joined the fray with Poker After Dark. Both shows, unlike most poker shows, did not depend on a tournament schedule, and were thus able to run at any time, with games being very easy to get together. The show ran until 2011, when the Black Friday criminal case kicked up a lot of dust around major sponsor Full Tilt Poker, leading to the show's sudden cancellation. The show returned in 2012 to air repeats on NBCSN, and eventually ran the unaired season seven episodes that were cut short by the cancellation.
Oliver "Ali" Nejad provided voice-over commentary of all seven seasons. Shana Hiatt, Marianela Pereyra, and Leeann Tweeden hosted over the course of the show's run. Over a hundred professional and amateur poker players partipicated, from the kings of old such as Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan, to the new-wave internet psychos like Tom Dwan and Patrik Antonius, to the most recent world series champions like Jamie Gold and Joe Hachem, to the amateurs looking for some experience and a good time like Jennifer Tilly and Bob Safai.
The show featured two main formats:
- Poker After Dark: Sit N Go: The most common format, PAD ran a total of 48 Sit N Goes during it's run. Effectively a tournament with only six players, each of the six players would buy in for twenty thousand dollars (occasionally fifty or one hundred thousand), start with the same number of chips, and play a six-handed game with tournament rules (increasing blinds, elimination upon losing all chips). The table would play out over the course of five episodes, each episode usually having one elimination, leaving one winner at the end who would take the entire prize pool.
- Poker After Dark: The Cash Game: Introduced starting in season four, PAD: The Cash Game was, well, a cash game, with players buying in for assorted amounts of money (at least one hundred thousand, occasionally one-fifty or two hundred thousand) and playing for it. Unlike High Stakes Poker, which was almost always eight-handed, PAD's cash games were six-handed, changing the dynamic. Again, cash games would play out over five episodes, though this time players would leave whenever they wanted to and could be replaced if another player was available. All in all, PAD ran eleven cash games.
Provides Examples of:
- The Ace: Johnny Chan made a total of six appearances in the Sit N Go format. He won four times, finished second once, and went out in fifth once. No one else can boast such a high success percentage, nor did anyone else manage to win four different times. Phil Hellmuth, who is second in PAD titles with three, totaled fifteen entries.
- And Now For Something Completely Different: The introduction of the cash game format in season four.
- Also in season four, one episode series had a four-way Heads Up challenge between the first four winners of the NBC Heads Up Championship (Hellmuth, Ferguson, Forrest, Wasicka), a double-elimination series of Heads Up matches between the four. Hellmuth and Ferguson advanced to the final, Hellmuth coming out on top.
- A season three episode series followed the typical Sit N Go format, but allowed any player who busted in the first six hands to rebuy for another twenty thousand. Eli Elezra busted in the first hand, and rebought, creating a prize pool twenty thousand dollars larger.
- Announcer Chatter: Very little. Unlike High Stakes Poker, where Gabe Kaplan and AJ Benza would discuss virtually every player action, offer up opinions and predictions as well as assorted jokes, Nejad was content to keep silent as much as possible. Occasionally describing the action and developments in the hand, Nejad would also often fall silent for minutes at a time, letting the player conversation rule the broadcast.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Most episode titles were named in a way to represent something notable about the six players participating. A few others called attention to something of significance that happened during the episodes.
- The very first episode of PAD, Poker Brat Attack, became one of the most notable episodes the series would ever have thanks to the Brat himself. Facing a tough decision to either go all-in or fold with ace ten offsuit, Phil Hellmuth asked for quiet on the table. After a couple minutes, player again began to talk, and Hellmuth demanded that the producers penalize players that wouldn't keep quiet. This lead to an argument between Hellmuth and Shawn Sheikhan, Shawn insisting that Hellmuth had already decided to fold and was now just trying to 'get TV time' by creating a spectacle. Hellmuth eventually folded, citing ongoing distractions keeping him from being able to make a decision, and left the table, becoming the first ever elimination from a PAD show in the process, suggesting he might not ever be willing to play on PAD again unless rules were put in place against distractions during a big decision. For whatever it's worth, it was a correct fold, as Annie Duke held pocket kings.
- WSOP Champions featured six players who had won the WSOP Main Event at least once.
- Earphones Please was populated by loudmouth players who used table talk to try to gain an advantage routinely (Sam Farha, Phil Hellmuth, Tony G, Mike Matusow), and two players who almost always keep silent and let their chips do the talking, who would likely regard verbal antics from the other players as an annoyance (Phil Ivey, Andy Bloch).
- Several episodes were titled Dream Table, and pitted an amateur player who had won a Full Tilt poker contest against five of their favorite professionals. For example, Ken Light got to play against Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Jennifer Harman, Mike Matusow, and Scotty Nguyen, five of his favorite professionals.
- Ladies Week featured six female players. Gus and the Ladies featured Gus Hansen (at the time considered one of the sexiest men in the world by People Magazine) and five female players.
- Love at First Raise had three sets of couples (some married, others simply dating) who played poker.
- Main Characters: The most frequent participants on the show were Phil Hellmuth and Mike Matusow, with fifteen SNG entries apiece.