The recent glut of Poker TV announcements has been heralded as great news for poker fans around the world. Even though shows like Full Tilt’s Face the Ace have met with lukewarm reactions, the increased profile of the game in mainstream entertainment is a big boon for the industry. Along with new creations like the PokerStars.net Million Dollar Challenge, well-worn favorites Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker are also scheduled to return.
One man considerably less happy about the situation is the now former host of High Stakes Poker, A.J. Benza. The Hollywood presenter formed half of a popular commentary duo with Gabe Kaplan and news of his sacking has come as a surprise to many. Not least of all to A.J., who reacted with an angry stream-of-consciousness post on his blog site. What made Benza even more displeased, was the news that he is set to be replaced by a female presenter. The implication being that he had been tossed aside in favor of a younger more attractive model.
“I flat out told the guys…if you got the best pizza in town for 5 seasons, why try and add licorice to it,” he fumed. His vitriolic response included an attack on the low standards of programming generally upheld by the Game Show Network. He also criticized the lack of publicity support the network afforded him and publicly named the executives behind the decision – Barry Nugent and David Shiff. In an effort to retain his job, A.J. revealed his attempts to appeal to their paternal instincts. “Your [sic] basically putting a man and his family on the street. Is that what you want on your concience [sic],” he told them. The beleaguered host even offered to take a pay cut.
Benza, who has appeared in the likes of Rocky Balboa and Family Guy, has been an integral part of the show since in debuted in January 2006. The lighthearted banter between Kaplan and Benza have formed an integral part of HSP’s winning formula. The use of young attractive models-turned-presenters on poker shows is far from unheard of. Both Poker After Dark and the World Poker Tour employ young woman to introduce the show and conduct player interviews. However, Benza also performed commentating duties and it is unlikely that Gabe Kaplan would be asked to call the play alone.
The mystery of who will fill Benza’s shoes has caused much speculation, with many sites reporting the Vanessa Rousso is being considered as a candidate. However, the origin of this story is in fact a post on 2 + 2 that does little more than suggest Vanessa as a possible replacement. There has been no official word from GSN on the situation. The 6th series of HSP is due to begin filming shortly and is earmarked to appear on TV screens in early 2010.