A.J. Benza Levels About High Stakes Poker
“High Stakes Poker” Season 6 is currently underway on cable station GSN. One notable difference from the first five seasons is the absence of commentator A.J. Benza, who was let go in favor of bringing on floor reporter Kara Scott. Poker News Daily sat down with Benza to get his take on the show’s sixth cycle, which airs on Sundays at 8:00pm ET.
Poker News Daily: What are your thoughts on the sixth season of “High Stakes Poker,” which kicked off on February 14th on GSN?
A.J. Benza: I saw the premiere. When Gabe Kaplan was speaking, I was sitting on my couch and making the same comments I would have if we were taping it. I called Gabe and said it was different. He’s one of the best commentators of our time and I’m lucky to have been with him for five seasons. I missed that most of all – we had a lot of chemistry from being from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn.
I wish I could speak to GSN about why they did what they did. When I got the call that they were going another direction, I was more than mildly upset, not to mention financially upset. I knew it wasn’t a money thing and you can’t help but take it to heart. I said the show wouldn’t be the same. Nothing against Kara Scott, but you fall into the mold of the other shows.
I know that the ratings [for “High Stakes Poker” Season 6] aren’t what they were. It doesn’t mean that I’m the best guy to have in your poker studio, but it means that Gabe and I had a chemistry that worked. The only problem with having a floor reporter is that it’s like having a sideline reporter in a football game. It’s hard to stick a microphone in someone’s face and ask them how they feel after they’ve gotten felted or lost $200,000. GSN knew they were doing something controversial, but I don’t think they understood how controversial it was until the show aired.
PND: How did “High Stakes Poker” change your broadcasting and media career?
A.J. Benza: When I was a journalist in New York, I was always doing television appearances. I came out to L.A. for a show on the E! Network called “Mysteries and Scandals” and that put me on the map in Hollywood as an on-air personality. I hosted a few other shows in Hollywood and was fortunate in that respect. By the same token, network executives step in and try to do things different ways. It taught me a lesson – that’s showbiz. It’s like the phrase “That’s poker.”
PND: What about the first five seasons of “High Stakes Poker” stands out the most and why?
A.J. Benza: I’ve gambled all my life on football and go to Las Vegas a lot. I never saw men and women that could be down a few hundred thousand dollars without any perspiration at all. I have a huge amount of respect for them. They’re all immensely talented. There is so much to learn about poker. It’s brutal, it’s messy, it’s very mathematical, and it’s a nasty game, but you have to be a gentleman about it.
PND: What’s next on your agenda?
A.J. Benza: I’m writing a screenplay. This all happened in the middle of me writing a book, so now I am balancing that as well. There are a few radio personalities doing things with me and I’m doing a play out in Hollywood. I’ve been busy.
PND: We’ve had a tidal wave of comments from PND readers calling for your return to “High Stakes Poker.” Is it flattering to see that kind of support from the poker community?
A.J. Benza: It’s beyond words. I didn’t know anything about high-stakes poker when I started. From reading TwoPlusTwo and other forums, poker players hated me at first. Gabe was off and running and I didn’t know much more than flop, turn, and river. Once I knew the game to an extent, I wanted to stay true to the guy at home who doesn’t know everything about poker. I wanted to be the armchair quarterback who asked the questions and let Gabe take it from there.
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