The current season of GSN’s “High Stakes Poker” is off to a flying start, with one important change. Prior to the recording of the program in Las Vegas last November, longtime host A.J. Benza was dropped in favor of having analyst Gabe Kaplan run solo in the booth and veteran poker announcer Kara Scott interviewing players from the floor. This has led to a petition to return Benza to the program.
An online petition to bring Benza back to the popular cash game show is currently garnering a great deal of support from its fans. To many viewers, “High Stakes Poker,” which is now in its sixth season, was a program that didn’t need any changes to make it more appealing. Furthermore, the idea of following the trend of other poker shows – which normally have a female hostess who interacts with players or commentators – was something that many viewers didn’t want to see happen, especially at the cost of Benza being in the booth.
At this point, over 400 people have stated in a thread on TwoPlusTwo that they have signed the petition for Benza’s return or sent their opinions to GSN. In a poll regarding the decision, almost 600 people responded overwhelmingly (nearly 9:1) against the dismissal of Benza, even though Scott is a highly respected broadcaster in her own right. Scott has extensive broadcasting experience on the European Poker Tour (EPT) and currently can be seen on ESPN’s production of the 2009 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Europe. The general mood of the crowd regarding the change at “High Stakes Poker” seemed to be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The comments indicate that the dismissal of Benza and the addition of Scott have weakened a previously strong show. Poster “Golfing_Stud” commented, “I love Gabe. He’s by far the best poker announcer there is but A.J. was his straight man… we need him back. Kara can stay or go she doesn’t add a lot.” Fellow poster “EGarrett” agreed, stating, “Please don’t mess with success in entertainment. It’s so easy to screw things up. And do not make the show more like Poker After Dark by adding an interviewer. Something about PAD is lifeless and boring… apparently designed to get you to fall asleep in front of the TV and give them long term ratings.”
The “High Stakes Poker” Season 6 premiere aired last Sunday on GSN and, whether intentional or not, there was what seemed to be a “tip of the hat” to Benza. As the program opened, Kaplan stood alone on one side of the shot – as if he were making room for a second person – instead of being centered in the frame. This, for longtime viewers of “High Stakes Poker,” was quite odd. Poster “Dromar” saw this peculiarity and wrote, “It’s too overt to anyone who’s ever seen HSP before, and just looks weird to anyone who hasn’t. I would be delighted if AJ walked in at the beginning of the next episode and they were like ‘lol just kidding, why the f*** would we copy PAD?'” “Dromar” finished off his post by stating, “I’m not holding my breath, though.”
Back when the change from Benza to Scott was announced, GSN Vice President of Programming and Development David Schiff told Poker News Daily, “We’re into the sixth season and we felt like it was time to freshen it up. Our feeling was that we wanted viewers to be in the room with the players. Gabe and A.J. did a good job, but they were disconnected from the action.” With the addition of Scott, who handles floor interviews, GSN has apparently achieved that goal. Whether viewers stick with future episodes of “High Stakes Poker” without Benza in the booth remains to be seen.