Sun, Mar 18, 2018 01:02 PM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
2004-01-14 life & times
Tuning In
A Conversation With

Vince Van Patten

by Sally Stone

World Poker Tour

Travel Channel

Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET

Poker is said to be the world's most popular card game. It's also becoming the most watched game around the world courtesy of the Travel Channel's "World Poker Tour," which airs every Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The TC also teams with NBC to telecast WPT specials, such as the "World Poker Tour Battle of Champions" airing on the Peacock Network Feb. 1, Super Bowl Sunday. The show is hosted by Shana Hiatt (who explains the game to viewers) and poker players par excellence Mike Sexton and actor/director/writer Vince Van Patten ("When Billie Beat Bobby," "Stuey," "The Young and The Restless").

Van Patten says the popularity of the "World Poker Tour" doesn't surprise him. Not even the fact that people who might once have thought a royal flush was something that happened in the Queen's privy are now tuning in every week to see (and learn from) the world's best poker players.

"It's a game of skill," Van Patten says, "Luck, too, of course. But you have to know how to use your luck skillfully. Which is what people who rarely played cards, and maybe never played poker, discover when they watch the show."

Van Patten sees the players as athletes in a sport requiring the same attributes that create great competitors in more traditional sports venues.

"There's the same determination to win," he says. "And the same intensity; the same concentration. And," he adds, "the same love of the game you're involved in."

Vince Van Patten is a formidable competitor at the card table. He's also been a top competitor on the tennis court for most of his life, and even got to combine his pro tennis and acting careers when he was featured in the 2001 film "When Billie Beat Bobbie" (the story of how Billie Jean King bested Bobby Riggs, who once claimed no woman could compete in, let alone win, a match against a man).

"I love tennis. Always have," Van Patten says. "And I found the more I played, the more I understood not only the game but also my own abilities. It's the same with poker. The more I play, the more I'm able to understand both the game and what I can bring to it."

Most card players understand the term "kibitzer," which comes from a Yiddish word meaning, more or less, to criticize. Typically, a kibitzer stands behind a card player and makes comments. Now millions of viewers can be kibitzers thanks to the cameras that allow them to see the hands held by the World Poker Tour players as clearly as if they were standing behind each one.

IN FOCUS: Mary McCormack ("Full Frontal," "Murder One," "K Street") stars in the USA Network's "Traffic," a three-part miniseries based on the hit film, airing Jan. 26, 27 and 28. It focuses on three sets of characters, each of which learns later on how their lives intertwine.

Mary McCormack plays Carole McKay, the wife of one of the agents involved in the continuing battle against international traffickers in drugs, human beings and biological terror. Others in the cast include Balthazar Getty ("Lost Highway") and Elias Koteas ("The Thin Red Line"). "'Traffic,'" McCormack says, "gives a chilling view of what it's like out there with the drug dealers and the people who smuggle human cargo into the country under horrible conditions; sometimes killing them without a second thought if they think they're going to be caught by the authorities. Also, in these days when we recognize the threat of biological warfare, we see how relatively easy it could be to smuggle something like the smallpox virus into the country."

McCormack adds that what we see on screen is a well-crafted work of drama. "But there's a terrible and threatening reality behind it."

DIAL TONES: Speaking of drama, James Marsters, who played the vampire Spike in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and now plays him on "Angel," says the tension between Spike and Angel (David Boreanaz) makes for good drama. "It's probably why those who decide these things decided to bring me or, I should say Spike over to 'Angel' when 'Buffy' ended." As for a Spike spinoff, Marsters says he's not aware any is planned. But we hear a pitch to star him in a sequel wouldn't be made "in vein."

Considering the less than spectacular success Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards have had with their post-"Seinfeld" TV ventures, it seems a bit odd that they won't participate with other alums in the upcoming "Seinfeld" DVD. The show made them stars, and while they have had money differences in the past, they eventually earned a then-huge $600,000 per episode and are currently said to be earning $100,000 annually in rerun fees. As I write this, Jerry Seinfeld's reps say he hopes to talk his former castmates into changing their minds. Stay tuned.

(c) 2004 King Features Synd., Inc.

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