September 2009
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Awesome work if you can get it

Here begins the possibility of the most unlikely of career changes for me.  On Friday, I was hired to be the co-presenter on a pilot TV show.

It’s not the first time I’ve been on TV, but it is the first time I’ve been The Talent.

OK, so that’s a bit of a stretch.  But there I was, looking into the camera, sitting alongside someone who had actually done this kind of thing before, spouting on about blackjack.

Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be a television gambling pundit!

How did this come about?  I’m still not really quite sure.

I’d been asked to write a series of articles about various casino games for a new area of the Poker Channel’s web site.  It must have been about this time last year that I was working on it, because I remember during the summer trying to grab as many game rules leaflets as possible from every table game in passed in a Las Vegas casino.  I now have a drawer full.

I began to write and started sending articles to the editor, whose subsequent departure from the company was timed so perfectly that I’d completed 17 of the 20 pieces he’d asked for before I found out that the new casino section was no longer a priority since he left and nobody else knew what I’d been working on.

Months passed, and eventually I decided to start hassling someone to see if there was any chance I they still wanted to use my work, or if it would instead become part of my yet-to-be-published “Luckydonut’s Awesome Guide to Gambling”.  That’s obviously a working title, but it has potential.

It turns out that somebody read my stuff and quite liked it.  Next thing I knew, I was invited to a meeting at their offices to talk about a TV show they were developing about blackjack, and really that’s as much as they told me before I got there.

I thought I might get some writing work out of it, but when I got there they’d already penciled me in as Charlie Brougham’s sidekick on the show.

I don’t watch any sport on TV so I didn’t know who Charlie was, never mind how to spell his last name.  It’s B, R, O, then a bunch of letters that don’t make any sound, and an M.  And they say English is a difficult language to learn.

When we first met, Charlie asked me what I did and I struggled to come up with any kind of answer that justified my being there.  “I’ve written some bits about blackjack for the web site” didn’t seem to cut it, even before I’d (I thought, politely) asked him the same question.

Next time I’m introduced to someone down there my reflex question is going to be, “Haven’t I seen you on the telly?”.

The next time I met Charlie, he’d ask me the same thing again – in front of the camera.  Fortunately this time I knew it was coming and had prepared an answer.  In the script, it went like this:

I’ve been a recreational gambler for as long as I can remember, and I’ve played and studied the strategies for just about every casino game you can think of.  I’m a bit of a maths geek and I’ve worked with computer software, so I’ve used that to analyse games and test various strategies to help me prove or disprove various theories about how to play casino games.

In reality it was a bit more stammery, but the same idea. 

As the idea of the show is to make money for a casino sponsor (in fact, the programme would be classed as an infomercial so that it can push the casino product as hard as possible) I thought it probably wasn’t appropriate to talk about bonus abuse and how I usually only play blackjack when I know the odds are heavily in my favour.

I wrote a few more set pieces about why blackjack is great, why you should never take insurance and some common mistakes to look out for, but the rest of the material was the two of us talking about blackjack hands that were being played out on screen, with me occasionally forgetting things I was meant to know, like whether or not you’re meant to double down on soft thirteen against a dealer’s four.

I’m told I did just fine.

However, I did come to realise that nothing is ever bad in TV land while the cameras are rolling.  If something’s not quite right, it’s “great” and if it’s a complete clusterfuck then it’s “fine”.

For example, “that was great, but we’re going to do it one more time, and try not to look so much like a rabbit in the headlights when you look at the camera”.

Or, “that was fine, but can we go again, and if Chris could remember what he was going to say that would be great”.

Well, eventually we got through it.  Editing and post-production will take about a week, and they’re going to send me a DVD when it’s done.  I doubt I’ll be allowed to upload any video, but my friends on Facebook will probably notice a new profile picture.  I’ll be quite disappointed if there’s not a usable screenshot with the caption: “Casino Expert”.

It was only a pilot so I don’t know whether the show will ever be aired, but if I’m going to be on the TV I might just mention it…

3 comments to Awesome work if you can get it

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