UBT - Betting big on blackjack.

Blackjack on a hot streak
Duo looking to make a big splash on tube

Variety | Dec. 6, 2005

Entertainment attorney Jon Moonves and producer Houston Curtis are betting big on blackjack.

Duo are part of a team of producers and investors behind the "Ultimate Blackjack Tour," a tournament-style version of the classic game, and they're looking to make a big splash on television, via a format that combines elements of reality TV and casino gaming.

But in an unusual move, the backers of UBT -- along with Russ Hamilton, founder and creator of the UBT format -- decided to forego the usual development process to get their game on the air. Instead, they decided to shell out more than seven figures to produce an entire 10-episode series --completely on spec.

Pitch meetings on the project have just begun with Blackjack Entertainment -- the company behind the show -- taking meetings with cable and broadcast nets, as well as syndicators.

A few outlets, including GSN, have already attempted blackjack shows in the wake of TV's poker craze. Moonves, a partner at the firm of Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka and Finkelstein, said his group decided it needed to show networks a finished product in order to demonstrate how their idea was different from other skeins.

"We knew if we talked about a gaming show, people would have in their mind shows that already exists," he said. "We knew ours would be a bigger show, with bigger production values, and the best way to show that was to do it rather than describe it."

Indie financing should also allow for more enticing economic terms for a TV partner vs. the usual studio model. Producers are also hoping to set up concurrent broadcast/cable and syndie windows.

Curtis said the major difference between UBT and other blackjack skeins is the format's forced-elimination rules. Three times during each game, a player is forced out, a la "Survivor," if they have the least number of chips on the table.

A secret bet provision also ups the drama in the game, which is won not by beating the house, but by collecting more chips than other players.

"We've given away over $1.2 million" in prize money during the first season, Curtis said. "It's got the drama of a reality show with the thrill of high-stakes casino gaming."

A number of high-profile poker and blackjack players took part in the first round of episodes, including the so-called "MIT Mike" profiled in the bestseller "Bringing Down the House." Poker champs Phil Hellmuth and Antonio Esfandiari also competed, as did thesp/World Series of Poker champ Jennifer Tilly.

Many of the players compete in disguise and/or under assumed names since they've been banned from casinos, Moonves said.

UBT is in talks with several sponsors and promo partners to launch a national media campaign on behalf of the game and the skein. A tie-in Web site's also been set up.

Moonves said he and his partners don't consider the spec financing of the ICM-packaged project much of a risk.

"We're going to get this on the air. We're confident of that," he said.

Former MTV exec Curtis exec produced via his Big Vision shingle and served as showrunner on the 10-episode series, which features self-contained episodes and a grand finale of champions. Moonves also exec produced, along with Sam Korkis and Mark Ganshirt of Red 23.

This is the first foray into production for Moonves, the brother of CBS topper Leslie Moonves, said he's not looking to make the producer's hat permanent.

"I'm not changing careers or anything like that," he said.

If it had the same type of ...

... commentary and 'peek' cameras it might fly better... or does it already have this? I've never watched. zg
Tournament blackjack

All of the TV blackjack is tournament action, which of course, is vastly different than casino blackjack. All the cards are dealt face-up, and the player's chip totals are shown on the screen. This game is a betting game much more than a play of cards game, and a lot of the betting strategies are pretty complex. It's also fun near the end where the player's may makes some really wild card play decisions, (doubling on 16, etc), because it's their only way to catch up.

The World Series of Blackjack on GSN (last year) was well produced and they had Max Rubin as the expert commentators. It is reasonably good TV, and blackjack tournament play is pretty interesting, but most of the best betting strategies are way above the average viewer's head.

It`s kind of ironic I just stumbled across this, because after seeing the movie preview for the "Molly`s Game" movie the other day, I was curious what it was about and started reading up on it (article below, but warning there are some spoilers). The reason why I say it`s funny I found the post is that apparently Houston Curtis mentioned above is one of the main characters in the book/movie. In the movie they use the alias "Eustice Harlan" for him though. Anyway, I know this is a side note to the original post (kinda sad that things like this didn`t make it in the long run, even on GSN), but I was wondering if anyone had seen the movie... I love some gambling movies, so I wanted to go see it, but didn`t want to waste my money if it was terrible. I`m sure there are reviews out already, but I don`t pay attention to those when it comes to movies in this specific subject matter. Most people don`t know much about the gambling world, so they don`t know if the depictions are beyond ridiculous or not.