Sunday, October 11, 2009

A FLOP, A TURN and a RIVER of SHIT

I ask forgiveness for those of you who know not where our little poker show aired. Though it wasn't too hard to find for the real poker fan out there - and in my day I've met hundreds of them.
See, I was co-host with the very professional Gabe Kaplan on a show that posted No. 1 ratings for five straight seasons on GSN - the station that usually feeds you repeats of Lingo, antique
Jeopardy episodes and the new, omni-sexual "Newlywed Game."
Last week, I had a conference call with a couple suits at GSN about the possibility of dropping me for a chick to work with Gabe Kaplan. (Sound sexy to you yet?)
I flat out told the guys who will remain nameless - oh screw it, it was Bary Nugent and David Shiff - that if you have the best pizza in town for 5 seasons, why try and add licorice as a new topping? I also told them I was the guy who always did my own publicity for the show because GSN had NEVER set up not even as much as a radio interview for me. So I scour internet poker sites and make myself available and - whattya know! - instant publicity.
What gives me agita- and I'll be sure to tell this to Barry Nugent (who wants to have a lunch with me for other opportunities at GSN for me) is that I spoke to both Schiff and Nugent and I asked them if they were fathers. They jubilantly said they were. So surely they would know the hardships of losing a top-rated gig while raising little children in the process. (Oh and did I mention that I have a son who is a Freshman in college?) So armed with my track record on giving GSN 5 seasons of a No. 1 rated show,I decided to hit them in the spot where it's supposed to make a father go mush.
I said...."Let's talk man-to-man and father-to-father." To their credit, they said, "Absolutely."
I unashamedly told those two guys that if I dont get my gig back....."you're basically putting a man and his family on the street. Is that what you want on your concience?"
I offered to take a pay cut for Chrissakes, Shit....the economy is in the tank, so I'm willing to take less to do the same job. But I just want to put it out there y'all. This is the kind of stuff that goes on in Hollywood. You sometimes bust your balls for a network for a number of years and then the day comes when your balls are suddenly on the chopping block. And a group of execs you've never quite met during your tenure are standing above you sharpening the butcher knife.
I will have my lunch with Nugent - and I promise I wont slash him with a broken bottle of Pellegrino. He and I go way back to my E! days, and honestly, he's a good guy with a good heart.
But I would just be plugging up the flow of the Sicilian blood that boils within me, if he didn't end up on the receiving end of a my take on things. I know he knows that. What I'm gonna say, I haven't yet practiced in the mirror. But it'll be Oscar-worthy when I'm through.
So no more High Stakes Poker for me. No more calling flops, turns and rivers - and trying for the life of me to understand what a "Double gutter, belly buster" means.
I will miss the most difficult part of my job, and that was being the gracious straight man for the legendary comedic timing of Gabe Kaplan - just another guy who grew up within miles of where I did in Brooklyn. And I will miss the generosity and patience of the show's producer and unglamorous gluestick of Mori Eskandani. I'm gonna throw in the behind-the-scenes professionalism of producers Phil Smith and the show's birth mother Kevin Belinkoff. Sometimes it took all those guys to make the repartee between me and Gabe to sound real and unrehearsed. And to me, those moments were what made the show stand out from the other poker shows around the dial. I hope you like the female they toss in front of you. And I hope the conversation between she and Gabe works smoothly. I don't think I'll watch the show too often, but I wish it well. I've met too many people attached to the show across the past five seasons to want any one of them to drive home feeling the show has lost some of it's pop and spontaneity.
The female they toss in front of you is sure to be pretty, prepared and a pro. But I know she won't be able to throw "Godfather" references around like Gabe and I did.
If the GSN execs responsible for my firing were ever in on the joke, surely one of them would've said or written to my manager..."Tell A.J. we always liked him. But it was strictly business."
That 'goodbye' I would've understood. And cherished.

166 comments:

  1. That sucks! I know Barry, he is a good guy, I hope he does right by you Aj, it only must mean that there is something even better coming your way. You are a stand up father and fantastic personalty for on air anything. I really hope they realize this and do the right thing!
    Keep us posted! xoxo L. K. Thayer http://lkthayer.wordpress.com/

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  2. Keep your chin up, AJ. Those f---ers, don't let them take you down. Back in Islip, if they messed with you, you kicked their asses. Do it that way, Long Island style.

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  3. what a shame. Its too bad they didnt poll or try to question the true fans of the show, the base that makes it #1, to find out if a new host is something it needed. It certainly didnt. Now we can look forward to a revolving door of non contributing blobs like the WPT broadcasts have. GSN just called off their stack with a pair of 5's on an AAKK6 board. Well played GSN. You did a great job AJ and I look forward to your return when they realize the mistake they have made. jason

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  4. This is such bullsh*t. Stupid hollywood suits. DIAGF

    How do they mess with something so good? A donkament player? really?

    Hope you land well AJ.

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  5. Please tell me this is all a misunderstanding. HSP is, hands-down, the best poker on TV--and you and Gabe are part of that formula. It's not just one thing that makes it great, but it could be just one thing that makes it not-so-great.

    I'm not opposed to "eye candy," BTW, but we see you guys for about two minutes a show, so what's there to look at? If they want more of that, can't they just get something good looking in other ways? A floor reporter, like PAD? More hot cocktail waitresses? WTF.

    Yeah, I'm worried about me as a fan, not you, it's true--but that's because I'm sure you'll land on your feet, quickly, and in a higher place. As someone said maybe they have something a lot bigger in store for you, and I hope that's true. But I'm sure you could squeeze in HSP with whatever that is, no prob ;)

    I feel bad for whoever gets hired, too. This guy-dominated sport already has a lot of hostility towards women in the mix, unfortunately, and it's not like whoever steps in is at fault for this-- but will invariably be called all kinds of names anyway, no matter how good a job she does. It's a lose-lose-lose.

    I hope this turns around before they start taping.

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  6. Replacing you is like... the epitome of stupidity lol

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  7. To be honest, you're not a poker expert, and Gabe was the main entertainment, but I agree with the "why fix what isn't broke" sentiment. You and Gabe developed an amusing synergy, and after 5 seasons, there's all kinds of history/inside jokes. Show won't be the same now. Might be better, more likely worse, but either way, it was fun while it lasted. gl.

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  8. Bad news. Hope you come back for next season.

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  9. I am so sorry to hear this news. That sucks. I don't get Hollywood. I guess its a good thing I'm no longer living there and trying to work. When I come to town dinner is on me. I know you were always free with the dinners in the old days.

    Love you guys,
    Karin

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  10. That is so frikin stupid and short sighted. More proof that GSN doesn't give a rat's behind for it's poker offerings, and prefers lame-azz repeats of Family Feud to anything good.

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  11. This is a travesty. You were great AJ. HSP is my favorite show on television and this makes me want to boycott the show. They want to put some "hot chick" on to boost male viewership or some BS. Well it won't work. No guy, no matter much we like hot chicks, wants one commentating his favorite sport/poker show. It just doesn't work. This disgusts me.

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  12. Good luck AJ, I hope the new girl is awful and GSN realise what a mistake they made. Your rapport with Gabe was wonderful and we'll all miss it.

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  13. GSN made a big mistake, and I'm sorry you got canned. I will remove the show from my TiVo recording schedule now out of protest.

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  14. That's bullcrap. One things that makes HSP so special is the dynamics between you and Gabe. Man, why the phuck would they do something like this, you were a pretty damn working couple.

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  15. It blows my mind that they think the show needed any type of change. It was fantastic, and I loved the banter between you and Gabe. Good Luck out there AJ.

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  16. More like adding rat poison to the best pizza in the world. I feel sorry for everyone involved, good luck :(

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  17. the dymanics and commentary that you and gabe brought to hsp will be sorely missed. i am sure the suits think they are making the right decision, but what could be the basis of this decision? bean counters more than likely.
    oh well, hopefully the ratings for the new season will reflect a bad decision to replace you.
    good luck to you and your family.

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  18. I was pretty shocked to hear this AJ. I hope you're able to get back on your feet quickly. You were a vital part of HSP and I will really miss the special chemistry that existed between you and Gabe. I'll be hoping with you that we'll see you again in season 7.

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  19. I have to post this anonymously because under the Nazi-like environment that David Goldhill has created at GSN, I know they will try and identify and fire me. I've even gone so far as to have someone else post this and send from their computer so there's nothing that can identify me. He's even rewritten in his own language and spelling because he's a better writer than me and this way they can't recognize any style that's mine.
    As long as you're naming names, from GSN's side of things, credit for the success of High Stakes Poker goes to one person: Kevin Belinkoff. He was a long time GSN executive who was forced out about a year ago, just after the production of the last season of High Stakes Poker. Belinkoff campaigned vigoursly on the show's behalf. The stories of his own compulsive gambling are legendary. He would work every angle he could to keep the show going. Other the AJ, he was the only one who would talk the press to promote the show. He'd work with GSN's ad sales department to woo advertisers. The giant billboard in Las Vegas was his idea. And it was Belinkoff's idea to cast AJ Benza as the host with Gabe Kaplan, seeing the need for a non-poker expert to balance out the show. Beyond that, Belinkoff stayed out of the way and let the show become the best poker show on television.
    But when Goldhill arrived a little more than two years ago, there was no room for intelligent or creative thought at GSN. Countless longtime executives were forced out, including Belinkoff's boss, a harmless British guy named Jamie Roberts. He was replaced by Kelly Goode, a black woman with a chip on her shoulder and no idea about game shows, poker shows, reality shows, or anything other than the horrible crap she developed before she got chased out at Lifetime. She went to Harvard --she'll mention that any chance she gets--but this is not an intelligent woman. She has no people skills, no creative instincts, and it's well known throughout GSN and outside that she has no idea what she's doing. Belinkoff quickly left after her hiring, but it's unkown whether that was his choice or he was fired.
    Goode is disliked by virtually everyone at GSN. She micromanages her department and makes everyone miserable. There are countless stories of television executives like that, but they are successful and know what they're doing. Goode is incompetent. The only people that like her are David Goldhill and his Nazi right hand Steve Brunell. Every decision made at the network, large and small, goes through those two guys. Goode is merely their puppet and with no real authority or job to do, she spends her time making everyone else miserable.

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  20. Goode had it out for AJ from day one. No one is exactly sure why. It was likely that she wanted to make changes at her new job to assert her authority. That's not unusual, but it's better when they know what they're doing and have some track record of success. Belinkoff refused to replace AJ on the last season of the show. It doesn't require you knowing a whole lot about television to know that once the audience is comfortable with one host, you face a huge risk replacing him with another. It' good to take risks, but not when you have no clue what you're doing.
    Without Belinkoff, production of the last season of High Stakes Poker was overseen by Mike Bevan. He's a nice guy and is best known for sitting in his office and playing solitaire on his computer for hours on end. The show wasn't as good, but it's the great poker play that people care about, and with the new players in the mix, the show still worked. But the ratings didn't show that. GSN stopped doing any kind of promotion or marketing for the show. After long time success on Monday nights, they moved it to Sunday and put on five consecutive hours of the show. Ratings suffered and it looked like Goldhill would get his wish and poker would disappear from GSN.
    But everything Goldhill and Brunell have done at GSN has been an expensive failure. They spent a small fortune buying out contracts of top level executives. Expensive programming initiatives like the Game Show Awards and a live show on Saturday night have been colossol failures. Their own arrogance led to losing their most popular new show, Lingo, and most of the classic old shows. As sponsors have fled the network in the wake of their incompetence, the ad sales representives came to Goldhill and Brunell with a simple message: The only thing anyone cares about any more on this network is High Stakes Poker. When faced with the amount of money GSN would lose if they cancelled the show, they reluctantly ordered another season, more than one year after the previous one.
    But now, the collection of non-poker playing incompetents took over. They cut the show's budget. So the new season will have fewer cameras and lower production value than ever before. David Schiff, who made the move to take over the show after firing Bevan, says a female host will bring in more female viewers. Read that again. The change to Vanessa Rousso isn't designed to bring in more men. Schiff thinks that she'll add more female viewers to the audience. At no point was a single person who knows anything about poker or the show consulted. Rousso was hired without an audition. Nugent was brought in as the head of talent, but he has little authority either. His greatest contribution is an upcoming reality show with Carny Wilson, and early reports on it is that her crass style won't sit well with viewers. So with one stupid decision after another, Goldhill and his crew of scared incompetents have ruined GSN and its best shows.
    Someone at GSN will see this and there will be an investigation trying to figure out who I am. I hope that they don't identify the wrong person and fire them, but the environment at GSN is a horrible one and they do everything they can to silence any dissent. AJ, you know everything I say here is true. Thank you for having the balls to say something.

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  21. It won't be the same without you...

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  22. Hey bud, theres a post on 2+2 about it (big poker fansite) and not one person over there thinks they should replace you

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  23. You had absolutely no reason to be on the show in the first place - no one can even figure out how you became even a low-grade B-list celebrity. You have zero qualification for poker, and zero qualification for being on broadcast TV.

    You're a nobody, from nowhere, who has done nothing. So, get over yourself.

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  24. You were the Pat Summerall to Gabe's John Madden. Perfect duo.

    VERY BAD MOVE!!!

    Signed,
    an AJ fan in Brooklyn

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  25. To be honest, the first two episodes of HSP I was wishing that would get rid of you. However, with a little time and the chemistry that you and Gabe devloped, I became a fan. I hope they come to their senses and bring you back to what is the very best poker show on TV.

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  27. Awwww fukkkk.
    YOu have gots to be kidding. Damm. Im pissed.
    YOu ARE the man on this SHow. Fukkn Gabe is not standing by YOu??? Wish he would make a rockus and get you back on. ONE. I feel bad. really do. Good Luck, mannn. Im fkking pissed off right after reading this bullshit they did to you...

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  28. Awwww fukkk ... another thing ... wonder if they will change the name to "Beauty and the Beast of Poker"... I like Gabes/AJs' commentaries on the show.. unmatched chemisty i think... but now Gabe and a girls voice (specially Vanessa's) will make watch with the mute button on. iF i decide to watch... fkkn GSN... how dumb can they get. HOPE they change their minds and put you back on AJ. I really do. - jav

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  29. Just read this news. Really bad decision by GSN.
    Good luck and hopefully they come to their senses!

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  30. Vanessa Russo? You've got to be kidding me. They couldn't have picked a worse female to replace you.

    She is super annoying to listen to. This isn't going to work out well.

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  31. Hate to see ya go. GL In the future AJ.. TC!!

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  32. Blade you have NO IDEA what your talking about IDIOT

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  33. I'm sorry for you, what a bad desicion by GSN. Any petition I can sign?

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  34. Wow I can't believe this, this is such an awful move! HSP is one of the few poker shows where the commentary *was* really good. I'm already cringing as I imagine the level 1 thinking Vanessa will offer on high level pokerhands. I don't think anyone is qualified to replace you because of the relationship which has developed between you and Gabe, if it had to be someone though I would pick Mike Sexton, not some team pokerstars noobie 'pro'.

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  35. Also, point those executives to some internet forum topics where everyone is saying how bad of a decision this is, maybe when they see that EVERYONE thinks this is stupid they will reverse the decision.

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  36. You and Gabe together are so perfect...I tell you HSP would not be the same!!

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  37. If Vanessa Rousso is commentating the poker I'm intently trying to watch for a full hour, I may learn to hate poker. I have been playing for years now, but her voice over my poker will potentially cause me to quit the show and poker itself.

    Hopefully they sson realize that she's only going to hurt the show and everything she has is based almost solely on the fact that she's the most attractive female poker player that anyone knows about, regardless of commentating ability or poker knowledge. This is a terrible decision. She's just a face, and she's not even that attractive (which, let's face it, is a big part of it). And women aren't going to magically watch the show because a woman is commentating on it now. If they liked poker I'm pretty sure they don't give a shit if Vanesso Rousso is commentating. Having female players PLAYING would be a differnent issue.

    Best of luck in the future AJ! This is total lunacy, and if they don't pick you back up, everyone realizes your natural charisma and humour, so I'm sure you'll find a nice home.

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  38. This is a terrible mistake by GSN. High Stakes Poker is likely to become significantly worse because of this. And a lot of people are already pissed off about this.

    Good luck AJ.

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  39. Another poker show down the shitter.

    Gabe is terrific but Kaplan AND Benza made HSP great.

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  40. IDIOTS!!!!!

    I post comments on blogs about once a year. This is my 2009 post. May the 'tards at GSN burn in hell.

    Good Luck A.J. ... you'll be missed.

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  41. Rousso won't be AJ's replacement, according to a PokerPROductions representative (they produce the show).

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  42. One down one to go!
    Now lets get rid of Norman Chad!

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  43. I like you and I think the chemistry you have w/ GK is terrific! I'm a girl and having a female announcer to attract more females is dumb. I watch poker because I like it and having you and GK commenting is great because you're both so funny. They've made a mistake by letting you go. Hang in there A.J.

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  44. GSN has realized that Russou is such a bad decision they are considering Kara Scott.

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  45. This sucks, you had great chemistry with gabe on that show.
    Maybe if you consider a sex change they can rehire you as a female co-host.

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  46. Simply stated, High Stakes Poker has been the best poker TV show out of dozens of poker shows.
    Watching a boring poker show can be as mind-numbing as listening to someone else describe every shot of their latest golf outing. But you and Gabe had great comedic timing and teamwork and together you made HSP very entertaining.
    I guess I can always watch the reruns.

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  47. I hope GSN can see how big of a mistake this is and we see you in season 6.

    Goodluck either way sir.

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  48. I love Vanessa as a person but do not want her commentating my poker. You and Gabe are the bomb and she is a bombshell that I could look at for an hour but do not want to hear her and Gabe commentating together. I think this is going to limit Gabe also. He should be outraged along with me.

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  49. Sorry to hear about this BS decision. I thought you and Gabe were a great hosting combination on HSP.

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  50. When i heard that they were considering replacing you, AJ, I thought that it was just another example of some moronic management type flexing a muscle, and if they took a look at the show (esp. seasons 2-4) they would surely and immediately realize what a HUGE mistake it would be to disrupt the hosting team they had. The interaction between you and Gabe has been discussed and lauded at length as this horrible, short sighted decision has come to light, and your contributions and work as a commentator are absolutely part of what helped make HSP far and away the best poker show out there. This idiotic "eye candy" explanation is just plain dumb. People watch HSP because it is a beautifully presented, VERY entertaining hour of POKER (and besides, the early episodes had plenty of eye candy milling around and sitting on stools). As poker fans, we sometimes forget that to the general public, poker can be a very boring game to watch, and the commentators are essential to moving the show along and explaining just the right amount of the action and the drama without being patronizing or getting too deep into the details and losing the casual viewers.
    Beyond all this, however, lies something that I learned from listening to interviews with you on various shows and podcasts: you actually gave a damn about the show you were on. You entered into a world you didn't know much about, and worked to learn your way around it. You paid attention to what the fans wanted, and you tried like hell to give us more of it. I think this is a rare quality in a tv host, especially a games commentator. Thank you for your work. I hope that someone high up in the rigging at GSN realizes what a terrible mistake has been made and brings you back. Until then, you will be missed, and High Stakes Poker will be far the worse for your absence.

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  51. Tough going my man... Don't they already have a number of big titted, wide-eyed, beauties running around in front of the camera??? Whomever they drop in front of the lens to replace you, shall garner the wrath of many I'm afraid.

    If they were to get rid of the cowboy hat Gabe wears, that i could understand...

    Hope you get your gig back, or they compensate you with another decent paying gig... I'm certain you;ll bound back.

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  52. Hang in there AJ...Hopefully, they fall on their face and bring you back...Vanessa has to be the most annoying female poker player. She just keeps talking when there's nothing to talk about. I would take Annie Duke's abrasiveness over her anyday.

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  53. This is idiotic, anyone who has watched poker on TV before could see that HSP with Gabe and AJ was something special - they actually made it worth watching.

    I've signed the 'petition' over on 2+2 and emailed GSN, hopefully someone there pulls their head out of their behind and sorts this out.

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  54. If it aint broke, break it.

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  55. Sorry man! Joined 2+ 2 forum and added to the petition to bring you back.

    Anyone interestered, here's the link to the petition.

    http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/37/televised-poker/online-petition-bring-back-aj-benza-hsp-605560/

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  56. I love you all for posting your comments. I know I wasn't the best Poker play-by-play guy.....but it seemed to work with the very professional Gabe Kaplan. I will miss hanging with my Brooklyn, Jewish co-host. We seemed to have our shit down. But this is the business. I will also miss my producer Mori Askendani and my boy Phil Smith. We had a good time in that booth. So good.....no rteplacement will never repeat it. But I do wish her look. Work is hard to come by these days and no hard feelings she landed the gig.Although....a show without me and Gabe making "Godfather" references will be a sad day. Ciao, Ciao everyone! I had a ball.

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  57. that is so freakin' stupid...while i would still be against it in other circumstances (I like your rapport with Gabe and think you guys are the only poker commentators that are worthwhile at all on any of the TV shows), I could understand 'spicing it up' by hiring some cute chick if the ratings were in the toilet. But you are the network's best show! Reality is stupid. How in the hell does Norman Chad (with his million fucking stupid divorce jokes and generally inane poker analysis) keep his job while you get canned.

    God, if it is Vanessa Russo or Tiffany Michelle, I swear to Christ I'll stop watching the damn show, as much as I think the cash game action is awesome.

    Anyway, wanted to express my sympathy, say that GSN is making a big mistake, and thank you for 5 seasons of good commentary.

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  58. Who watches HSP? Poker pros and poker advocates. Semi-pros and people who use poker as a serious secondary income. Good casual players who take the game at least a bit seriously.

    Who is complaining about this move? Poker pros and poker advocates. Semi-pros and people who use poker as a serious secondary income. Good casual players who take the game at least a bit seriously.

    Nice way to alienate your viewer base and target audience.

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  59. the chemistry between gabe and aj was excellent, and was a main reason to tune into high stakes poker. by far the best, funniest commentators. I have NO idea why these executives would think changing up something that is damn near perfect is a good idea. I'm really really pissed off right now AJ, you were hilarious on HSP...

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  60. HSP was by far the best Poker show on tv.

    A.J., you will be missed.

    A fan from Portugal.

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  61. AJ honestly made Gabe's jokes funnier. AJ's laugh is just one of those laughs that make you LOL even if the original joke wasn't funny. I don't think i will find Gabe's jokes nearly as funny anymore with AJ by his side. GSN is retarded.

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  62. ^^^^^^without************

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  63. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  64. sorry for you AJ the duet with Gabe was fun I don't understand GSN 's decision .Replacing you with a (hot) chick is so f.... stupid but whatever....
    I was watching your show online in Europe yes you're an international celebrity lol
    so long dude

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  65. Honestly, I'm not a big AJ fan, but there's no better chemistry than AJ and Gabe. Both of these guys make the commentaries funny and actually interesting to listen to...esp with back and forth banters. If GSN put a lady in the mix with Gabe, the "meat" of his jokes and banters will fade away and surely will be less interesting to listen to. GSN should reconsider this strategy because they're setting themselves to fail!

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  66. AJ it's sad to hear the news. You and Gabe make an excellent team. It's one of the things that keeps me watching.

    Tip: contact the producers of that new game show "Shuffle Up and Deal" www.shuffleuptv.com

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  67. I had the privledge to meet you on set during the taping of the episode where Brad Booth bought in for a million and pulled that sick bluff on Ivey.

    I am very sorry to hear this news... and if Rousso is indeed your replacement - oh will the forums light up with derision and vitrol.

    Vanessa isn't hot, she's not even a hot poker player (i.e. Tiffany Michelle and Lacey Jones). Perhaps Chad put those biceps to some arm twisting - OMG she is so banal. Tell the GSN execs to watch the all woman table from PAD where Vanessa incessantly prattled on.. those poor other 5 women... they were visibly rolling their eyes.

    I will probably still watch, but it will be muted - which is too bad cause I'll miss Gabe too.

    The gun is pointed at GSN's own head, all they need do is pull the trigger and they'll kill the show and their own careers.

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  68. WHAT THE HELL !
    How can they RUIN the best poker show out there !
    Man did Vanessa offer the bosses "favours" or what... this is totally ridiculous !
    Man im sending hate mail to GSN immediately. damn this makes me angry.
    Vanessa CAN NOT COMMENTATE. THATS A FACT. shes so annoying, i dont know anyone else whining like that while commentating. also she cant play for shit that high cash game anyways.

    DAMN. IM ANGRY ! GIVE US AJ BACK NOW !

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  69. I am the ghost writer for the GSN insider who commented above. Right now all the GSN brass is away at a company retreat, so I won't hear much from the inside just yet. This has all caused a lot of posturing from GSN trying to figure out what position to take. There is no deal with Vanessa Rousso and your comments have scared them. They are looking at Kara Scott and Tiffany Michelle now.

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  70. This is total bullshit i agree.

    AJ give us your poker stars account and ill transfer some cash your way.

    who should i mail at GSN to make unhappy comments ?

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  71. I hope your replacement has BIG JUggs...

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  72. That's a bad beat AJ. Loved the chemistry you and Gabe had. Hope to see you back on the air soon.

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  73. Unless the new skirt will be wearing a thong while working along side Gabe this is a dumb ass move. Barry & David need to kindly extract their heads outta their asses and have those smelly heads examined for messin with a winner!

    Respectfully Submitted by lattemel22
    P.S. For more please follow me on twitter

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  74. Sorry to hear about this. Good luck landing a new gig!

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  75. Hey AJ, heard about this news on 2+2, and I have to say I am saddened by it. You rocked man.
    From an Australian fan

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  76. What morons. AJ and Gabe had good chemistry and the show kicked ass. Good Luck, AJ.

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  77. Anonymous said....

    The news sucks! AJ and Gabe clicked. I never miss their introductory remarks before each show and they they always set the stage in a fun and professional manner. We will miss ya' AJ. Good luck and good fortune.

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  78. Sucks man, sorry to see ya go. Fuck corp america

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  79. Whatever... AJ was far from the best part of this show and now the decision has been made he's not coming back.

    Hopefully the new host situation improves the show even further...

    ps GSN insider - loving the insight and updates! : )

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  80. Thank you AJ, great work.
    You and Gabe are the best!

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  81. wow, i can not believe this! You and Gabe are such a dynamic duo and you are PERFECT for the show. What a terrible move by GSN.

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  82. HSP = AJ + KAPLAN for reals

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  83. How crazy, since you worked with Barry AND David at E! Good old Hollywood loyalty at its best.

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  84. hey AJ we started a petition and I suggested everyone write GSN corporate themselves, I would assume they've gotten ~50 emails and a link to a thread with around ~300 signatures to continue your appearance on HSP within the last couple days, hopefully this may help GSN realize who really cares about the show and what they want

    Hoping for the best good luck

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  85. I'm sad to hear about this; As per usual media suits show poor judgement. I hope that you land on your feet and get another gig soon. Good luck to you and a big fuck you to GSN, cheers from Sweden :)

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  86. You and Gabe were great together on the show. Sorry to see you go. Good luck.

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  87. Well from a female perspective, I am going to miss the great workmanship and chemistry between you and Gabe.

    I came to really enjoy the two of you and I suspect Gabe is not so happy about it either.

    Thanks for the memories!!

    elftx

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  88. "Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities."

    Einstein

    Why? Because the world is governed by the average and the average is mediocre. It is the suffering that the more clever ones must make peace with.

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  89. That fricking sucks. Seriously stupid decision. What is the deal with having to have a girl on everything nowadays? You and Gabe were the team that made it all work. Cannot say it enough, seriously stupid decision from the jerkwads at GSN

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  90. GSN insiders aren't happy that all of this information has leaked out. Rousso has fallen out of favor and now Kara Scott is the front runner. But they don't like people posting that here and elsewhere because it makes negotiating with her more difficult. If she knows GSN wants her, she can get more money. Serves them right. I'll keep posting what I know. The top level executives from GSN are all in Palm Springs right now at some conference, so there's not going to be much action in the next few days. Before they left, there were discussions about what role the new host would have. They're considering making her a sideline reporter. The lack of understanding of what makes that show work is really incredible. You have to realize that the people from GSN who were instrumental in making the show what it is have all been forced out and it's now in the hands of the mentally disabled.

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  91. Thats sick!

    here in brazil we are mad/sad with that!

    gl man!

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  92. The whole show had a feeling of a "guy's night out at the pub" with some serious poker, and the two of you, AJ and Gabe, complemented that very well. They will NOT find a better poker presenter than Ms Tweeden.

    Also, the banter between you and Gabe was what made the show "live", really. I can just read Handhistories now, just as well, since Gabe won't be able to get a better partner than you to toss jokes at (and around with).

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  93. Now I'm going to be distracted by some btch who is going to be out to prove herself and overdo it in ways that would make it seem real artificial and on top of that, she's going to have the habit of producing 'silly laughs' after saying real stupid shit to amuse ppl. Then she'll switch right back into her serious try to overread the players mode.

    Mark my words. It's going to be disaster.

    Wish u the best AJ. Don't kill anybody yet. They'll bring you back next season latest.

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  94. The Finland is very angry. You rocked.

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  95. now HSP is gonna suck, the banter between the two of you was always fun, I very much doubt that Vanessa Rousso will be able to bring the same.... But I guess you´ll be back if not.

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  96. Oh yeah, If I want a hot chick to look at, I won´t be watching a poker show......

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  97. AJ, miss you and I hope HSP 6 will do bad, FUCK VANESSA ROUSSO. GL boy, from the Netherlands.

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  98. Vanessa Rousso is one of the most annoying people in poker. Bring back AJ.

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  99. Hopefully we can get enough comments on your blog that perhaps the suits at GSN will change their opinions.

    You and Gabe have amazing chemistry and make the show worthwhile to watch. You two bring it home for the average viewer and make it funny. You also transcend the standard poker lines to bring a sort of family value type feeling to the show.

    You will be missed, whomever they bring in to replace you cannot possibly develop the chemistry you and Gabe have shared since day 1. I have no idea why they would try to fix something that is so clearly not broken. They can only do harm.

    I wish you nothing but the best and hope everything works out for you in the future.

    Best of luck

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  100. what a joke, looking forward to seeing what a trainwreck the commentary will be next season

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  101. High Stakes Poker execs took a great show and got rid of Matusow, Hellmuth, and now AJ. GOOD JOB. WE REALLY WANT TO SEE VANESSA "I WEAR A HAT AND SUNGLASSES SO I CAN COVER MY UGLY FACE" RUSSO INSTEAD OF FUNNY BANTER BETWEEN AJ AND GABE

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  102. Everyone loses on this shitty hand. Sorry to hear about the bad news AJ. I will miss your witty banter with Gabe. The show will lose a significant ingredient to its successful mix with your departure. The two of you injected much needed humour into the show, and as good as Gabe is, the two of you were a solid team. I shudder at the thought of your rumoured replacement. Hope to see you in the following season once your replacement bombs. Ciao

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  103. You and Gabe had excellent chemistry together. There was absolutely no reason to make a switch for either of your roles. If they put Vanessa in there, the lack of chemistry will be striking. Good luck, AJ.

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  104. AJ,

    You were hilarious. This is some sad news.

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  105. You did a great job on this show and you had a great run. So you decide to threaten them with feeling guilty for putting a man out? That's not going to work. Entertainment always does well in economomic down turns. Don't use the economy as a crutch. Quit complaining and get to work finding another gig. If I were GSN and read you belly aching like this I wouldn't hire for anything.

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  106. What are they doing? HSP is hands down the greatest poker show ever to be on television. Everyone said this, so why would they mess with a winning formula. You and Gabe had great chemistry, it was a great balance between comedy, entertainment, and top notch poker commentary. I really liked how you weren't an expert and Gabe would explain the situations to you, which made it easy for the audience to follow along. If they wanted to add a hot girl to it why wouldn't they adopt the World Poker Tour format, 2 solid commentators and 1 hot female interviewer. I think the show is going to lose a ton of its appeal. IMO this is the beginning of the end of HSP. Such a shame since last season was the best yet. Good luck AJ Benza and RIP High Stakes Poker.

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  107. This note goes out to the author of the "comment" above from someone named Blazman: I'm hardly complaining about GSN's sudden loss of way. A man is allowed to tell the story straight, especially when you'll never hear a word spoken from the other side. I ain't "bellyaching," just giving the show's true fans a taste of how these things go down.
    AJ Benza

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  108. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  109. Here's your update. The GSN brass is all upset over my comments and is reading all emails and communications going in and out of the company to try and determine who is leaking information. They've issued a network-wide memo threatening firing and criminal prosecution. Since you're obviously reading this and more concerned with what's said in a blog than with running a tv channel, I'll make things easier for you. I don't work at GSN. I've been asked by someone there to rewrite things and post them here, but do you really think they'd be stupid enough to send me something from a GSN account knowing that you're all so paranoid that you read every email? I understand you don't want the truth getting out there, but maybe if you treated employees with a little decency there would be nicer things to say.
    You've created a climate of fear where no one is happy working for you. And your programming and marketing choices over the last two years have been abominable. It all starts at the top and filters downward. Goldhill, Brunell, Goode, Hopkins, Fields, no one has your respect because you've done nothing to earn it. You've chased out the best people that network ever had and replaced them with ignorant incompetants. If you care so much about what is being written about you, focus on that, not who is writing it.
    Now back to High Stakes Poker. The latest thinking is to use the female host as a sideline report and have Gabe Kaplan announce the hands by himself. GSN isn't smart enough to realize what AJ brings to the show and got rid of him with no thought at all. It was just Kelly Goode's way of flexing what little muscle she has. But she wouldn't know the difference between a straight flush and toilet flush. She had some influence on the last season and most agree it was the worst in the series. This season will be the worst by far.

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  110. If AJ is not brought back on we are going to keep talking sh!t and not watch your show. I will get tee-shirts made and hand them out for free for people to wear in support of AJ next WSP. You've been informed. AJ hang in there I'm starting to think you'll be back on HSP soon.

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  111. I think u and Gabe were a teriffic team! U two needling each other was almost, if not THE higlight of the show! I sure hope u´ll be back!

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  112. AJ, you are awesome on the show! I won't watch it anymore in protest. What a horrible decision by the execs!

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  113. There are too many poker shows out there right now.

    I'm bored with most of them.

    What makes me watch poker is top-notch players doing stunning bluffs like Tom Dwan and others and - good hosts. AJ and Gabe were the team. Sometimes hilariously funny. I liked that - a lot.

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  114. AJ, I feel like a member of my family has died....
    Words fail me. Good luck with everything.

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  115. What can I say? I hope the GSN execs read these letters and take them to heart. Thanks to you all.
    AJ

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  116. You will never, ever see AJ Benza on GSN again as long as the current management is in place. The comments made here have infuriated them and they will never admit they made a mistake by replacing him on the shows. Doing what is best for the show or for the network is never something that motivates Goldhill or Goode. In a short time, they've driven GSN into the ground and it will continue.

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  117. This really sucks man. You should get some of the poker pros or poker media outlets to start a petition to GSN, i would gladly sign, as im sure many other poker fans would. You and gabe gad chemistry that really made a good poker show an excellent poker show, and watching other boring poker programs is no longer the same. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors and i hope this chick doesnt work out and they come to their senses and bring you back.

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  118. Hard luck fella, hope you find a new gig soon.

    All poker players - check out www.right2bet.net
    to sign the petition to liberalise the online betting and gambling industry!

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  119. My GSN friend says it's official. Kara Scott will be tableside and Gabe will handle the announcing duties by himself.

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  120. Vanessa Russo? Really? Other than being good looking her real accomplishments are pretty small. She has taken some moderate success and good looks and parlayed it into a a well paying gig where she doesn't have to play poker to earn a living. Off the top of my head I can name 100 men and a dozen women who are more accomplished poker players. This is like when the NHL put the laser on the puck to attract non hockey fans. Get a clue women don't watch because not as many like poker. No one has ever said "well now that ther is a woman hosting I'll watch" Lame.

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  121. Vanessa Russo has the personality of a potato. HSP is the only real poker show around. The good natured banter between you and Gabe was a large part of its success. Huge mistake letting you go.

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  122. AJ + Gabe. The main reason why i watched HSP...

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  123. Same here. AJ and Gabe. What an incredibly stupid decision. VERY big mistake. VERY disappointing.

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  124. The show quality will suffer. Gabe and you were super together. Monday nights in Feb. 2010 won't be the same.

    Good luck - maybe they will reconsider.

    Don in Virginia

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  125. That really sucks. Bad times my ass - if Gabe uses the same type of conversation as he used to have with you, then GSN will have a sexual harassment suit on their neck after the first show. That will cost them more than you would have charged for the whole season. Too bad.

    Swedish Bob

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  126. That's unbelievable man! Today I watched the first ep of season 6 and i realized that theres nothing funny bout kaplans jokes but it was so cool to have you laugh at him with us while watching awesome poker!

    You rock man!

    How's that for finnish ;) epic!

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  127. 1st show post AJ not so good.

    Kara post hand interviews were not horrible but discussion of nutz vs. 2nd nutz hands and Phil's exit after 2 coolers not compelling subject matter.

    Gabe solo in booth was like listening to a Jay Leno monologue that is floundering with no Kevin to try to bail him out.

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  128. I saw the show last night and I did NOT understand why they changed it!!!! I'm sorry you were fired. The show is NOT the same!!! Gabe Kaplan has his moments, but without a straight man, Gabe is a total idiot who talks way too much. He's like a drunk uncle who keeps talking about his war wounds and no one cares. Okay, the show is about the poker players and that's fine. Adding interviews? They're trying to be WPT or something? You and Gabe bickered every now and then, but so what? That was part of the show. When you have something good, why change it? I hope they bring you back on Season 7!!!

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  129. We missed you sooo much. We hope for a miracle. We hope that if enough people speak up we can make a difference. Good luck to you, you are great!

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  130. The first episode of this season with Gabe commentating alone was straight up awkward. It was obvious something was missing and I hope they bring you back! All the best from Israel!

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  131. I saw the first episode of Poker after dark and missed you --now it is Gabe calling the action and Kara interviews players - there's not conversation like you had with Gabe. Remember when one day closes, another opens. Good luck.

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  132. Wow that really sucks ... you and gabe were a perfect match and a great part of the atmosphere of the show... i mean she got nice tits and all, but she is just... boring.

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  133. I can go on for hours with the things that just don't look the same. Producers obviously want something fresh, but as a fan that has seen the previous seasons several times it just pisses me off what they've done to the show.
    I believe after they see the reaction to the sixth season, they will have to call you back
    Probably the only person that enjoys the change is Kara, and I'm sure the players hate to give interviews in the middle of a game...

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  134. WHAT THE FUCK GSN?!? Give us A.J back. Jesus motherfucking christ. You idiots are fucking retarded. FUCK OFF.

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  135. just saw the current season (i usually stumble into "high stakes poker" on the weekends) and instantly realized, "wait, something's wrong here, why do I only hear gabe's voice?" come to realize, they had booted A.J. for poker chick kara scott. she's pretty enough and i guess knows her shit, but i somehow doubt people tune into hsp to "learn" how to play. it's an entertainment show, and the entertainment value has dropped majorly without benza in the booth. i ain't tuning back. see ya, hsp.

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  136. WAS GABE KAPLAN THE REASON? ON YOUR LAST SHOW WITH HIM YOU TOLD HIM IT WAS A PLEASURE WORKING WITH HIM. HIS RESPONSE WAS LETS GET INTO PLAYING POKER. HE MADE NO COMMENT. HE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO CARRY THE SHOW ON HIS OWN. WE ALWAYS FELT HE WAS PATRONIZING YOU AND NOT RESPECTING YOU. THAT LAST TIME YOU WERE ON THE SHOW TOGETHER, HE MORE OR LESS LET YOUR COMMENT GO UNANSWERED. YOU SHOOK YOUR HEAD AS IF TO SAY CAN'T YOU SAY SOMETHING NICE TO ME ON OUR LAST SHOW TOGETHER? IT REALLY MADE HIM LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT. YOU WORK WITH SOMEONE FOR 5 SEASONS AND HE GIVES YOU A F OFF AS A GOOD BYE? HIS TRUE COLORS SHOWED HE FELT BECAUSE HE WAS AN EXCELLENT POKER PLAYER HE WAS SUPERIOR TO YOU. HIS JOKES HAVE NO ONE TO RESPOND AND THEY DIE IN MID-AIR. YOU WERE A GREAT STRAIGHT MAN AND YOU MADE HIS STUFF FUNNIER. GOOD LUCK AND GOD BLESS YOU!

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  137. just saw my 1st show without aj benza... it's like michel without angelo. gsn, i think you've made a mistake, and i personally dislike anyone who can't find center field on a baseball cap. you broke up a great team. i looked forward to gabe and aj's intro and wrapup; dude! it ain't the same. it's abbot without costello, martin without lewis, sanford without son (remember how that turned out?). yeah, it's about poker, but you don't realize how big a part of HSP the hosts are. you had a winnah! a winnah, i tells ya. witness that i'm actually commenting; that's how outraged i am. i paused the show to find out what happened to aj; now i'm gonna watch, but i won't be nearly as pleased as i would have been if aj was on, and don't get any ideas about kaplan, 'cause i can see you don't make good decisions.

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  138. Gabe without AJ is one hand claping.the show does not work in the 6th season.Good luck AJ.

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  139. Just watched the first 2 episodes. It feels like the whole flow and feel has been ruined. Gabe is struggling on his own without you.

    Why would you change a winning forumla? How dumb do you have to be?

    What a shame one of my favorite shows has been ruined by idoits in suits.

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  140. Bring AJ Benza Back to high stakes poker, watch episodes of the new season and use the AJ Benza Soundboard to edit his comments and laughs back in. Gabe Gablan just isn't funny on his own. You will also find episodes of the new season with AJ Benza edited back in. For your pleasure. Bring AJ Benza back to High Stakes Poker!

    http://www.bringbenzaback.com

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  141. This is so fucked up. HSP will never be the same with out you Benza. I watched the first 2 episodes of this season and they sucked balls. I feel sad for myself and all the fans that lost the best poker show in town. I feel even more sad for you to have been done such an injustice after doing such superb work for so long. Don't lose hope, I am sure something better will come along. For myself, I hope you can join some other poker show and make it great like only you know how.

    FUCK GSN!!!

    Devoted fan

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  142. This is so fucked up. HSP will never be the same with out you Benza. I watched the first 2 episodes of this season and they sucked balls. I feel sad for myself and all the fans that lost the best poker show in town. I feel even more sad for you to have been done such an injustice after doing such superb work for so long. Don't lose hope, I am sure something better will come along. For myself, I hope you can join some other poker show and make it great like only you know how.

    FUCK GSN!!!

    Devoted fan

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  143. Goddamn rediculous. I saw the HSP show tonight and it sucked!! No humor at all. Bring back AJ. Geez!

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  144. I am watching the 2010 show as we speak and it lacks a little jena se qua - good conversation and commentary? GSN you made a huge mistake.

    When AJ was on the show if something like poker etiquette was breached, he would ask a question and Gabe would answer. Now we have too many cooks in the kitchen.

    So sad that the quality of one of my favorite shows has diminished so greatly.

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  145. I really want you back on the show AJ. The shit aint the same without you.

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  146. AJ I AM A DIE HARD POKER FAN AND I CAN HONESTLY TELL YOU, WITH ALL THE TRUTH IN MY HEART, THAT THIS SHOW DRASTICALLY LOST ITS TOUCH AND PERFECT TIMING WITH YOUR ABSENCE AND THAT I HAVE LITTLE TO KNOW INTEREST IN WATCHING IT AS IT HAS CLEARLY LOST ITS HEART AND RELATIBILITY. YOU SEE AJ, YOU WERE THE GUY I RELATED TO, YOU WERE THE AVERAGE GUY THAT THE MASSES FELT COMFORATBLE WITH, WE ALSO DIDNT QUITE COMPREHEND THE BACK DOOR DUBBLE GUTTER BUT WE FELT OK WATCHING CAUSE WE KNEW U DIDNT EITHER.

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  147. the show is unwatchable. The players are obviously told that their conversations would be more up front with only Gabe doing the talking..and of course they are quiet making for a boring show.

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  148. The show really sucks without you AJ. Poor Gabe has to tell his jokes to himself. What the hell are they thinking? You and Gabe were hilarious and I looked forward to your banter every week. Idiots!

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  149. I have seen the first few shows and they are very flat without you. I hope they come to their senses and bring you back!

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  150. I had no idea that A.J. had been replaced until I saw the first show. I don't know Mr. Benza but I have always enjoyed the give and take between Mr. Kaplan and A.J. I feel their chemistry made High Stakes Poker the most entertaining poker show on the air. I also see that GSN replaced Benza with Ms. Scott. She is a decent on-air presence but so far all I have seen her do is interview the players. This player interview to me is and has always been a waste of time on any poker show. I was happy that High Stakes Poker didn't do this kind of thing in the past. So they have replaced a guy who added a great deal of entertainment value with someone who is doing something that is worthless. Gabe appears naked when he opens the show. The loss of A.J. Benza has clearly lowered the quality and entertainment value of High Stakes Poker. It is quite obvious to me that the suits at GSN are morons who have no idea what they are doing. Anybody who thinks this change has improved the show, must be living in an alternate universe. It's very disappointing, the show has lost a great deal of it's appeal, and I can assure GSN that 90% of the viewers agree with me. Again, this is nothing against Ms. Scott but she has added nothing except fluff. Gabe and A.J. had fluff too but it was FUNNY fluff! It was great.
    Maybe next season GSN will try to tinker with this program again and reduce it to a piece of junk. Then it can lose ratings as it surely will this year, and it will die. Good job boys!

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  151. Real Bummer...Show is still good with Gabe but not the same without the back and forth banter... Also, Gabe makes jokes but he never laughs at them because no one is sitting next to him to break out laughing first. While Kara Scott if a hot piece of ass, the show isn't as good. They could've had 2 co-hosts and Kara doing interviews on the side...eh?

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  152. Well, I am trying to wee how this decision came to be: If they are looking for the female viewer ... the male players did that ... if they, are looking for for the male viewers the poker legions did that ... SO, What is the logic here???? You are a great straight man to Gabe ... To save money? Then why hire a female co-host? I wonder where that interview was conducted considering there is realy an advantage to the viewers or stats? ... Humm, well here is one thing to consider .. I watch the first 2 episodes and no female host which either means this was a money thing, or the "interview" results feel through! LOL

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  153. the show has suffered without you. I watch for the action at the table, but the rapport with you and gabe was fun. he sounds like a complete moron now. hope all is well with you, thanks for many hours of great tv

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  154. AJ, GSN made a stupid decision. I loved you on High Stakes. You are very very missed. Good luck to you my brother

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  155. AJ, I keep watching your old high stakes poker seasons b/c they are damn good. You are a great commentor and what GSN made is just stupid. When I watch poker after dark and other poker shows, I just get dissapointed with these guys b/c they are so damn boring. Indeed u made a good job. I'm not sayin kara scott is bad, but man you are definitely the right person for doing this job and your shows with Gabe were awesome. Is just pointless for me that GSN put that chick in your place.

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  156. The show is not the same without you, AJ! I don't no WTF those tards were thinking.

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  157. I've been watching HSP and Gabe is great. The show is definitely better with AJ. AJ and Gabe, biscuits and gravy, they go together. AJ made the show hilarious their banter was great. Bad move by GSN.

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  158. Well...I can honestly say that the chick on this show is pretty much awful. And though I love Gabe Kaplan, there is something big time missing with his commentary now. The dynamic the two of you guys had on the show was always hilarious and definitely kept me entertained when the poker wasn't as entertaining. The analysis you guys threw out there, along with being spot on and educational, was also hilarious as hell to listen to.

    I'm hoping the show's ratings have dropped commensurate with your departure and they come back to you for Season 7 with a big offer.

    Good luck, AJ.

    Peter

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  159. AN EMAIL SENT TO GSN:
    I didn't think it was possible to screw up High Stakes Poker, but someone there did it.
    I love Gabe Kaplan, but without A.J. Benza, the show is just BORING (can't believe it but true).
    It's almost embarrassing to watch Gabe without A.J.
    Unreal.

    Please fix it - Please forward this email to whoever there cares. Thanks.

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  160. AJ you were great, the show is not the same without you! Good luck in the future, from Manchester, England!

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  161. Hey Gang....AJ Benza here. I assure you the folks at GSN and I have buried the hatchet. So no need for anymore angry mail. I will, however, be taking my on-line columns to the L.A. Examiner. Please SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE at Examiner.com/x-44882-Breaking-Hollywood-Stories-Examiner.
    Cheers,
    AJ

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  162. Hello,AJ,I am a fan of the HSP show from Scotland.It has to be said that season 6 was poorer in your absence-Gabe(who i think is excellent)is talking to himself and telling jokes to himself;surely a sign of madness-whoevers bright idea it was to remove you from the show needs to have their head checked.Your self-depreciating sense of humour was the perfect accompaniment to Gabes wacky style and the repartee between you guys was part of the magic of the show.If you are harbouring any niggling doubts about your contributions or performance at the back of your mind,i can assure you,you were integral to the success of the show and greatly loved by all the fans around the whole world who,like i,tuned in every week to watch.I sincerely hope that you find your way back onto the show for your sake,for the fans sake and for Gabes sanity.We all miss you

    Yours
    Mark James McLay (Falkirk,Scotland)

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  163. I respect Kara Scott and her poker abilities, and she does an O.K. job as co-host, but the dynamic of the show is totally different. I loved the vibes of Gabe and A.J. It seemed more like a real poker show. Now it just seems like they're trying to cater to families sitting down together and watching this. It's not the right show to do that with.

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