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.