The Main Character Influences of Quorum

The world of Quorum is most assuredly made up of fictional characters. While we have set the backdrop of our story against real-world events, our portrayal of those events is far from historically accurate. That said, if you find some of the characters in Quorum intriguing, you may also find enjoyment in some of the colorful characters making a name in the real world of professional poker.

Oddly, Jimmy Harmon probably takes his greatest influence from live players as opposed to online players. For one thing, in Quorum we would mostly be depicting live poker as opposed to online play, so it was important that he have a personality that could be compelling in that atmosphere. Daniel Negreanu’s amiability was a strong influence, as well as some of the showmanship of Antonio Esfandiari. Negreanu has an ability to project an uncanny ability to read opponents, and Esfandiari — often nicknamed “The Magician” — can perform some compelling chip tricks (something I often imagine Harmon doing on the side). And, of course, WSOP Main Event champion Joe Hachem’s outsized personality influenced Jimmy — a fact I wrote directly into the story with his less-than-successful Australian impression.

Peeps is an amalgam of several female poker players, all of whom are successful players, but are often relegated to being portrayed as good “women” players, with televised stories often playing up their ability to use their femininity as a factor (rather than merely acknowledging their table skills). Dual World Series bracelet-winner Jennifer Harman stands out, as do Annie Duke and Clonie Gowan, and even actors-turned-poker-players Shannon Elizabeth and Jennifer Tilly. She takes her crazy pattern-recognition skills from the aforementioned Daniel Negreanu, and at least some of her personality from Fiona Dourif’s portrayal of the holistic assassin Bart in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

“Big Mike” Dalton actually adapts characteristics from a number of old-school poker players, the group of long-time pros who continue to garner respect across the board. Doyle Brunson has always been a personal favorite, someone who truly exemplifies the idea of the old poker pro (right down to his ubiquitous cowboy hat). And it may be the hat, but I also drew influence from Chris “Jesus” Ferguson (whose card-throwing skills I loved watching) and poker legend Amarillo Slim. Brunson also stands out in having managed to parlay his live success into a modicum of online-play respectability, a trait that Dalton attempts to emulate. Dalton’s influence in both online play and televised poker most closely mirrors that of Howard Lederer, who frequently guest-starred on the Learn from the Pros show (which was a thinly-veiled promotion for the Full Tilt Poker site) and Gabe Kaplan (yes, Welcome Back Kotter’s Gabe Kaplan), who hosted the cash-game show High Stakes Poker.

Wiktoria Sałkiewicz isn’t directly influenced by anyone in the poker world, but came about as a result of my research into Las Vegas history and its various criminal power brokers over time. While the Italian mob is most frequently depicted in popular media, I found several instances of smaller groups — still often bound together by ethnic ties — which wielded influence in smaller spheres. The Polish mob was not particularly influential in Las Vegas (other than the Polish heritage of mobster Meyer Lansky), but that led to the notion that someone of a less-prominent “family” might be more likely to survive the string of anti-crime initiatives over the decades. Similarly, making her a woman in not one but two male-dominated professions (organized crime and the casino business) made for a much more compelling character history.

Of course, none of these characters are direct counterparts to any real-world personalities. But after watching dozens (if not hundreds) of hours of televised poker, and delving deep into the history of the city surrounding the game, I wanted to acknowledge at least some of the significant personalities who all-too-often outdo those of the fictional world.

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum

Poker on Television

Poker has been televised in one form or another since CBS started airing the final table of the World Series of Poker in the late 1970s, but the appeal of these shows was limited, as viewers had no idea what cards the players held, and there were limited options for real-time on-screen graphics, making it difficult to follow the action.

Those limitations changed in 1997 with the advent of the “hole-card camera,” a camera positioned underneath the table that captured the player’s hands. The cameras came about in Europe, and were first used on the British poker show Late Night Poker. But their potential was truly realized after filmmaker Steven Lipscomb produced a documentary on the World Series of Poker for the Discovery Channel, and the network saw substantially higher-than-anticipated viewership.

Using these hole cams as a critical building block, Lipscomb worked with others to develop the World Poker Tour, a televised series of poker tournaments produced independently and adopting a sports-television style. The show premiered in 2003 on the Travel Channel, and was the network’s highest-rated television program to date. ESPN’s World Series of Poker broadcasts fully incorporated hole cams that year, along with improved graphics and a live-sports feel. Coincidentally, that year also saw the Main Event win of amateur player Chris Moneymaker, inaugurating the so-called “poker boom.”

In addition to the regular World Series of Poker broadcasts (hosted by Lon McEachern and Norman Chad) and World Poker Tour shows (hosted by Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten), a number of shows became staples of the televised poker scene. Here are just a few representative examples of shows that most heavily influenced the fictional shows we portray in Quorum:

  • High-Stakes Poker: A GSN show in which invited players participate in a cash game (or “ring game”) rather than in a tournament format, hosted by A.J. Benza and Gabe Kaplan across most of its run.
  • Celebrity Poker Showdown: A Bravo program where poker-playing celebrities (as opposed to professional players) compete for charity, hosted primarily by Dave Foley and Phil Gordon.
  • Learn from the Pros: A Fox Sports Net show sponsored by online poker site Full Tilt Poker and hosted by Chris Rose, in which a guest poker pro (usually Howard Lederer) would provide tips and tricks, illustrating points with scenes from actual hands taken from televised poker tournaments.

Part of the appeal of many of these shows was not just the game play itself, but the array of colorful characters, many of whom would clearly exaggerate their personalities for the camera. As televised poker became more widespread, opportunities for corporate sponsorship abounded — and one’s ability to attract an audience became just as important as (if not more important than) one’s skills at the table. Many of these sponsorships (both of individual players and the shows themselves) came from online poker sites — which naturally led to a seismic shift when the poker landscape changed in 2011…

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum

The World Series of Poker

Quorum doesn’t specifically cover the World Series of Poker, but several references are made to it throughout the show. My hope is that we’ve explained things sufficiently enough for listeners to follow along to the degree necessary (without over-explaining), but some of you may enjoy a bit more background.

The World Series of Poker started out as a private-invitation event in 1970, when casino owner (and mob boss) Benny Binion invited seven of the best-known poker players in the industry to the Horseshoe Casino for a private tournament — a timed cash-game event with multiple game variations, after which the players voted on the overall winner: Johnny Moss. Moss was awarded a silver cup and proclaimed the first “World Champion of Poker.” The following year, a set buy-in ($5,000 originally, but raised to $10,000 the following year) and freeze-out format was introduced — and the game was limited to a single variation of Texas Hold ’Em — and the World Series as we know it was born. It has continued as an annual tradition ever since (sponsored by Caesar’s Entertainment since 2005).

Though the no-limit Texas Hold ’Em “Main Event” — which still retains its $10,000 buy-in price — remains the signature tournament, there are currently 74 different events taking place, representing an array of different poker styles and play levels. Winners of each individual tournament win a “bracelet” and a monetary prize based on the number of entrants and buy-in amounts. Entrants in the World Series, held each year in June or July in Las Vegas — number in the thousands, a far cry from the original seven players at that inaugural event.

But it’s the Main Event that remains the biggest draw, and it is the winner of that event’s bracelet that is crowned the World Champion of Poker (and is expected to serve as an ambassador for the game across their championship year, a “duty” that winners have achieved with varying degrees of success). Though the tournament is open to anyone who can produce the buy-in amount (or gain an entry slot by winning a separate “satellite” tournament), winners were traditionally professional players — a logical expectation, given that these were the people most likely to develop the skills to beat such a large pool of opponents.

That all changed in 2003, when an unknown amateur player named Chris Moneymaker (a man with a name that would be considered too on-the-nose in the world of narrative fiction) took home the top prize. Not only was he not a professional player, but he had earned his seat by winning a $39 satellite poker tournament in an online game room. Suddenly, the floodgates were opened — amateur players the world over saw not only that an amateur could take on the best in the business and win, but that online poker was a viable way to play. The number of players in the main event jumped from 839 that year to 2,576 in 2004, 5,619 in 2005, and a whopping 8,773 in 2006 — a tenfold increase in just three years. (The number of entrants has since stabilized, now typically hovering around the 6,500–7,500 level.)

As an interesting side note, the Main Event tournament that Jimmy Harmon mentions as the first he saw on television was mine as well — the 2005 tournament in which Joe Hachem beat out Steve Dannenmann, and in which Hachem’s signature call-and-response to the crowd (“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” “Oi, oi, oi!”) became immortalized.

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum

The Criminal History of Las Vegas (at Least as It Relates to Quorum)

As anyone who’s seen The Godfather or Casino will tell you, Las Vegas has a long historic association with organized crime. Crime bosses helped build the casino industry back in the 1930s during the construction of the Hoover Dam (which brought with it an influx of outside construction workers), but what most people think of as the real heyday of the mob in Las Vegas came when Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky opened the Flamingo in 1946. After Siegel’s death in 1947, mobsters saw a golden opportunity in Las Vegas gambling, and built multiple casinos along both Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas and along what became known as the Strip (South Las Vegas Boulevard).

Mob influence continued through the heyday of the “Rat Pack” era, though it was much diminished after Howard Hughes started buying up properties and media outlets in the 1960s. Still, efforts to legitimize the city ran into one major obstacle — the Strip was technically outside the bounds of Las Vegas proper, meaning the city wasn’t able to bring in any tax revenue from the casinos there. An attempt to annex the Strip was foiled when the mob preemptively registered the Strip as its own entity — Paradise, Nevada — an action that (due to the complexities of governmental regulations) prohibited the planned annexation.

Criminal syndicates continued to hold at least some influence all the way up until the 1980s, when more legitimate businesses began taking over, building the megaresorts (starting with the Mirage) that now dominate the Las Vegas skyline. Popular wisdom holds that the demolition of the Dunes hotel in 1993 — on the site where the Bellagio now stands — signified the end of the mob-owned casino era.

These new legitimate entrepreneurs initially thought to expand their customer base by rebranding Las Vegas as a more family-friendly vacation destination — but since gambling remained such a vital source of revenue, this course was soon abandoned (as family time necessarily meant non-gambling time). Over time, most of the older casinos (particularly those on the Strip) gave way to hotels that emphasized luxury and elegance (or at least pretended to), leading to a dramatic shift in character between the traditional and the newer establishments.

Notably, though prostitution is legal in Nevada, it is illegal in Clark County (which contains Las Vegas), or any county with a population over 700,000. Though there are legal brothels in neighboring Nye County (within which Pahrump rests), there is more money spent on illegal prostitution — more than 60 times more — than at the regulated brothels.

Las Vegas suffered significantly during the recession of the mid-2000s, but has since recovered to a degree, and the dominance of the billion-dollar gambling industry remains unabated (though as a percentage of overall casino income, gaming revenue has decreased, representing only about 40 percent of the total).

Though the casino resorts of Quorum are fictional, they take influence from the vast array of real-life establishments — each with its own distinctive character — that currently line the Strip and Fremont Street. The Limelight stands in for the pre-1980s casinos along South Las Vegas Boulevard that still evince some classic-Vegas appeal; the Lyon Majestic (and the oft-mentioned Belle Époque) represent the newer megaresorts; and the Remington holds out on Fremont Street, somewhat sheltered from competition with the Strip casinos and able to retain its classic atmosphere — despite more showy additions to the downtown corridor, such as the illuminated Fremont Street Experience (which opened in the mid-1990s).

While organized crime — at least as we commonly understand it — no longer holds the influence it once did, the jury is still out as to whether today’s corporate masters have entirely abandoned the tactics of their predecessors…

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum