?POKER'S NEW FACE
NBC, once the home of the NFL and the NBA, continues to lean toward alternative sports programming. The network, which now brings us Arena Football, pro bull riding and the National Dog Show, has signed a deal with the Travel Channel to air the World Poker Tour on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., opposite pregame shows on CBS (which has the game) and ESPN. Although NBC has rights to the Olympics until 2012, it has otherwise stayed out of the market for big-time sports since the late '90s. "We're trying to be creative," says NBC Sports' Jon Miller. "We're not throwing a lot of money at rights, so we're not going to lose a lot if this doesn't make sense." The theory behind the poker program, Miller says, is that "channel surfers will drive by and find an interesting alternative." The WPT won't come near the ratings that Super Bowl pregame shows draw, but it might help push poker closer to the mainstream. Says Steve Lipscomb, the WPT's CEO, "This gives us an opportunity to legitimize it."
? RIVERS'S FLOW
Doc Rivers seems to move fluidly between his m�tiers. In May 1999 he was flown to interview for the job of Magic coach just days after wrapping up a season as a TNT analyst. (He got it four weeks later.) Then, when he was fired by Orlando on Nov. 17 after a 1-11 start, Rivers, 42, was unemployed for all of two days before landing an NBA analyst's job alongside Al Michaels on ABC. The network had been searching for a second voice since naming Michaels on Sept. 22. "Sometimes the baddest timing seems pretty good," said Rivers last Saturday, after his first dress rehearsal. "It was disappointing to be let go, but love this opportunity. Working with Al Michaels is as good as it gets." They'll debut on Christmas Day, when the Rockets visit the Lakers.