Celebrity Poker Showdown is a television program broadcast on the Bravo cable network. It premiered in Dec 2003, nine months after the premiere of the World Poker Tour, and along with the WPT, helped usher in the poker boom.
Each season of CPS broadcasts a single shootout-style tournament featuring 25 celebrities from the worlds of entertainment and sports. Most of the celebrities are actors, but a few come from other fields such as music and sports.
The 25 celebrities are divided into groups of 5, and each group plays a standard tournament of no-limit hold 'em. The winner of each of the five preliminary tournaments wins a "silver chip" and a seat at the final table of the tournament, which is broadcast last. Each season of CPS therefore lasts only six episodes. The first season of CPS edited each table's tournament down to a one-hour show, thus leaving out much of the action. Subsequent seasons have lengthened the airtime to two hours per episode/table, which means much less editing (though some editing is still done, of course).
The tournament is a freeroll for the celebrities, who pay nothing to enter and are playing by invitation only. Every player receives some money when they leave (nobody goes home empty handed), but the winner of the whole tournament gets the "lion's share" of the money, and those who make the final table get a significant amount more than those who do not. All money won by each player is donated to the charity they designate at the start of the tournament. While it is usually the case that players each designate different charities, there have been instances where two or three players chose the same charity, or where a player has split their winnings between two different charities. In the current 2006 (fifth) season, set in a New Orleans casino, all the celebrities have selected New Orleans charities to help with the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
Early seasons of CPS offered a $250,000 prize pool, with $100,000 going to the winner's charity of the tournament. Later seasons have begun offering a $1,000,000 prize pool, with $500,000 going to the charity selected by the winner. The prize pool appears to be donated by the sponsoring company, since each season has a different sponsor, and the sponsor's name is mentioned prominently and repeatedly throughout the series.
Celebrity Poker Showdown, along with the WPT, helped to legitimze poker in the eyes of the general American public and therefore helped launch the poker boom. Seeing well-known celebrities playing a form of poker (NLHE) which most of America had not yet discovered, and even more importantly, with expert commentary from poker pro Phil Gordon helping viewers understand what makes good hands or good plays and why, America began to take to heart the concept that poker is about both luck and skill, and interest in the game soared.
Phil Gordon's commentary is particularly important; while being an expert and champion himself, he is able to explain basic poker strategy concepts in a simple enough fashion that novices can follow. This was and is critical to the show's success, since it gave casual viewers insight into a poker player's mind. And since the celebrities were by and large fairly bad at playing the game, it gave plenty of opportunity for average Americans to both identify with the players and decide that they could probably play better than that, as well.
Celebrity Poker Showdown was a surprise smash hit for the Bravo network, which immediately renewed it (and replaced original color commentator Kevin Pollak with softer, gentler, and less expert host David Foley) and has garnered enormous ratings every time they've aired any episode. Its popularity has ensured it is sure to be a staple of cable TV for some years to come. The most recent season that began airing in June 2006 has replaced Phil Gordon with less telegenic expert Phil Hellmuth to no great acclaim.