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Matt Salsberg has written and produced TV shows like Weeds and Entourage but in the last couple years he's spent at least as much time at the poker table as in the writer's room. For the seventh episode of our short documentary series Easy Game we fly to LA to talk to Salsberg, his family and Weeds creator Jenji Kohan. We also follow Salsberg to the LA Poker Classic to speak with long-time WPT commentator Mike Sexton.
Matt: I've been really passionate about writing for a long time. I have a lot of experience working on a bunch of different shows and, obviously, poker has been my passion as well for the last eight years and, with Whales, I feel like it's a really great opportunity to take what I've learned from that and try to capture this world in a fresh, interesting way.
Narrator: Canadian Matt Salsberg has written and produced TV shows like Weeds and Entourage. He's also a World Poker Tour champion and after his breakout win in Paris last year, he went on to make two more WPT final tables in less than six months. These days, Salsberg is working on a new poker themed television show and try to put the finishing touches on becoming the WPT Player of the Year. To find out more, we flew to LA for the latest episode of our short documentary series, Easy Game.
Matt: We are at Universal Studios in Universal City and this is where we filmed Weeds for season seven and eight of Weeds, but I no longer work here, so that's why we're outside the gate. Poker was a big part of my life, starting probably around 2003, 2004, played obsessively, watched it on television obsessively and so it found its way into Weeds sort of just as a natural extension to my life, in a lot of ways. I was really the only poker guy on Weeds so any at all gambling references were directed at me, from me, by me. My favorite poker reference on weeds has to be the moment when Albert Brooks is leaving, he's splitting town. He's on his way to Paris to try to get to play Super Satellite for the world poker tour at the Aviation Club and it was really special for me because, after Weeds wrapped, I went to France and took a two week holiday, played the WPT Paris and won it.
Man: Let me give you some grandfatherly advice. Don't ever play poker. You with the bup, bup, tee, tee, tee, you're a giant tell.
Jenji: Salty. I think it just [inaudible 00:02:24] Salsberg. We've always called him Salty in the writers' room and he's deeply funny and sick and twisted. He's a salty fellow. I think it's apt. I think, in general, the room had faith in his ability as a poker player. He was pretty serious and had a history of coming in with wads of cash, which he would then use to torture interns and assistants with, by betting them, pop bets with them that they can never win, and one of the other guys on the show said look, salty is a gambler. He would never be making this bet if he thought for one minute they would be able to do it and every one should keep that in mind but those big piles of cash were so tempting and the kids were so broke that he would torture them anyway and they wouldn't listen to their elders.
Valerie: All the other kids would be like, you know, doing other kinds of things and he would be going to the race track. So, Matthew would be the teenager sitting around with 50 year old men at the race track.
Lisa: You worry because you think gambling, there are, you know, things that can be negative.
Matt: I think what drew me to gambling probably was like the combination of winning money, the competition of it all. There is a thrill element to it that you can't really describe.
Narrator: The prevailing wisdom in poker is that anyone can get lucky and win a big tournament, but after posting 5 top 10 finishes on the WPT this season, Salsberg is leading the Player of the Year race with just one more event to go.
Matt: I feel like it's always like a war going into these things. It's such a marathon that thinking about winning at the start of these things is too overwhelming, so I just kind of take it, you know, almost one hand at a time or at least one day at a time.
Mike: Well, my initial reaction to Matt Salsberg when he won the WPT event in Paris was I didn't think he was anywhere near the strongest player at the table. But since that time, he's made a couple more final tables. My opinion of his play is dramatically changing as event by event goes by, because you can't be consistently in the money and making final tables unless you've got some game. So, I'm starting to salute Matt Salsberg and my opinion has drastically changed since I first saw him.
Matt: The win that I had in Paris, even though I hadn't played that many big buy ins or WPT events, I felt like it was, you know, eight years of a lot of poker in the process. I mean I was a little shocked at the end when I won, that I actually came back and closed it out but I always felt that my game was good enough and if I just ran reasonably well, I could at least make a final table and then, once you're at the final table, anything can happen Theo: How much do you have left?
Matt: A little over a million.
Announcer: He said a little over a million and he said it confidently. So, Theo is going to check and just surrender.
Theo: Queen eye.
Announcer: He has given up the spot. Queen eye. Matt's going to take this pot down with two nines and there you see his girlfriend Renee. She can't believe it.
Second Announcer: And that is the biggest poker moment of Mats Salsberg's life. What a call. Very solid. The hand holds up. What a pot. And that is turning things around now for the Hollywood producer.
Mike: You know, I always like what Doyle Brunson always said. You judge a hunter by the number of furs he brings home. Well, right now Matt Salsberg is bringing home the fur.
Valerie: As a child, he would come home from school and put the TV on and watch and we would get really upset with him and we would get upset with our parents because we would say that he's never going to get a job and we were all, the whole family was very worried about him. Now, when we look back, we think he was doing his research but, at that time, we didn't know that. We just thought that it was just destructive.
Matt: The trick with whales and trying to make it look like a little [inaudible 00:06:19] is it's going to be an expensive show, so you can't really do it on the cheap which, a lot of these shows that kind of slip through the cracks, they work because they are very cheap to do. I can't really do that with Whales if I wanted to look and feel almost Entourage in that way, where we're out on the road, we're in the Bahamas one week or we're in Europe another week. It's got to have that feel to it.
Jenji: I think, in general, when people have taken on poker shows or gambling shows, the tone has been really, really serious or earnest or dark and I think, in Salty's hands, there's a real opportunity for something that's really fun.
Matt: Well, in an ideal world, hopefully Whales get picked up, goes to series, gets an eight year run like Weeds got. We do 10 episodes per year with cliffhangers, so everybody wants to come back to see the next season and, in those six months that I have in hiatus, it's spent playing poker, winning more tournaments. Hopefully, you know, crushing it and living an amazing sort of double life.