The Travel Channel is emerging from the shadows of cable obscurity thanks to a gamble - "World Poker Tour." (search

Everyone, it seems, is talking about this series, which features high-stakes poker matches every Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Just how popular is the show? Well, the first-season reruns are actually cashing in more viewers than they did the first time around - over 900,000 viewers each night.

The "championship" game from the first season, which aired last June, drew over 1.1 million viewers - huge numbers for a niche cable network like The Travel Channel (search).

"We're very pleased with the show's performance. It gives us a platform to introduce audiences to the rest of our schedule," says Travel Channel VP/GM Rick Rodriguez.  "Nobody had ever taken the chance and given ['World Poker Tour'] the kind of exposure we did."

The matches are played before a live audience, with hosts Shana Hiatt, Mike Sexton and Vincent Van Patten (son of actor Dick Van Patten) calling the action.

"The characters are really the key to this whole show," Rodriguez says. "To the casual observer it doesn't look like it's possible to draw tension out of a card game," he says.

"But one of the exciting things our research tells us is that the show builds its audience minute-by-minute - with the largest audience coming in for the big payoff at the end."

The second season of "World Poker Tour" will premiere early next year, and Rodriguez says there could be some "theme" shows in the works.

"One of the specials we're looking to do is a 'Ladie's Night' tournament as well as a 'Tournament of Champions,' " he says.

Travel Channel, in fact, has inked a $40 million, six-year deal with the World Poker Tour.

"A lot of this is what the Travel Channel is supposed to do - provide the vicarious thrill of traveling and provide a little bit of that excitement."