ESPN is folding its popular World Series of Poker (search) into a dramatic series set to debut early next year.

"Tilt" (search) will be set in Las Vegas with an ensemble cast (two women, four men) and will delve into the personal lives of poker stars trying to find fame and glory in Sin City.

"It's not so much about the World Series of Poker as it is about the characters and their quest to win it all — and what they've endured to get there," said Mark Shapiro, ESPN's executive VP of programming and production.

Shapiro said casting on "Tilt" will begin next month, with a portion of the nine-episode series shot on location in Las Vegas.

"Viewers have made the World Series of Poker a premiere destination on ESPN and a scripted drama is a natural outgrowth of that recipe," Shapiro said. "The audience [for poker] is gender-neutral, which is directly in sync with our original entertainment commitment.

"It's meant to broaden our audience and bring in more viewers and women — and hopefully poker will do that.

"It's a classic, gritty tale of good versus evil in the intriguing, dark world of Vegas."

Professional poker has also been a big draw on Bravo and The Travel Channel (search), but ESPN is the first network to cross-pollinate the genre from reality TV into dramatic territory.

"What makes poker so great is the characters — their backgrounds, their stories, the way they mumble as they play, the insider access," Shapiro said.

"People want to get closer to the game, and this allows them to get inside the players' hands and personal lives."

The pilot for "Tilt" will be written and directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the team responsible for the big-screen movies "Runaway Jury" and "Knockaround Guys."

They also wrote "Rounders," the 1998 movie that focused on poker and starred Matt Damon and Edward Norton.

"Tilt" will air Thursdays at 9 p.m. beginning Jan. 13.

ESPN's first dramatic series, "Playmakers," (search) was set in the world of professional football and aired last year.