Unfortunately, CBS didn't return until 1978. The network then covered the WSOP until 1981 and again in 1983.
ESPN picked up the broadcast rights for the first time in 1987. Their airing of the final hand in 1988 became one of the most famous hands in poker history when it appeared in the 1998 movie Rounders, and they continued as the home of the WSOP until 1998.1
Unfortunately, neither ESPN nor anyone else covered the 1996 World Series of Poker.
The Discovery Channel, mostly the home of documentaries at the time, then stepped in somewhat unexpectedly for three years from 1999 to 2001.
ESPN was fortunate to reacquire the rights for 2002 just as poker was beginning to boom, and not coincidentally also the first year the WSOP used hole card cameras for the Main Event. With the ability to show the hole cards to viewers, ESPN could also show each player's chances of winning at showdown if the hand went that far. These two features gave viewers a far better idea of what was going on, and even let them feel smarter than the players.
ESPN's continued airing and reairing of the eight episodes of the 2003 WSOP Main Event well into 2004 inspired a new generation of poker players, who mostly honed their skills online and could identify with that year's unlikely hero, Chris Moneymaker, who had qualified online.
Besides the expected player interviews and expert commentary, ESPN has introduced various features through the years to spice up their broadcasts:
By the time the current contract expires after 2020, ESPN will have broadcast exactly three-fifths of the WSOP Main Events.