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It's costly, inefficient and ruthless, but that's how TV works

Oh. My. God. NBC said "no" to Wonder Woman.

As I write this, acres of online space are being devoted to expressing sympathy toward Adrianne Palicki, the young actress who achieved a morsel of fame after she was photographed as the "new" Wonder Woman in an outfit designed to dazzle. If one is to believe the sympathetic comments, Ms. Palicki delivered an acting master class in the pilot. The online response can be translated and summarized as this: A bunch of guys who spend too much time tracking the TV racket think she is seriously hot.

Mind you, NBC's rejection of a rebooted Wonder Woman is only a rumour. You see, this is Upfront Week. The U.S. networks take turns unveiling their new schedules to advertisers in New York City. Big parties. Rivers of free booze will flow. Rivers almost as vast and free-flowing as the rivers of drivel being written about pilots being picked or rejected by NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox, plus the feisty little CW network.

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This is the most wonderful time of the year in the TV world, even if you only pay the slightest attention to the racket. Just look at it - the television business operates on a gloriously inefficient business model. As the Jack Donaghy character on 30 Rock declared, "Do you know what the business model is in the entertainment industry? Make 10 shows and hope that one of them works. We produce more failed pilots than the French air force!"

It starts in January, when network execs review their schedules, think about failed shows, sinking shows and what they might need to fill out their schedule for fall. Every one of those execs is also hoping that the next Glee or Grey's Anatomy will be found in the mail, in a pitch meeting or, if that fails, by studying the list of TV hits of the past and ordering a remake or a subtle variation. Hundreds of scripts are ordered. Yes, it can run into the hundreds.

After that, dozens of scripts are deemed impressive enough to merit being made into an actual pilot episode. For a look-see. This costs money, as you can well imagine. This year, the rough estimate for the number of pilots made is 90. Some were rejected immediately. Others were shown to focus groups and the reaction assessed. Maybe 24 new shows will arrive on the networks this fall. It's a loopy, lavishly expensive way of doing business, but the geniuses who run the racket are sticking with it. Thanks, people of the television world.

Here's a summary of the network-by-network scuttlebutt.

NBC Cancelled: Law & Order: LA, The Event and Outsourced. New shows: Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea, based on chat-show host Chelsea Handler's memoirs and a romantic comedy Free Agents about the on/off romance between co-workers at a talent agency. The latter is summarized as: "He's divorced, her fiancé died." Also coming, maybe, is The Playboy Club.

ABC Cancelled: Mr. Sunshine, Detroit 1-8-7 and No Ordinary Family. New shows: Good Christian Belles (first called Good Christian Bitches), a remake of Charlie's Angels, Once Upon a Time (described as "a modern fairy tale") and a soapy drama called Pan Am, about airline attendants in the 1960s.

CBS Cancelled: The Defenders, Mad Love, $#*! My Dad Says. New shows: Rookies, about young cops in New York, and perhaps The Rememberer, about a former detective "who has the ability to remember everything."

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Fox Cancelled: Breaking In, The Chicago Code, Lie to Me. New shows: Finder, a sort-of spin-off from Bones, Alcatraz, a show about "prison escapees from the 1960s who mysteriously appear in the present," and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, about "two moms who discover their teenagers are just like the mean girls who tormented them in high school."

A few days ago, there were rumours that CBS might cancel all the CSI shows except for the original. Not going to happen now, apparently. A few months ago it looked like Wonder Woman was certain to succeed with NBC. A few days ago it looked like Two and a Half Men might disappear forever into reruns, too, but then Ashton Kutcher came along. A week from now we'll know the full schedule for each network.

The road to network TV success is a dark desert highway. But there's light at the end of it, when the scuttlebutt ends and the facts are what remain. Bring it on. There's no business like this mad business.


Picture Start (Bravo!, 8 p.m.) is a documentary that explains and celebrates the so-called Vancouver School of photo-art, an area of Canadian art that is, apparently, far better known in Europe than here. Filmmaker Harry Killas introduces us to artists Ian Wallace, Rodney Graham and Jeff Wall and the work they've been doing for decades now. It is suggested that the size and remoteness of Vancouver allowed them to nurture each other's art. International art stars. Make up your own mind about the work. Much of the world already has.

Check local listings.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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