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There are plenty of reasons why TV shows fail

Have you seen the promotional photos for the new remake of the Charlie's Angels TV show? Oh, you must. The three lady stars stand together and each holds her hands together, index fingers extended to make a gun. It's awful. Unspeakably gauche.

Possibly this means the show will be a hit. You see, sometimes highly touted TV shows get no farther in terms of success than a really cool photo. Sometimes there's an excellent trailer or TV ad and then the show fails miserably. In this case, maybe a very bad photo means a hit. Hey, there are all kinds of ways to attempt predicting a hit in the TV game.

This week, there's much talk about new shows being unveiled at the U.S. TV networks' "Upfronts" (meetings held before important ad-sales periods to get marketers to buy airtime in advance, or "up front"). But for every new show, there's a cancelled one. Why do shows fail? Well, some are stinkers, and others are doomed by their time slot, neutered by network interference, or the writers run out of ideas by Episode 3.

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Officially, low ratings cause a cancellation. But that's never the whole story.

It also happens that some series are meant to fail. In the TV racket, it's not unknown for a network to offer a show deal to an actor they simply don't want to lose. The bosses know the show is wrong for the actor, but they'd rather have the star on their network than the competition. Why, it has even been rumoured - and this may truly shock you - that some shows get made because a network exec wanted to sleep with one of the stars. And then there are more complicated strategies. Back in the early 1990s, for example, it was rumoured that ABC was so anxious to keep Roseanne Barr happy that for this reason it allowed her then-husband Tom Arnold to star in The Jackie Thomas Show and gave Arnold's series a lead-in from the then-smash-hit, Roseanne.

Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior has just been cancelled by CBS. A spinoff from the immensely successful and long-running Criminal Minds, it looked like a surefire hit. After all, CBS had successfully created spinoffs from CSI and NCIS. The problem with Suspect Behavior was that it was a carbon copy of the original. Now, some TV shows appear to be loosely copied from an original, but this one was the same to a ludicrous degree: a team of determined investigators, including the usual token genius, vulnerable character and wacky younger person, all led by a brilliant profiler (just like Criminal Minds), but in this case the profiler was played by Forest Whitaker, a good actor and an Oscar-winner. The problem was that Whitaker looked like he was asleep and waiting to wake up from his terrible experience on a dull network crime show.

The Chicago Code was also cancelled on the Fox network. Created by Shawn Ryan, who also created the classic cable drama The Shield, it was a good show starring Jennifer Beals as Chicago's new police superintendent, a woman keen to tackle corruption in the city. It was nuanced, lively and often adult in its cynicism about urban politics. The main problem, however, was the limitations placed on it by being aired on a network. The series aimed for the sophistication of cable but stood tethered to network standards on language, nudity and other adult matters.

Countless comedies have also been cancelled. Among the high-profile shows now dead is Mr. Sunshine. You could not be unaware of it when it arrived as a mid-season show on ABC. The star and co-creator, Canadian-reared actor Matthew Perry, formerly of Friends, was ubiquitous - on every talk show and in every newspaper talking up the project. A comedy about a 40-year-old guy (Perry) who's a jerk but decides to be a better person, it was deeply unfunny. In fact, the show's existence seemed to rest entirely on the fact that Perry was a star of Friends. It's impossible to imagine any other actor being given such a vehicle.

$#*! My Dad Says has also been cancelled. Another heavily promoted show and based on an existing brand - a successful book and Twitter feed, it was diluted into dull TV by CBS. William Shatner, as the dad, did what was asked of him -he portrayed a pompous-wacky character. But in the TV show, the tale's main strength, the colourful swearing by the dad, was missing. It's possible to imagine a TV version having success on cable, where the swearing could remain intact, but on CBS, the formula was the old setup-and-punchline routine. And now it's gone.

Never mind. It's a complicated racket, this TV thing. The public is fickle, foolish and, most of all, wary. That is, until the new shows are unveiled. Then it all starts again. Right now, you can probably place a bet on the first show to be cancelled in the 2011-12 TV season. Don't put money on Charlie's Angels. Keep in mind that terrible promotional photo. It could mean success.

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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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