Tomorrow marks the start of the broadcast networks' "upfront" presentations -- that maddest, merriest time of the year when all new series are brilliant and all network suits are charming.

At New York's Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, the City Center, the New Amsterdam Theatre and Radio City Music Hall, the broadcast networks take turns unveiling next season's prime-time lineups to Madison Avenue and the press -- the result of the very best development season they've ever had . . . just like last year.

After enjoying these lavish productions, ad executives will then commit billions of dollars to buy time in the new lineups "upfront," in exchange for all the shrimp and liquor they can consume and the chance to get their picture taken with Kelly Ripa ("Hope & Faith") or Marg Helgenberger ("CSI") at private bashes each network throws immediately after its presentation.

In this way, the networks hope to sell upward of 85 percent of their ad inventory for the coming season.

Which, ironically, is the same percentage as the failure rate of those brilliant new series on those new prime-time lineups, if next season plays out like others in recent TV history.

But advertisers continue to play along because the networks guarantee them certain ratings in each time period they buy into, and if the show doesn't hit that guarantee, the advertiser gets "make good" ad time. Besides, broadcast networks are still the only way to reach every U.S. household with a television.

Kelly Ripa, touting "Hope & Faith" last year.