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Cannell nixes ‘Viper’ title

Stephen J. Cannell Prods. has apparently headed off a Chrysler Corp. lawsuit by changing the name of its new syndicated Michael Dudikoff series from “Viper” to “Cobra.”

The announcement came at the same time as word that Cannell has entered into an arrangement with Paramount’s Premier Advertiser Sales to handle barter sales for the show.

The two events appear to be related, since Paramount Network Television has its own “Viper” series in the works. Par signed a deal with Chrysler to use its $ 50,000 Dodge Viper sports car in a potential series being developed for CBS.

When Chrysler discovered Cannell was using the “Viper” name, it filed a trademark infringement suit in U.S. District Court last month.

A joint statement released yesterday by Cannell and Par TV Group chairman Kerry McCluggage made no reference to the suit, but noted that there was concern about the confusion that would be created if both shows premiered with the same title.

Since Par is looking at a show that’s centered around a specific model car — a latter-day “Knight Rider” of sorts — and Cannell is focusing on a crime fighter whose name is Viper, Cannell figured the name could be changed without sacrificing the creative concept of the series.

“Knowing that confusion existed and that we would be doing business with Paramount on the barter issue, we were able to change the name,” a Cannell spokeswoman said.

Although Cannell has already sunk a great deal of money into advertising and promoting “Viper,” which was introduced as a last-minute addition at January’s National Assn. of Television Program Executives convention, the company rep said the mid-stream change to “Cobra” won’t be much of a problem.

“We’re only just beginning to launch the series,” she said.

Cannell has cleared the newly christened “Cobra” on stations covering 71% of the country.

For New York-based Premier, the nation’s largest barter company outside of the three networks and Fox Broadcasting, the agreement marks the latest in a string of relationships with companies other than Paramount.

Over the years, Premier has handled barter product for Viacom, MCA (a former partner in the advertising company), Columbia and Orbis.

Premier’s primary product consists of Paramount’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” as well as “The Untouchables.”

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