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Spike settlement a win-win

Suit brought much publicity for TNN, helmer

NEW YORK — With Spike TV back on track, media buyers around town agreed the suit had upsides for both parties.

“The programming is what we’re concerned about, and the programming hasn’t changed at all,” said Mediavest buyer Mel Berning. “This was an issue about names. They would have paid a ton to get this much publicity.”

Similar thinking had been suggested by Spike Lee’s lawyers during the course of the suit. His reps argued that Viacom’s projected losses of around $100 million surely were offset by the attention TNN was receiving.

“I don’t see any negative at all,” said media buyer Tom DeCabia of PHD USA. “It’s good publicity for both of them. It brings more attention to Spike Lee and to what TNN is trying to do.”

Details of the settlement between Lee and Viacom are confidential, but both parties were all grins and handshakes in court Tuesday as they met to end their dispute. Lee’s attorney Johnnie Cochran read a statement from the helmer, which cryptically closed, “I am pleased to be able to resolve this matter and be able to work with Viacom on new projects.”

Cochran would not elaborate if these were projects already in development, or if some deal had been struck to add ones to Lee’s slate. (Helmer was still in L.A. shooting for Showtime.) And because the settlement was reached last Thursday before payment was due, Lee never posted the additional $2 million bond he was ordered to June 24.

Settlement overtures were made and rejected earlier in the spring, but Cochran would not elaborate on the about-face. What began as a tangle over trademark and identifiability eventually dissolved in deference to the First Amendment.

“I’d be telling you who called whom, and that’s confidential,” he told Daily Variety. “Ultimately we got together. Both sides discussed it at length and arrived at a settlement. I think both sides are happy now and moving forward.”

The full statement from Lee read: “On reviewing the circumstances, I no longer believe that Viacom deliberately intended to trade on my name when naming Spike TV. As an artist and filmmaker, I feel that protection of freedom of expression is a critical value and I am concerned that my efforts to stop Viacom from using the Spike TV name could have the unintended consequence of threatening the First Amendment rights of Viacom and others.”

Conglom has not yet announced when the rebranding will be reactivated.

“There was extensive negotiation over the last week or so,” said Justice Walter Tolub in court Tuesday morning. Tolub vacated his June 12 preliminary injunction so that it would have no future value.

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