Spike judge offers plan

Viacom keen on non-jury trial; Lee thinking

Viacom seized on a proposal Monday from the judge in the case of Spike TV vs. Spike Lee that calls for a trial July 7, with no jury, to settle the issue of whether TNN can change its name to Spike TV.

Viacom’s attorneys immediately agreed to the proposal, while Spike Lee’s lawyers said they would give their answer by the judge’s deadline, 9:30 a.m. today.

The office of Lee’s attorney, Johnnie Cochran, didn’t return a phone call, but it appeared likely that Lee would reject the judge’s proposal.

That rejection would trigger the motions in advance of a trial, which the judge, Walter Tolub of the New York Supreme Court, said he would try to schedule as early as possible this summer, taking into account the tens of millions of dollars Viacom has lost in canceling the advertising and promotion surrounding its planned name change.

Tolub issued an injunction last week that halted Viacom’s massive marketing campaign to switch TNN to Spike, billed as the first network for men. Viacom lost two appeals to overturn the injunction and has had to go back to its nondescript name of TNN, which stands for the National Network (and, before that, the Nashville Network).

Viacom offers experts

To bolster its argument against Lee, Viacom submitted a 10-page affidavit from Jacob Jacoby, professor at the Stern School of Business at New York U. and an expert on consumer behavior and attitudes.

Jacoby treated with contempt the argument of Lee’s expert, Samuel Popkin, that “a substantial portion” of people living in cities would be convinced that Spike Lee either was connected with Spike TV or had authorized the network.

“Dr. Popkin made the assumption that Spike Lee’s name necessarily translates into a public connection between him and the network,” Jacoby wrote. “However, given the many associations connected with the term ‘Spike,’ not all of which pertain to a name, that assumption is dubious and is not supported by empirical evidence.”

Viacom also submitted an affidavit from Spike Jones Jr., son of the comic bandleader who thrived in the 1940s and ’50s. “I do not believe that Spike Lee ‘owns’ or has any individual right to the use of the name ‘Spike’ or as an individual to prevent its use by others any more than I do,” writes Spike Jones Jr. “If anything, I believe my right would be superior to his.”