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TNN Is Free to Be Spike TV

Will TNN's trials and tribulations never end? After resolving a legal dispute with director Spike Lee last week, the male-targeted network, soon to be rechristened Spike TV, now faces another lawsuit — and from an ex-stripper, no less.

About the same time that TNN parent Viacom Inc. and Lee were putting the finishing touches on a settlement of the director's suit against the network, a resourceful unemployed exotic dancer was drafting and filing her own complaint.

Down in Daytona Beach, Fla., 37-year-old Janet Lee Clover, acting pro se, filed a lawsuit in circuit court against Viacom Inc., TNN, actress Pamela Anderson and Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee to get the new animated show Stripperella, Starring Pamela Anderson
taken off the air.

Clover claims she is the show's "true creator" and that she had discussed the idea with Lee when she danced for him at a club where she worked, Tanga's Jazz. A TNN spokesman declined to comment on Clover's suit.

Problem child

The new lawsuit is the latest crazy twist involving the evolution of the former TNN: The Nashville Network under Viacom and its MTV Networks unit. MTVN's efforts to recast TNN have been plagued by problems ever since the programmer inherited the network as part of the Viacom-CBS Corp. merger.

MTVN, which has a nearly flawless record in branding channels, tried and failed to recast country-music flavored TNN as a pop entertainment channel, The National Network. MTVN then decided to morph TNN into "the first network for men," and to rename it Spike TV.

But those plans hit a brick wall when director Lee sought and won a temporary injunction June 12 that barred the network from calling itself Spike TV. Lee claimed TNN was trying to trade on his name and reputation.

Last week, TNN triumphed when it worked out a settlement with Lee that vacated and recalled the injunction.

At the Television Critics Association tour in Hollywood, TNN president Albie Hecht declined to discuss any details of the settlement with Lee.

Hecht also was mum on exactly when TNN would actually change its name to Spike TV on-air, but sources said it will happen within the next few weeks.

Costly block

Industry observers and MTVN insiders were shocked when New York State Supreme Court Judge Walter Tolub granted Lee the injunction, which threw a monkey wrench into TNN's marketing strategy and its plans to relaunch as a men's network with the Spike TV moniker, effective June 16.

In legal papers, TNN claimed that if it was not able to relaunch TNN as Spike TV "at any time," it would lose $42.7 million in advertising and promotional value alone. For example, $30 million of a $50 million Spike TV ad campaign had already been committed and could not be refunded.

In recent weeks, Tolub's rulings had become less favorable to Lee. Two weeks ago, Tolub told Lee he needed to post an additional $2 million — on top of an initial $500,000 bond — to potentially compensate Viacom for damages it was incurring because of the suit.

In addition, Tolub said the case would be determined in August by a judge, not a jury trial, and that development was also a setback for Lee.

The diminutive but outspoken director, in a prepared statement issued jointly last Tuesday with Viacom, claimed he didn't want to impinge on the programmer's First Amendment rights by pursuing his suit.

It's Showtime

In the statement, Lee said: "I no longer believe that Viacom deliberately intended to trade on my name when naming Spike TV. As an artist and a filmmaker, I feel that protection of freedom of expression is a critical value."

Lee added that he is looking forward to working with Viacom on new projects. He is currently shooting a movie, Sucker-Free City, for the premium channel Showtime, TNN's sister service.

At the TCA, TNN/Spike TV unveiled plans to launch a reality program, The Joe Schmo Show, on Sept. 7. The set up: An unwitting reality-show contestant will be put in the middle of a scripted series, according to Hecht. The show will surround the unsuspecting contestant with several actors who pretend to be participating in a "real" reality show.

"The show really deconstructs reality programming," Hecht said. "It can be seen as a parody, but it also asks the question, 'What is real in reality programming?' "

R. Thomas Umstead contributed to this story.