January 7th, 2009 10:47 EST
Viper's 15th Anniversary
"The perfect weapon for an imperfect future"
Last Friday marked the 15th anniversary of the television series "Viper", which debuted on NBC as a two-hour movie on January 2, 1994. The concept involved a sophisticated sports car known as the Viper turns into the elite, advanced Defender: "the ultimate pursuit for justice".
The original premise takes in the "near future", where Metro City is corrupt at the hands of the crime syndicate The Outfit. Once their best getaway driver, Michael Payton (James McCaffrey) was "reformed" by the authorities as Joe Astor, the only man that can handle the Viper`s reflexes. When the project was terminated, Astor decided to liberate the Viper. Aided by designer Julian Wilkes (Dorian Harewood) and motor pool officer Franklin "Frankie" X. Waters (Joe Nipote), the trio began "a lone fight for justice". The series aired every Friday night at 8pm, but was cancelled in the spring after 12 episodes.
However, the series returned to syndication in the fall of 1996 with a new cast and concept. This time, the premise was a team of special investigators as a part of a federal task force called the Viper Project. Ex-CIA agent Thomas Cole (Jeff Kaake) was the new driver of the new Viper Defender, which is now both an offensive and defensive vehicle. Cameron Westlake (Heather Medway) was the liaison police detective for the project.
Frankie returned to provide mechanics and back-up for the team, while Dr. Allie Farrow (Dawn Stern) now oversees the new designs and systems of the Defender. Stern left at the end of the new Viper series in season two, and was replaced by Sherman Catlett (J. Downing), who is now the federal liaison of the project -- much to the team`s dismay. Frankie was now overseeing the Viper`s systems and designs.
Sadly, the original Viper, the RT/10, was blown-up at the end of season three. When the series returned for its fourth and final season, McCaffrey reprised his role as Astor, who replaced Cole as driver for the new Viper, now a blue GTS Coupe. Also returning was Harewood on a recurring capacity as Wilkes. Unfortunately, "Viper" was cancelled for good in 1999 after 78 episodes yet the series came full circle with Astor coming to terms with who he was and who he is, as he and Westlake pursued a romantic relationship, and finally ended deciding to become Joe Astor: the man he was always meant to be.
"Viper" aired in second-run syndication for awhile in the early 2000s on both cable networks USA and SCIFI -- yet it can still be seen internationally around the world. It continued to develop a cult following due to fan sites such as Project Viper (www.projectviper.com), which includes audio and video files of the series, and much more.
Though the syndication series had good episodes, the network series is still better after 15 years. When it debuted on NBC in the winter of 1994, "Viper" was definitely a futuristic "Knight Rider" for the 90s yet with a comic-book feel to it that had wonderful story arcs, and some of the most incredible special effects (the hex transformation of the Defender, for instance) ever shown on television. As TNT Network says about "Law & Order", the original is the best.