The S1 and S2 bumper card.
Viper was an action-adventure TV series about a secretive task force set up by the federal government to fight crime in the fictional city of Metro City, California, that is perpetually under siege from one crime wave after another. The weapon used by this task force is an urban assault vehicle that is disguised as a 1993 Flame Red Dodge Viper RT/10 Roadster and, later, a 1998 Cobalt Blue Metallic Dodge Viper GTS Coupe (which replaced the Roadster convertible). The series takes place in "the near future". The primary brand of vehicles driven in the show were Chrysler or their subsidiary companies.
The armored assault vehicle known as the Viper Defender was designed by Unique Movie Cars engineers (unlike most Hollywood film/TV cars that are usually customized by film picture designers like George Barris). The exterior design of the car was executively designed by Mike Sciortino, though to few people's actual knowledge. Most fans believe that the Chrysler company built the Defender concept.
The show was canceled after 13 episodes of its original run on NBC but revamped and revived two years later on different networks for three more seasons in syndication.
The first season of Viper originally aired on NBC in its Prime-Time slot at 8pm on Fridays in 1994. Starring James McCaffrey, Dorian Harewood and Joe Nipote. Metro City Police Dept., MetroPol, creates the Viper Project, a special top secret task force created by the federal government to fight the wave of violence sweeping the city. This task force used a modified 1994 Dodge Viper RT/10 Roadster that could, at the flip of a secret switch, transform from a luxurious sports car into an armored machine known as the "Defender." Commonly dubbed "The Classic NBC Season," this series began with a 2-hour movie pilot which should count or double as two separate episodes, therefore leading to the usual first half-season number of 13 total episodes. However, most fans count the Pilot as a movie separate from the series, and the actual season having 11 episodes. The season was canceled after the episode "Wheels of Fire," but continued on for 2 more episodes to end with "Crown of Thorns." A proposed following episode was in the works, and half of the footage was shot, but due to descending ratings, the network pulled the plug on the show early. The special effect "hex snake skin" transformation for the pilot and the first season were done by Metrolight Studios. Sources indicate that it cost $50,000 for each transformation scene in the NBC season.
The show is revamped by Paramount Studios for a second continuation series, and brought into first-run syndication, meaning it can be broadcast over selective networks and not tied down to one. Paramount had just launched the UPN channel, and sat the series there for local cable television, while others got undesired time slots, sometimes very late or very early in the mornings. Because of the major funding backings by Chrysler Corporation, the series was able to survive cancellation by NBC and be retooled into a cop drama for local networks, which came out two years later in 1996. The show got a new cast, new episodic format (22 episodes), and new upgrades to the star of the series, the Viper Defender, including mounted machine guns located inside the pulse cannons (a feature that the car's designer, Julian Wilkes, was against installing - due to a shootout between police and criminals that caused his paralysis). Season 2 aired during 1996-1997.
MetroPol has taken over the Viper Project and a new team has been assembled under the Special Projects Division. Frankie Waters is the only one to return and has been retrieved from Metro MotorPool Dept. He is now, officially, the team's mechanic. Astor has left for Thailand due to the fact that MetroPol has taken the Viper back, and Julian takes a job with the government. Shortly after, another massive crime wave sweeps Metro City. After a redesign by MetroPol and systems specialist Allie Farrow, CIA agent Thomas Cole drives the prototype back to the new Viper Complex until things smooth over with the city, in which time the city plants a detective on the team. Starring Jeff Kaake, Heather Medway, Dawn Stern and Joe Nipote, with special guest appearances by J. Downing.
1996 Viper RT/10Edit
At the start of Season 2, the show unveiled a new Viper for its standby mode: a second generation Flame Red 1996 Dodge Viper RT/10, complete with optional rooftop scoop, windows, and slightly extended grille pattern, different from Season 1's first-gen convertible-only Roadster. This is confirmed by the rooftop scoop seen in Seasons 2 and 3 but not in Season 1, as well as the grille. In the Season 2 premiere episode "Winner Take All," the 1996 vehicle is even directly described by Cameron Westlake's captain as "the latest prototype" based on the then-rumored 1994 car. When Season 4 premiered, this was suddenly changed so that the 1994 Viper and the 1996 Viper are assumed to be the same vehicle. Joe Astor references the change in Season 4's premiere episode, "The Return," by asking "Who blew up my old Viper?"
"Flip-Panel" Transformation MorphEdit
In 1994 during the NBC run of "Viper" Season 1, the computer-generated graphic effects for the "hex snake-skin" transformation morphs were created by MetroLight Studios, a company that supposedly charged $50,000 USD a shot. Due to this, the creators Danny Bilson & Paul DeMeo sometimes utilized shots where the morph happened off-screen, such as in a dark alley or a shadow of the morph on a wall, and the car only morphed back into the RT/10 once during the season.
When it came time to revive the series for syndication beginning with Season 2, a new transformation was unveiled with the S2 pilot, "Winner Take All." This morphing sequence featured panels and covers that flipped and rotated 180 degrees all around the car, revealing the armored plates of the Defender and thereby transforming the vehicle. Some of the covers would slide over the top of the existing RT/10 frame, though most would "flip" and the RT/10 frame would reside underneath the armor panels to the Defender, and the process would reverse when morphing back into the Viper's "Standby Mode," which have led many Viper fans to dub this version the "flip-panel" morph.
It is never explained in the series or even acknowledged that this is a completely different type of morph sequence. One theory is when MetroPol took the project and the car back from Wilkes and Astor, Allie Farrow was assigned as Systems Specialist, and redesigned it for two years, even continuing the redesigns into the S2 pilot episode "Winner Take All," and the morph was one of the redesigns. Another was the addition of the new onboard weapons systems.
Viper continues on with a third season in 1997-1998. After serving as the team's systems specialist for several months, Allie Farrow has taken a permanent military job (explained at the end of the previous season), which leaves Frankie to take a promotion as the Viper Team's system specialist / technical mechanic. A continuation of Season Two with the mainstay addition of liaison Special Agent Catlett in place of Allie's departure, the show succeeded to thrive in first-run syndication. The most shocking event comes in the form of Season Three's surprise cliffhanger ending... Starring Jeff Kaake, Heather Medway, Joe Nipote, and J. Downing.
The fourth and final season of Viper airs during 1998-1999, and finds the return of the Defender's original driver, Joe Astor, a new Viper, and a new team. In the aftermath of the Viper's destruction, Thomas Cole is permanently transferred to undercover work in his employment with the CIA. Julian Wilkes, original designer of The Viper Project, has agreed to come back on behalf of the FBI and design one last project for MetroPol: a new, advanced Viper Defender. This time the sports car is a modified Cobalt Blue Metallic 1998 Dodge Viper GTS Coupe. With the return of Wilkes' and Waters' old friend Joe Astor, Catlett attempts to convince him to be the new driver for the team. Westlake likes him, too. However, Astor would be haunted by his old Payton identity once more. Starring James McCaffrey, Heather Medway, Joe Nipote, and J. Downing.
In Season 4, there were attempts to reconnect the dots from Season 1 due to James McCaffrey returning to the show. His character's return meant that his former life in the form of his alter ego would have to be addressed again. This meant flashbacks to Season 1, since his character experienced a memory-wipe during the first episode of that season - the pilot to the entire series. During the first-run syndication of the revamped series beginning with Season 2 in 1996, the show barely referenced the first season aired on NBC in 1994. In fact, the only connection may have been mainstay cast member Joe Nipote, who played Franklin X. Waters ("Frankie") in every season. The biggest retcons referenced the switch between the first generation 1994 Dodge Viper RT/10 Roadster and later second generation 1996 Dodge Viper RT/10 between Seasons 1 and 2-3, and flashbacks to the pilot episodes from 1994 in the series finale 2-parter, "Split Decision," in 1999.