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Because Viper comes from the same team that gave us the cleverly self-aware show The Flash several seasons ago, it was easy to approach this new series from executive producers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo with an open mind. Sure, it sounded like just another action-adventure series about a souped-up, crime-fighting car, but maybe this one would be smarter than, say, Knight Rider. Well, as it turns out, Viper makes one yearn for the earnestness of David Hasselhoff. The invariably charming Dorian Harewood (I’ll Fly Away, The Trials of Rosie O’Neill) stars as an auto wizard who designs a glitzy roadster for the ”pursuit and capture” of criminals too wily for ordinary patrol-car police. Harewood-who has little to do except make repairs and say things like ”Let’s see how he does in traffic”-needs an exceptional driver for his Viper. He finds him in James McCaffrey, playing a lank-haired pretty-boy with as much personality as a steering column. The writers saved all their colorful- character stuff for Viper’s third costar, a self-described ”car nut” played by Joe Nipote (The Waterdance), whose manic-chatterbox role reduces him to a poor man’s Joe Pesci. Worst of all, the car isn’t even that cool. It clicks and whirrs and changes color and metamorphoses into an armor-plated terror in the manner of the Batmobile-but if you’ve seen the Batman movies, these special effects will seem lame. After this two-hour premiere, Viper will air starting Jan. 7 on Fridays from 8 to 9 p.m.; I give ABC’s Family Matters and CBS’ Diagnosis Murder two weeks to render Viper a ratings wreck. D