You'd be forgiven if you thought you were watching MTV or Spike and it turned out you were watching VH1 or if your TV said Lifetime but you could have sworn it was History Channel.
Both Lifetime, which is owned by Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Hearst Corp., and Viacom's VH1 have been borrowing shows from their sibling channels in an effort to juice their sagging ratings before the end of the year.
At Lifetime, repeats of History Channel's reality hit "Pawn Stars" have been popping up. Given that Lifetime's new chief -- Nancy Dubuc -- kept her job as head of History Channel as well, this move is hardly a surprise. "Pawn Stars" would not seem to be an ideal fit with Lifetime, but Dubuc wants to broaden the network's audience a little, and the hope is that viewers who might not normally check out Lifetime will stumble onto "Pawn Stars" and stick around. However, the risk is that Lifetime's core female audience will be alienated. Given the channel's ratings slump, however, that may be of little concern to the new team there.
VH1, meanwhile, has raided Spike and MTV's closet for reruns of "Entourage" and "Jersey Shore," respectively. Like Lifetime, VH1 has been in a prolonged ratings slump, and the hope is that borrowing those shows for a couple of weeks will get it some new viewers. A VH1 spokesman said it was a way to "test out show formats and formulas with our viewers and help drive promotion for the series back to our sister channel."
On the one hand, it is hard to argue with Lifetime and VH1 using programing from their siblings in an effort to jump-start themselves.
But the moves also continue the disturbing trend of cable channels being indistinguishable from one another. Shuttling shows from one network to another is different from when a cable network such as Spike shells out millions of dollars for reruns of a show such as HBO's "Entourage" or TBS does the same for "Big Bang Theory."
What Lifetime and VH1 are doing may have the cable operators who pay to carry them wondering why they are shelling out so much to be served leftovers.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: "Entourage." Credit: Claudette Barius/ HBO