Relocation brings its own risks

Webheads used to call in the firing squad after two or three episodes of a ratings dud.

Now certain reality shows are getting a reprieve on cable.

CBS moved one of the three editions of “Rock Star: Inxs” to Viacom sib VH1; Fox’s “The Princes of Malibu” relocated to Fox Reality; and NBC’s “The Law Firm” is expected to finish its arguments on Bravo in late August.

Moves comes as a godsend to producers, who’d rather see their product live somewhere. And cablers can’t disregard a pre-marketed broadcast commodity that, even on its last legs, has already drawnseveral times more viewers than a cable show.

But such deals pose problems for viewers, affiliates, and in some cases, the cable networks on the receiving end of leftovers.

When “The Law Firm” got yanked after just two episodes had aired, producer David E. Kelley could take solace in an expected berth on NBC U cabler Bravo. As of late last week, the cabler hadn’t closed the “Law Firm” deal — which calls for all eight episodes to be aired in primetime.

When shows do relocate, viewers can easily get lost in translation. Fox’s boxing show “The Next Great Champ,” which premiered to more than 5 million viewers, bowed on Fox Sports Net to a flyweight aud of 271,000.

Only one recent program has broken through after switching shops.

VH1 greenlit a third season of “The Surreal Life” after it slumbered through two cycles on the WB. For the Frog, the show finished to a crowd of 5.2 million. Show relaunched months later to 1.7 million viewers and VH1′s highest-rated original skein.

A cable network show needs only a fraction of the rating of a broadcast network to be deemed a hit, says an exec who has negotiated for such broadcast castoffs. “It just hasn’t happened yet for a show that swapped networks in the middle of a run.”

A handful of repurposed “Law Firm” episodes — which aren’t part of the new deal — average 123,000 viewers on Bravo, while VH1′s first-run airings of “Rock Star” are averaging slightly better, with 520,000.

Affiliates aren’t exactly wild about seeing their product splashed on other platforms.

And inhouse deals can blur a sister net’s identity. CNBC and MSNBC ratings were bolstered by repeat Peacock programming, but it did little to define an image for either channel.

On the one hand, the “Law Firm” deal is a boon for Bravo, which could not ordinarily afford Kelley-produced fare. Yet a reality competition skein about attorneys might not scream Bravo.

Bravo had no comment about “Law Firm,” but prexy Lauren Zalaznick issued a statement saying Bravo and NBC assess every opportunity individually.

“If we believe that a network show is a proper fit for us and organic to Bravo’s programming mandate, only then will the program be repurposed on Bravo,” she says.

Not that everything has to be kept in the family, either. NBC U TV Studios-produced Peacock show “Tommy Lee Goes to College” began repeating on VH1 last Friday, while its “Last Comic Standing” finished its sophomore season on Comedy Central.

“The smart distributors aren’t strong-armed to go to sister-cable outlets to place shows,” VH1 senior VP of program strategy Ben Zurier says. “They think strategically about the right cable home, because the most important thing for them should be to use cable’s reach to make the program more successful on broadcast.”

Fox Reality general manager-chief operating officer David Lyle says it has to compete with rivals. “Because at the end of the day,” he says, “the distributors want to make the best deal possible.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more