Watching Russia Closely (Or “Putin The Telly On”)

Trump. Russia. Collusion. We keep hearing these terms so much on TV that they’ve started to lose all meaning. But what about the telly in Russia? Are they as obsessed with the same things as us? Or do they just show 23 hours of Putin‘s face and an hour of state-approved screengrabs from “Police Academy: Mission To Moscow”? Um…

Time to take a look at an average day on Russia’s biggest TV channel. I wondered what strange and enchanting new thing from another world would be the first thing I see when I turned on the channel. What new delights would be offered. What exotic…

…um, oh. Right. Moving on…

The most successful channel for audience share right now is Channel One Russia, an entertainment station in the vein of ITV1 which is co-owned by a mixture of Government divisions, private conglomerates and, as if to be a baffling self-parody of Russian Things, Roman Abramovich.

Daytime TV starts with “Good Morning!”, which follows the pattern of our own morning tv programmes with a mix of rolling news, “real people” and celebrity bollocks presented by whatever these two below are meant to be. I’m sure there was some powerful and hard hitting news in there but the most I got seemed to be “Bloody bugger! There’s bleedin’ loads of snow! Look!” from who appeared to be the Russian Dana and a Boo Radley.

9:55am finds the desperate sounding “Life Is Great!” although “Live Healthy” is probably a more accurate translation as a group of cheery looking medical individuals drag people out of the audience into the insanely bright set to be lectured on all matters health with the help of comedy oversized props. There was also a lengthy cooking slot where they seemed to be making grey food.

Next up is “Fashion Sentence”, a makeover programme that reminded me of a very short lived BBC1 series called “Style Trial” in the early 90s. And nobody needs reminding of that. Looking at the show’s page on the channel website, the makeovers seem to be one step short of threats with previous episodes featuring the descriptions “Colleague accuses a colleague that she breaks the cardinal rule of female stunt – look feminine.”“My husband has threatened to drive his wife out of the house if she did not get rid of Balakhonov (big baggy clothes traditionally worn by pregnant women) in the wardrobe”“The man blames his civil wife in that it does not correspond to his ideal and a brighter future” and perhaps most alarmingly, “The point about why special girl dreams of becoming normal”. Normal? We’ve marched for less…

The panellists make their choice for what that episode’s poor unfortunate should wear whilst attempting to please their master – Bobby Moynihan pretending to be Cyril Fletcher as the Devil.

After some news, “Alone With All” which is less the bleak call to self-harm it seems, rather a one on one talk show with notable Russian celebrities. The talk continues with the surprisingly hard news-led “Time Will Tell”, a programme which is sadly not one of David Bowie‘s few good singles of the late 80s but a forum “to discuss what matters to all of us, citizens of Russia in the discussion attended by experts – politicians, political scientists, journalists, businessmen and simply indifferent Russians”. Which is a nice way of saying ignorant bastards I suppose.

At 4pm its a triple bill of “Mind The Baby Mr Bean” and…oh no, wait…apparently its “Male / Female”, another chat show although with a slightly more Jeremy Kyle edge this time. Followed at 5pm by “Lets Get Married” which is less “Blind Date” and more “Desperate Meat Market” as a contestant is given three potential partners which they must whittle down with the help of family and friends. Today “restaurateur with rich experience 38-year-old Artem is looking for a woman with a good education, bright eyes and a beautiful posture.” I bet they give him an illiterate bozz-eyed one with a hump!!!!!

6pm is “First Studio” time and guess what – its more political debate! Imagine if Question Time took away the chairs, added some IKEA furniture, more shouting and stuck it on the set of every Channel 4 programme from 1982-1992 ever. And yes that is the Zapruder film playing happily in the background at teatime…

A change of mood at 8pm with…oh come on, another bloody talk show – “Let Them Talk” – which looks bloody identical to “Male / Female” earlier only with a host that appears to be played by Patrick Barlow in the 80s. Wikipedia tells us “The program is inspired by the American Jerry Springer show, although it was originally conceived to be a clone of the Oprah Winfrey show” so shouting and consistent recriminations then? Smashin’.

After some more lovely news, its finally time for some scripted television and Russia likes to strip their programmes Monday-Thursday so all this week at 9:35pm is “Greek”. Not the American teen drama series but more “Howards Way done in some unfinished offices”. According to the guide, it is a “melodrama about an unequal marriage, willpower and overcome. History of a simple girl from the provinces, to prove their right to be part of a wealthy family of the capital, will not leave anyone indifferent. The more melodramatic series in doing stunt they had to portray the paralyzed man and Why participate in the filming of the stud dog came up with a woman’s name”. Look, Google translate doesn’t always make sense, alright?

At the same time as this, Channel One‘s chief rivals seemed to be showing something that looked almost identical with the same stark lighting and blueish tint, only one was set in a hospital and the other in some more unfurnished offices. Only this one has a flag.

After some more smashing news, the TV schedule gave me the following information…

“23:30 – “City Slickers.” Premiere. “The Bureau”. 6th Series”

They made City Slickers into a series? And they opened up a bureau!?? Well, no. I’ve no idea where the hell the title of Billy Crystal‘s fourth most alright movie fits in but this is a dub of French political thriller The Bureau. Which has so far had two series so we’ll assume this is instead the sixth episode. Other imported TV programmes shown by Channel One include Lost (Translated title: “To Stay Alive”), Boardwalk Empire (“The Underground Empire”) and Ray Donovan (“Ray Donovan”)

And that’s a day of TV from Russia’s most popular station. Little changes at the weekend with Friday replacing “Let Them Talk” with the trouser-moisteningly exciting sounding “Man and Law with Alexei Pimanovym” and “Field Of Dreams”, their version of Wheel of Fortune but with more singing. Oh and every episode is themed, such as…um…

Saturday has fun for all the family with favourites such as “Play, Accordion favorite!” and child intelligence game “Good and Clever” mixing with much the same as we get over here, including cookery with “Gusto” (This week: “the singer and the composer Dmitry Malikov with daughter Stephanie will share their favorite family recipes, including “Devil’s paste” and “Not steamed chicken”), house renovations in “A Perfect Repair” and “10 Years Younger” which is um..“10 Years Younger” off of Channel 4. The imported formats continue with identical looking versions of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and “The Voice”.

So maybe we aren’t so different when you get down to it. We still eat, we still sleep and we still have a load of old shite on the telly.  Yes, I think things are going to be alright after all….

We’re doomed.

This post was originally written in January 2017. Except this super topical intro, natch. For more on Russian TV – albeit without so many Presidential nipples – pick up my book of articles on TV past and present “Kill Your Television” available in print here and digital for eReaders here.

By Ben Baker

A little bomb with feelings. I write books and make podcasts.

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