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Russians fall in love with reality TV
November 27, 2001
By Artyom Danielyan

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Reality TV has burst upon an unsuspecting Russian public, with the daily diet of sex talk, live romps, games and quarrels denounced as depraved by the Orthodox Church even as viewers send TV6's ratings heavenwards.

"Za Steklom" (Behind the Glass) is proving so popular that state-run rival ORT, Russia's most-watched channel, has struck back with a Russian version of "Survivor," the hit U.S. reality show that helped define the genre.

But the TV6 show, launched in October, has more in common with Britain's "Big Brother" and the French "Loft Story," which kept viewers glued to their screens and outraged guardians of the nations' morals on both sides of the English Channel.

It stars six 20-somethings -- three men, three women -- cut off from the outside world for five weeks under the constant gaze of 30 cameras, half of them infrared for night time vision.

The ultra modern apartment is furnished by the show's sponsor, Swedish retailer Ikea, which has proved a big hit since opening its first Moscow superstore in March 2000.

Costing about $1 million, "Za Steklom" is the most expensive show in Russian television history, though the show's creators insist it is much more than "Big Brother on the Moskva."

"There are two main distinctions and TV6 is taking out a patent for that," Ivan Usachyov, one of the show's producers told Reuters.

"First is that access to the venue is open," he said. "Secondly, the show's director may influence the events."

The apartment was built inside Moscow's Rossiya Hotel, arguably the ugliest but certainly the biggest in Europe, which is within spitting distance of President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin. It is not known if he is a fan of the show.


Za Steklom has proven so popular that an estimated 3,000 people queue daily to gawk at Olga, Margarita, Zhanna, Denis, Anatoly and Maxim, respectively fitness instructor, model, student, advertising manager, circus performer and musician.

Telly addicts get their fix three times daily at 2 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11:40 p.m., in 40-minutes doses which to date have included boy-girl shower scenes, sensual massages and no-holds-barred discussions about sex.

Maxim and Margarita gave M&M a whole new meaning when they became lovers on the show -- not screened on television although the show goes out 24 hours a day on a related Web site, http://zasteklom.tv6.ru.

But while the Internet is still a high-tech luxury for most of this vast country, on-line tabloid www.gazeta.ru says the show is proving a big hit with staff at some of the bluest of Russia's blue chip companies.

The racy programming has not just got audiences into a lather. The Orthodox Church, stewards of the dominant religion in Russia, and the country's education ministry have urged TV executives to halt the "depraved" show.

"It is highly probable that participation in this program will have a long-term negative impact on the personal development, family and intimate relations of the young people who are 'behind the glass'," the ministry thundered in an open letter to all national networks.

"The program is rather loose, given that it is watched by children and teen-agers," Father Vsevolod Chaplin, spokesman for Moscow Orthodox Patriarchy, told Reuters.

"It has elements that depreciate a person's privacy, erode the holiness of marriage and the ideal of relations between men and women."


But the influence of the Orthodox Church is uncertain. In 1997 it failed to stop the broadcasting of Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ," a controversial fictionalized depiction of the last days of Jesus.

And Usachyov is unfazed by the show's dissenters. "The participants knew what they were getting into, which is why for our part there can't be any (moral) violations."

TV6, whose controversial owner Boris Berezovsky has fallen foul of the Kremlin, has shot to the top of the television ratings despite the noisy opposition to Za Steklom.

"They (the show participants) are courageous people," said teen-ager Ulyana, turning her back to the chilly wind off the Moskva River as she queued to get inside the Rossiya Hotel to watch the contestants. "I wouldn't dare do that."

It can take up to half an hour waiting in sub-zero temperatures to secure a meager five-minute spell on the other side of the glass.

"I have nothing but nice impressions. They are people like us, but I would not want to take part in it because of the cameras," said Olga, another of the show's fans.

The two winners, to be chosen by the viewers, will be given an apartment in a prestigious Moscow district. The show is to end on December 1.

Usachyov said 1,500 hopefuls, many from outside Moscow, had turned up for casting. "The show was not very popular at first. But eventually people started watching it like a soap opera, including while at work," he said.

"We have created a new genre for Russia, it's a super project from the point of view of popularity."

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