Reality of TV in Russia

Many thanks to RFE/RL’s Transmission for picking up on the diary of TV producer Peter Pomerantsev, a witty but disquieting insight into the inner workings of the television industry in Russia, including glimpses into the perils of entrepreneurship both off and on screen, the formulas of state-produced programing and the labyrinthine ways of avoiding encounters with the tax police.  Here is just a taste, from the London Review of Books:

Whatever measures were taken the tax police would occasionally turn up anyway, tipped off by someone or just roaming around the estate. When the authorities came we knew the drill: pick up your things and leave quietly. If anyone asks say you’ve just come in for a meeting or a casting. The first time it happened I was convinced we were about to be handcuffed and sent down for fraud. But for my Russian colleagues the raids were a reason to celebrate: the rest of the day was invariably a holiday (deadlines be damned) as Ivan haggled with the tax police to keep down the size of the pay-off. ‘Only a dozen people work here,’ he would say with a wink as they looked around at the many dozens of desks, chairs and computers still warm from use. Then Ivan would bring out the fake accounts from the front office to support his case and they would sit down to negotiate, with tea and biscuits, as if this were the most normal of business deals. And in Russia it was. The word ‘bribe’ was never used. The officials would look at the fake books, which they knew perfectly well to be fake, and extract fines in line with legislation they knew Ivan did not need to comply with. So everything would be settled, and every role, pose, and line of dialogue would reproduce the ritual of legality. It was a ritual played out every day in every medium-sized business, every furniture company, restaurant, modelling agency and PR firm across the country.


Another news-programme favourite has the president sitting at the head of a long table while along the sides sit the governors of every region: the western, central, north-eastern and so on. The president points to each in turn and each in turn tells him what’s going on on his patch. ‘Rogue terrorists, pensions unpaid, fuel shortages …’ The governors look petrified. The president toys with them: ‘Well, if you can’t sort out the mess in your backyard, we can always find a different governor …’ For a long time I wasn’t sure what this scene reminded me of, then I realised: it’s taken straight from the moment in The Godfather when Marlon Brando gathers the heads of the New York clans to discuss business. Tarantino repeats the device when Lucy Liu meets the Yakuza heads in Kill Bill – it’s a trope in gangster movies. I doubt this is coincidence. Putin’s PR men dress him like a crime boss (the black polo top underneath the black suit) and his soundbites come straight out of gangster movies (‘we’ll shoot the enemy while he’s on the shitter …’). I can see the logic. Who do the people respect most? Gangsters. Which movies do they like most? Gangster movies. The difference between Putin and Medvedev is that whereas Putin played (and plays) the role convincingly, the new president looks like a prefect taking part in a school production of Bugsy Malone.

Read the whole article here.