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‘Nasha Russia’ must go on

By Vladimir Kozlov

The television channel TNT vehemently denies that the popular show "Nasha Russia" could soon be shut down.

It wasn't rumors. The source of the information had been one of the show's main stars, Sergei Svetlakov. In an interview with the tabloid Tvoi Den, Svetlakov said that he and co-star Mikhail Galustyan would not continue doing the show, citing "a crisis of ideas" as the main reason. According to Svetlakov, the current, fourth season of the show would be the last.

The tabloid interview stirred quite a lot of controversy, and TNT was quick to refute what the actor said. And that's understandable: "Nasha Russia" is one of the most popular comedy shows on domestic television, and closing it down wouldn't make sense.

Anyone watching major Russian TV channels could not fail to notice how many comedy shows there are, which some observers portray as a deliberate policy to divert attention from political issues. That may or may not be true, but it's pretty much clear that during a global financial downturn, a little diversion can't hurt.

There might be several explanations for why the show's leading actors are complaining of a creative crisis and self-repetition. Of course, they may be sincere, and really sick of doing the same show for several years. Thanks to "Nasha Russia," Svetlakov and Ga­lustyan have become major stars on Russian television and would easily find new jobs if they chose to quit. The channel, on the other hand, would certainly find a replacement that would work along the lines of what was previously done in the show, even if not as good. Perhaps the actors just wanted more favorable conditions and used the interview to test the ground, or maybe it was a planned publicity stunt aimed at bringing more media attention to the show.

Interestingly, the vast majority of actors in Russia's current comedy shows come from KVN, a comedy show from Soviet times that was relaunched in the mid-1980s. KVN, which is an abbreviation for "Klub Vesyolykh I Nakhodchivykh" ("The Club of the Funny and Re­sourceful"), originated as a contest between university teams whose members competed by playing out improvised sketches. Since the 1990s, KVN has been a popular launching pad for television careers. But while KVN (which is still on the air and prospering) is an original show, most of those that have come on air more recently are either officially licensed content or just copycats of foreign shows.

The same applies to "Nasha Russia," the concept and even the logo of which are conspicuously similar to those of the U.K.'s "Little Britain." The title plays on the rhyme of the Russian word "nasha" ("our") and the English "Russia." A couple of years ago, when "Nasha Russia" was in its second season and enjoying steadily rising popularity, a radio show host confronted TNT's top producer and directly asked whether the channel purchased the rights to the format of "Little Britain." He replied no, and went on to explain that British humor was untranslatable into Russian and that "Nasha Russia" was just a "paraphrase" of "Little Britain."

Certainly, British humor, translated literally, would not be understood by TNT audiences, but the logo and general concept are still suspiciously similar, so the issue of plagiarism is not exactly irrelevant here. But regardless of whether the show is original or copycat, its humor, which isn't exactly politically correct, turns out to be liked by people across the former Soviet Union, and not only in Russia, to which the Belarusian, Ukrainian and Kazakh versions are a testimony. And someone's talking about shutting down the show?

No way.

Moscow News №04 2009 (6th of February, 2009)