"In 2006 I was invited to take part in one of the great adventures of modern broadcasting – conquering the booming Russian television market
." Peter Pomerantsev remembers his time in the Russian television industry
"These shows [The Apprentice, Next Top Model, Big Brother] had been successfully remade across the globe: they were sure-fire formulas that would work anywhere. Russian channels followed the pack, bought the rights, and asked Potemkin to help make them. Russians loved Mercedes cars and Benetton jumpers: surely they’d love Western television shows too? We were wrong. Most of the shows flopped."
"The show looked great, the stories and dramas all worked, but there was a problem: no one in Russia believed in the rules. The usual way to get a job in Russia is not by impressing at an interview, but by what is known as blat
– 'connections'. Russian society isn’t much interested in the hard-working, brilliant young business mind. Everyone knows where that type ends up: in jail like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, or in exile like the mobile phone billionaire Yevgeny Chichvarkin. Today’s Russia rewards the man who operates from the shadows, the grey apparatchik, the master of the politique de couloir – the man like Putin. Promotion in such a system comes from knowing how to debase yourself, how to suck up and serve your master, how to be what the Russians call a holop
, a 'toady'. Bright and extrovert and aspirational? Not if you want success. The shows that did work were based on a quite different set of principles. By far the biggest success was Posledny Geroi
('The Last Hero'), a version of Survivor
, a show based on humiliation and hardship. This chimed in Russia – a country where being bullied by the authorities is the norm."
"Item one features the president visiting somewhere – a hospital, a school, a farm. Item two is a serious piece of national news: forest fires, economic problems. Item three is a piece of foreign news, chosen to show that Russia's problems are nothing compared with other countries': if the Russian piece has been about forest fires, the next item will be about forest fires in Australia or the US; if the Russian news has been about economic problems, the next item will focus on economic problems in the West. The final item is always a happy piece: a tiger cub born in a zoo, Russian victory at the Eurovision Song Contest."