National Geographic has ordered an eight-part series based on New York-based Russians from a top British production company. It will be filmed in the most densely populated Russian-American enclave in the U.S., Brighton Beach, and will be produced by Firecracker Films. Crews were in the neighborhood as recently as last week, interviewing Russian-American leaders about the community, and exploring the cultural quirks of Little Odessa.
Firecracker Films is a well established production company that has already received praise for their work on the BAFTA-nominated series Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, which aired on TLC. This past October they won the “Breakout TV Producer Of The Year Award” at the 2nd Annual Beverly Hills Film, Television and New Media Award. They also have worked with BBC, and Discovery.
Now that we’ve got our first real glimpse of Russian Dolls, the new Brighton Beach-based reality show to air on Lifetime, it was just a matter of time until the reviews came in from Russian leaders. After we published the video on Friday, Ari Kagan – whose credentials in the Russian-speaking community include a journalism career, a one-time candidacy for the State Assembly, being the current liaison to the Russian-speaking community for Comptroller Liu, and a rumored contender for Michael Nelson’s City Council seat – sent us the following note condemning the show:
There is no question in my mind that the Russian Dolls series will depict the Russian-speaking community in a distorted way, as a caricature, as a joke. Lifetime does not care about the thousands of great, beautiful, funny, smart and hard-working young Russian speaking women who attend colleges and universities, make money as paralegals, librarians, nurses, journalists and computer specialists. They are great daughters, sisters, wives and mothers. They don’t spend most of their time in nightclubs, bars or lounges. They don’t speak this dirty language and they hate vodka.
Of course, we do have our own bad apples, low lives and criminals, but they constitute a minority in the Russian speaking community. Lifetime wants to create a lot of fun and entertainment by throwing the reputation of Russian-speaking New Yorkers under the bus.
It looks like Kagan is throwing his lot in with John Lisyanskiy, who condemned the show’s title as synonymous with prostitution, and who authored a letter to Lifetime expressing concerns that the channel will be “reducing would-be contestants to vodka-drinking ethnic caricatures who ‘love attention’ and do little more than ‘eat, drink and party.’” Lisyanskiy is the founder of the Russian-Speaking American Leadership Caucus, and the letter was co-signed by 42 elected politicians and Russian-speaking activists.
We have a feeling, as the show gets closer to its August 11 premiere, Kagan won’t be the last voice we hear from.
Sheepshead Bites has snagged the first publicly-available look at Russian Dolls, the new Brighton Beach-based reality show that will air on Lifetime on August 11 at 10:30 p.m.
Lifetime says the show, which had the working title Brighton Beach, provides a “rare and entertaining look at Brighton Beach’s colorful multi-generational families whose dramas and dreams contend with their Russian heritage while living in this famous, alluring, vibrant and highly protective community.”
We’ve been asked not to give too many details about the show away – and, yes, we’ve seen full character bios and episode synopses – but we will tell you that it focuses on eight local Russian-Americans.
Michael and Marina Levitis, two of Russian Dolls' stars (Source: James Edstrom)
Lifetime’s newest show, the Brighton Beach-themed reality series Russian Dolls, is taking another round of flack as Russian leaders zero in on the new title, saying it’s synonymous with one of their community’s bugaboos: escort services.
But the name may be beyond the pale. “Russian Dolls” is a term frequently used to advertise Russian escort services and prostitution fronts, a detail not overlooked by the community’s leaders.
“It’s the most ugly name I’ve ever heard,” said Raisa Chernina, director of the Be Proud Foundation, a non-profit with roots in the Russian-American community. “The name speaks for itself. Russian Dolls is a very polite way of saying escorts.”
“They told me it was Russian Dolls and I said ‘My God.’ It’s like those Danielle Steel books,” Chernina added.
Michael and Marina Levitis at Rasputin's Women's Day Soirée (Source: James Edstrom)
Lifetime’s Brighton Beach reality show will star a confessed criminal and local nightclub owner facing disbarment and six months in jail after a political scandal, but the Russian community isn’t worried about negative stereotyping because they “trust” the A&E-owned network.
Michael Levitis, lawyer and owner of Rasputin Nightclub (2670 Coney Island Avenue) confirmed to Sheepshead Bites that the show is focused, in part, on his family, a casting decision that comes as Levitis is caught up in an alleged corruption scheme with State Senator Carl Kruger.
Though local Russian-American leaders previously squabbled over potentially harmful depictions of their community in the Brighton Beach show, it seems all is quiet in Little Odessa despite the casting revelation.
Looks like Little Odessa is far from united in their perception of the Brighton Beach reality series, and television producers looking for real Russkie drama need only follow around the community’s leadership.
Following the letter earlier this week written by Russian-Speaking American Leadership Caucus’ John Lisyanskiy and signed by dozens of politicians, media personalities, advocates and business owners bashing on the upcoming Brighton Beach reality show, another Brighton Beach heavyweight is criticizing the critics for not doing their homework.
Just weeks into shooting for the Brighton Beach reality show, the Russian-American community is blasting entertainment media for cartoonish depictions of Russian-Americans, and warning producers of the new series to avoid callous stereotyping.
A group of 42 elected politicians and Russian-speaking activists sent a strongly-worded letter to Lifetime Networks executives, taking issue with the proposed show’s model – the “highly contentious and ethnically derogatory Jersey Shore.”
“It has come to our attention that the casting call for the show sought out ‘the Russian Snooki and The Situation’, reducing would-be contestants to vodka-drinking ethnic caricatures who ‘love attention’ and do little more than ‘eat, drink and party’,” wrote John Lisyanskiy, the founder of the Russian-Speaking American Leadership Caucus, and the main signee on the letter.
Brighton Beach is a dramatic docudrama chronicling the relationships of these dynamic and versatile women. Inside these women, are even tinier versatile women. And inside those... (Source: AtilaTheHun via Flickr)
Was Lifetime taking steps to re-brand for a younger, livelier generation? Were they moving from the wide-hipped Bonbon crowd to the Cosmo-downing, urban chic chickies? You know… a little less Dorothy and a little more Blanche?
Nope! Lifetime’s audience just isn’t ready for this jackass. The Lifetime version will be “suitably feminized,” network spokesman Michael Feeney told the New York Times.
Brighton Beach, the series dubbed the “Russian Jersey Shore,” is becoming a reality – but may not be as ludicrous as its fist-pumping predecessor.
Lifetime has ordered 12 episodes of the show assuring at least one season will be produced, according to an exclusive Hollywood Reporter story published this morning.
But Lifetime’s demands are a bit different than MTV’s, which might keep the show from swimming in the cultural dumpster. According to the report, Brighton Beach will have a “multigenerational cast … [chronicling] several colorful families, with the show’s action centered on a popular local nightclub.”