Russia 2007: Network Realtiy

Thinking Russians say they don't watch television any­more (too much Putin). The Orthodox Church worries about the subjects (too much sleaze). President Putin is no fan either (too much Western content). A taste of what's on these days, with commentary by Irina Petrovskaya, the acerbic TV critic for the newspaper Izvestia.

Dom 2

The Gist: A real estate Survivor (dom means "house") filled with sex, scandal, and foul language.

The Face: Alena Vodonaeva has been on the show since 2004 and is now trying to convert that to a legit acting career in Moscow.

The Critic's Take: "It's an embodiment of the dream of the current young generation—when you don't actually have to do anything to become famous."

The Nostalgia Channel

The Gist: Documentaries about Brezhnev; academic conversations with scientists; news shows circa 1985.

The Face: Deejay Seva Novgorodtsev, who once broadcast forbidden rock from London, hosts a well-liked talk show.

The Critic's Take: "Television then was ideologically fettered, but the artistic and educational level was very developed. Famous Soviet and Russian directors worked on these programs."

Zhdi Menya (Wait for Me)

The Gist: Heartrending episodes reuniting families and friends divided by the Iron Curtain Curtainstupidity).

The Face: Cohosts Igor Kvasha and Mariya Shukshina, both well-known actors, who are at times unable to restrain their tears

The Critic's Take: "A hu­­mane and useful program. There's no cynicism—it speaks of the cataclysms that the people and the country had to live through."

Vremya (Time)

The Gist: The country's main news show, dating back to the days of geriatric Soviet leaders; all of Russia watches.

The Face: Yekaterina Andreyeva, a striking anchorwoman with a schoolmistress-cum-dominatrix style and, reportedly, a statue of Stalin in her apartment

The Critic's Take: "Practically all our news programs are like this: Putin, Putin, Putin. Someone described it as political karaoke—different voices but the same melody and the same words."

Kto v Dome Khozyain? (Who's the Boss?)

The Gist: Female ad exec hires an ex–soccer player to run her household. Banter ensues.

The Face: Actor Andrey Noskov overcomes Russian stereotypes about the domestic responsibilities of men in a reprise of the Tony Danza role.

The Critic's Take: "I don't think the silly laugh track is in the Russian tradition. To be honest I try not to watch this. I try to watch shows that at least have some sense."

The Right Stuff: The Cult of Yuri Gagarin

Almost all the statues of Lenin and Stalin have been torn down, but Yuri Gagarin remains an untouchable Russian hero. The cosmonaut's short voyage into space in 1961—a single orbit of the earth 200 miles up, lasting just 108 minutes—stunned the world. Nikita Khrushchev called him "the new Columbus, the first swallow in outer space." Collective farms, a glacier, mountains, a moon crater, and thousands of babies were named after him. Gagarin never went up again, and his role as a propaganda trophy left him jaded. Flying home after a drinking bout with friends in 1968, he crashed his MiG-15 and was killed. Today cosmonauts are little more than space plumbers, yet newly married couples still come straight from church to the Gagarin monument on Leninsky Prospekt in Moscow, a steel statue on a 170-foot tower, to lay flowers at its base. "We feel it's our duty," a young bride told me, clinging to her new husband. —L.W.