May 01, 2009

Cultural Clones

In 2001, the Dutch television  production company Endemol threatened to bring suit against the Russian television station TV6 over the latter’s program Behind the Glass, a copy of Endemol’s popular international reality show Big Brother, and demanded that TV6 pay license fees.

TV6 responded that Behind the Glass was its own original work, that it had been inspired by the producer’s reading of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s utopian novel We 12 years prior. In the novel, workers live in glass houses, so that nothing is shrouded from view. In the end, the dispute fizzled when TV6 was taken off the air.

Interestingly, what shocked Muscovites most about Behind the Glass was less the plagiarism than that the lascivious hijinks were set in the Hotel Rossiya, just across Red Square from the Kremlin. Thousands of Russians lined up to parade past a one-way mirror and get a live, five-minute view of life in the apartment. Novaya Gazeta called the show both the most popular and the worst TV event of November 2001.

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