'Married' ... in Russian
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Most of you may think you don't know big-haired Dasha Bukina or her harassed shoe salesman husband Gena Bukin. You probably won't fare much better with the names of their two high-octane teenage kids, Sveta and Roma. But if you're a Russian TV viewer, you've most likely already met them: They are Russia's reincarnations of the Bundy family from "Married ... With Children."
It's actually a bit scary to watch the Bukins gathered on the family couch working out yet another crisis -- it's Peg and Al and Bud and Kelly down to the tiniest detail. Except for the language, of course. (See below for a clip from the show.)
But if you were to watch all 200-plus episodes that have been adapted from the original scripts by Sony Pictures Television International so far, you'd begin to see many subtle changes made to fit Russian cultural nuances and viewer tastes.
Jeff Lerner, senior vp development and current programs, international production, at SPTI, says it would be impossible simply to cut and paste the scripts for Russian consumption.
Adapting existing formats is nothing new for SPTI, which also has produced local versions of "The Nanny" and "Who's the Boss?" in Russia. In fact, SPTI makes local versions of U.S. shows all over the world. And the one big lesson learned is that many small and almost invisible changes must be made along the way in order to slot the shows seamlessly into the cultural mix.
"I would say that one difference in Russia is that the concept of comedy seems much broader," Lerner says. "The more subtle comedy and wordplay works better in the U.S. or the U.K., but in Russia, comedy is more visceral and more high octane. In the case of 'Married,' its comedy is a perfect fit for its channel, TNT, which brands itself as more of a renegade channel with edgier fare that reaches a younger audience than the more established channels."
So popular is the Russian version of "Married" -- titled "Happy Together" there -- that SPTI is running out of scripts to adapt and is now looking to make original episodes exclusively for the Russian market, Lerner says. They did the same thing for "The Nanny."
"There were 250 episodes of 'Married,' of which we are adapting about 225. Some of the episodes just don't translate, such the Bundys going to Graceland," Lerner says. But even 225 episodes are not enough to fill the demand for the series at TNT, which strips it nightly. It's the highest-rated scripted series on the upstart channel.
Now that Lerner and his team are making all-new versions of "Married" for Russia, they can overcome many of the more obvious problems at the point of origin. For example, one set-up created in the U.S. involved a character visting a laundromat. But the Russian writers said there are no laundromats there. "So instead, we had them go to a hotel and use an industrial-sized laundry. That in turn raised all kind of new comedic possibilities," Lerner says.
The Russian operation has given SPTI a firm foothold in the burgeoning market, adds Sander Schwartz, president of international production. "Because Russia is still a very young and vibrant market, there are many opportunities there," he says. "There's no question that Russia still has tremendous growth potential, and we want to be there as the market expands. To date, we've done over 900 hours of programming in Russia, and with still more new broadcast outlets launching, there are more channels for new shows to get on the air."