Crime, detective shows still a force to be reckoned with

Although movies are the big guns in Russia’s TV network wars, locally produced dramas are the more commonly deployed weapons in the primetime ratings war.

Crime and detective shows kicked off the vogue for homegrown serials in 1998 and are still a force to be reckoned with on TV skeds.

But lavish historical dramas and literary adaptations have become the calling cards for the major stations, Channel One and pubcaster Rossiya.

This fascination with literary drama adaptations continues with vet helmer Gleb Panfilov’s version of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “The First Circle,” heavily promoted in advance of its Jan. 29 bow on Rossiya.

The 10-parter is the first Russian TV adaptation of the 1974 Nobel prize winner’s work. Solzhenitsyn collaborated on the script and also provides voice-over. A strong local cast is led by thesp Yevgeny Mironov.

Panfilov read “The First Circle,” about Soviet scientists forced to work for the secret police in the final years of the Stalinist regime, in 1974. “The idea of a film came to me straightaway then,” he says, “but I said to myself it would be impossible — maybe only in 300 years.”

The series follows on from Rossiya’s late December ratings topper “Master and Margarita,” by Mikhail Bulgakov.

And it’s not the only dissident-themed fare expected on Rossiya, with director Nikolai Dostal (“Cloud Heaven”) in pre-production on a series about another Gulag writer, Valaam Shalamov. Both are commissioned by Rossiya’s director general Anton Zlatopolsky.

Rival Channel One had high-profile lit drama adaptations throughout last year, among them “Yesenin,” dramatizing the Russian poet’s life, and the Vasily Aksenov-adapted “Moscow Saga.”

That continues this year with its version of Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov’s satiric “The Golden Calf,” helmed by Ulyana Shilkina. It stars Oleg Menshikov, who’s also due on NTV later in the year in the title role in a new version of “Dr. Zhivago” from helmer Alexander Proshkin.

With helmer Sergei Solovyev’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” due later in the season on Channel One, as well as Mikhail Lermontov’s “Hero of Our Time” and a double dose of Fyodor Dostoevsky with “The Brothers Karamazov” and “The Devils” in the works, 2006 looks like the year in which Russian auds will be heavily sated with screen adaptations of their classic fiction heritage.

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