Car bombings, assassinations and a military takeover: these are just some of the things American TV producer Natasha Lance Rogoff and her team faced when trying to bring The Muppets to the former USSR in the 1990s.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russia that emerged was a chaotic, sometimes violent free-for-all for western investors and oligarchs, swooping in to buy up businesses, natural resources and really anything they could. For regular Russians, they had to navigate a new, more free society and Natasha, a fluent speaker with experience in Russian TV, was drafted in to introduce The Muppets as the ambassadors to show children how to do that.
An exercise in trying to introduce western values but also establish international relations with a former enemy, almost every aspect of the Russian Sesame Street- Uliza Sezam - was coloured by cultural clashes. Both nationalities had to learn to work together and better understand one another. What was created was a wholly Russian show, with new characters founded in traditional folklore and music informed by Russia’s rich cultural history. The show was a huge success, beloved by children across the entire USSR and ran for 10 years into Putin’s reign of power.
Natasha joins Dan to tell this extraordinary story as they delve into the societal pressures faced by Russia after the Soviet Union and its relationship with the west which is still so relevant today.
Her new book is called ‘Muppets in Moscow.’
Archive of Sesame Street and Uliza Sezam courtesy of Sesame Workshop.
Produced by Mariana Des Forges and mixed by Dougal Patmore.