Russian Newscast Bares It All for Ratings Success

Moscow-At first blush, the Russian program Naked Truth on the small Moscow channel M1 might seem like just another newscast. But it doesn't take long to discover its twist.

The program, which airs Saturdays at 11 p.m., is read in an extremely neutral manner and would be utterly boring-if the presenter, Svetlana Pesotskaya, did not strip seductively while speaking in all seriousness about, say, the tax code.

Sergei Moskvin, M1's general director and creator of the program, said Naked Truth-which, he claims, is watched by as many as 10 percent of Moscow's TV households-mocks the quasi-sacred canon of a news show. It goes from national news to world events and throws in a bit of culture, followed by sports and weather.

The top news, which almost always involves President Vladimir Putin, is read with all clothes intact. Then, as the newscast progresses, Pesotskaya's jewelry comes off.

By the time she gets to sports, all that's left is her bra, which rarely disappears. Finally, the weather report is offered by topless strippers.

First an inside joke, the program became a hit last November. Its writers soon became more creative. In August, it was nominated for TEFI, Russia's most prestigious television award.

In one program, Pesotskaya played chess throughout the telecast. At the last moment, the camera zoomed out so the audience could see she had been playing with a naked woman. On another, she danced the tango while reading the news, as a partner gradually undressed her.

The "weather girls"-originally professional strippers-were soon replaced with amateurs, as many would-be TV stars sent applications to the program. The most "able" were turned into topless "reporters," some of whom have interviewed members of Parliament.

Moskvin said there are limits to his mockery. In addition to keeping the top Putin story fully dressed, the program never features reports on the war in Chechnya or stories about disasters. "We can't laugh at people's tragedies," he said.

M1 covers about 60 percent of Moscow and most of the surrounding area, via broadcast and cable distribution. It claims to have a greater viewership than Moscow's other second-tier television channels, such as Ren-TV or THT. But other programmers doubt that assertion.