Watching "Cops in Russia" (at 8 tonight on Channels 11 and 6) is like watching "Cops" in our country. Which is like watching accidents happen. It's hard to turn away.
In this case the accidents of reality are crammed into an hour by Fox Broadcasting from six camera crews (three American, three Soviet) that circulated Moscow and Leningrad for 16 days in April and May and collected perhaps 70 hours of tape.
Soviet expatriates Yuri Spilny and David Gamburg, via their Spilny Films, worked out the unusual glasnost -ed deal for the project with the ministry of internal affairs and the police. Executive producers for this event and the series are Malcolm Barbour and John Langley.
We go along on a raid in which a boy tells how his father turned their home into a narcotics den. We wrestle with drunks. We try to figure out who did what to whom in a knife fight between Russian and hated Azerbaidchanian kids at a disco dance. A brother tells us with glazed detachment how he went to the kitchen to get a knife and stabbed his brother to death.
Police are cracking down on motorcycle gangs and bust one handsome young wild one with smiling eyes. Why had he run from them? "Because I felt like it," he told the camera crew, still plenty cocky, "and the police are full of crap."
The tape tells the tale, with little editing and sparse translation. It's difficult to follow events with precision but the images are crystal-clear.
Fascinating, intriguing, disturbing. Not a pretty sight, just as the Fox network's "Cops" series doesn't show us at our best.
The program traces its lineage from "An American Family," the landmark public television series that watched in the harshest light of gory detail as the Loud family ripped apart. "Cops in Russia" raises the same dilemmas.
How far do our rights of entertainment extend? We watch with a bright light and a hard eye as the old woman confesses to pushing her husband down the stairs. We stay on her as she convulses. Is this information that we need? Does this qualify as news?
American reality resumes with the series' new season next Saturday at 8 p.m. The cameras are loose with the cops in Portland, Ore.