I have spent enough time in Eastern Europe and in China to get used to blatant violations of copyright law (though not to believe it’s right). In fact, the first time I watched The Big Bang Theory, a show that I really enjoy, it was on a pirated DVD in Beijing; it belonged to a friend who bought the DVDs for a fraction of a cost in the U.S. I liked it, and have been watching it since. (Now that I’m back in the U.S., there are more legitimate means.)
However, I recently I saw something very absurd when stalking its leads actors on Wikipedia: this article from April 22 claimed there was a Belarusian clone of The Big Bang Theory. This is strange for a few reasons. First, a popular channel on Russian TV (НТВ) airs the (legally purchased, I hope) dubbed version. Belarusians usually get that channel. Plus, the Russian translation of The Big Bang Theory is all over the Russian internet, as is every other remotely interesting show or a movie. So who would ever make a clone, I thought. Well, Belarus would. And not just anyone in Belarus, but the state-owned TV station.
Chuck Lorre, the show’s producer, drew attention to the situation in one of his famous vanity cards at the end of the show:
CHUCK LORRE PRODUCTIONS, #277
Belarus is a small, land-locked country next door to Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. According to Wikipedia, one of its major exports is cattle by-products. Which begs the question, what horrible shape are the cattle in, if all they’re good for is felt hats and wallpaper paste? But Belarus does have a bustling TV production industry. One of their most recent hits is a sitcom about four nerdy scientists who live next door to a beautiful blonde waitress. The characters are named Sheldon, Leo, Hovard, Raj and Natasha, and the show is entitled, The Theorists. Each episode begins with a rapid-fire montage of images which takes us from the dawn of time to the present moment. Keeping with that theme, the montage is scored with what is probably the worst piece of recorded pop music since the dawn of time. And finally, each episode appears to be a Russian translation of a Big Bang Theory episode. When we brought this to the attention of the Warner Brothers legal department, we were told that it’s next to impossible to sue for copyright infringement in Belarus because the TV production company that is ripping us off is owned and operated by the government of Belarus. Having no other recourse, I’m hoping that this vanity card will be read by the fine folks making The Theorists, and, wracked with guilt, they break down and send us some felt hats. The Kyrgyzstan version of Dharma & Greg already sent me some wallpaper paste.
The company is indeed government-owned. It’s also one of the ‘national TV channels’ (read: everything it does s controlled by the Belorussian government). It’s called СТВ in Russian, and it stand for Capital Television (as in Television of the Country’s Capital). And it does not deny producing the TV series in question; au contraire, it proudly shows it off on the their website. It’s called Теоретики (The Theorists). Check out the print-screen, dear Russian-speakers (for others, see bref recap below).
Actually, this does not need a re-cap. It just explains it’s a sitcom, introduces the lead actors (have no idea who they are, but I am out of the loop big time). The Big Bang Theory is not mentioned anywhere.
So I went and watched the show. It was cancelled after four episodes, and that’s the greatest favor the Belorussian TV has ever done to the humankind. Copyright infringement aside, it is horrible, awful, ghastly, atrocious, hideous, and [insert any other synonym].
Let’s start with the characters’ names. Leo, Sheldon, Raj, Howard, and Natasha. Ok, Leo could be a short form of a relatively common Russian name Leonid, but Raj, Howard, and Sheldon? And seriously, Natasha? This name makes me think this show would have been better it it were about American nerdy guys who got a mail-order Russian bride. Check her out (to make things easier, I am using a print screen from a web site, but that really is the Natasha from the series):
Let’s move to the opening credits now. In The Big Bang Theory, it’s a cool song by the Barenaked Ladies. The Theorists feature the song the only use whereof is at Yale’s Eastern European-themed parties to illustrate how ridiculous Eastern European music could be (and that’s the kind of song you could want played way after everyone has begun consuming alcohol).
For Russian speakers, here is a brief excerpt from episode 1:
Even if you don’t understand the language, you might still enjoy ridiculous background music and characters’ outfits that imitate those from The Big Bang Theory. If you want more, go to YouTube and search for ‘Теоретики.’ Do keep anti-nausea medications by your side though.
This website cites one of the Belorussian channel’s executives:
“То, что наш телеканал начал снимать такой сериал, говорит о том, что мы развиваемся, мы твердо стоим на ногах. Несмотря на то, что год был трудным, нам удалось его успешно завершить, в том числе и благодаря налоговым преференциям государства”
Here is my translation:
The fact that out channel has begun making such a series indicates that we are developing well. Even though this year has been very difficult, we managed to end it well, owing to, among others, the state’s tax credits.
So THAT is what Belarus’ fiscal policy is: provide tax credits to companies that make unacknowledged rip-offs of American TV series.
Ad by the way, this is not just some rip-off; it’s СТВ’s inaugural TV series. They are planning to make more. The channel’s official website:
Главным подарком зрителям к Новому году станет премьера 4-серийного ситкома «Теоретики», с которого телеканал намерен начать собственное кинопроизводство.
Our main New Year’s gift to [our] audience will be launch of the 4-episode sitcom ‘The Theorists,’ with which the channel is intending to begin its own film-making.
I was angry at first. But now I just feel bad for the country whose official channel gifts its audience a rip-off of an American sitcom for New Years.