"In this thrilling debut, television producer and filmmaker Rogoff recounts her mission to bring Sesame Street to Russian audiences.... The resulting tale is one of perseverance and creativity that illuminates how even the most disparate cultures and perspectives can find common ground." — Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the timing appeared perfect to bring Sesame Street to millions of children living in the former Soviet Union. With the Muppets envisioned as ideal ambassadors of Western values, no one anticipated just how challenging and dangerous this would prove to be.
In Muppets in Moscow: The Unexpected Crazy True Story of Making Sesame Street in Russia, Natasha Lance Rogoff brings this gripping tale to life. Amidst bombings, assassinations, and a military takeover of the production office, Lance Rogoff and the talented Moscow team of artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and puppeteers remained determined to bring laughter, learning, and a new way of seeing the world to children in Russia, Ukraine and across the former Soviet empire. With a sharp wit and compassion for her colleagues, Lance Rogoff observes how cultural clashes colored nearly every aspect of the production—from the show’s educational framework to writing comedy to the new Russian Muppets themselves—despite the team’s common goal.
Brimming with insight and nuance, Muppets in Moscow skillfully explores the post-Soviet societal tensions that continue to thwart the Russian people’s efforts to create a better future for their country. More than just a story of a children’s show, this book provides a valuable perspective of Russia’s people, their culture, and their complicated relationship with the West that remains relevant even today.
Natasha Lance Rogoff is an award-winning American television producer, filmmaker, and journalist of television news and documentaries in Russia, Ukraine, and the former Soviet Union for NBC, ABC, and PBS. Lance Rogoff executive produced Ulitsa Sezam, the Russian adaptation of Sesame Street, between 1993 and 1997. She also produced Plaza Sesamo in Mexico. In addition to her television work, Lance Rogoff has reported on Soviet underground culture as a documentary director and magazine and newspaper writer for major international media outlets. Today, Lance Rogoff creates current affairs videos and is the CEO and founder of an ed-tech company that produces KickinNutrition.TV, a children’s cooking and nutrition program. She is an associate fellow at Harvard University’s Art, Film, and Visual Studies department. Lance Rogoff lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and New York City.
Author website: www.natashalancerogoff.com
[H]ighly entertaining and readable[.]
In a sparkling memoir of the era and the enterprise, Natasha Lance Rogoff rereates the frantic and vertiginous efforts to launch Ulitsa Sezam against what turned out to be tremendous headwinds.
The Sesame Street spinoff set out to be the first Russian-language educational TV program aimed specifically at preschoolers. The project received support from both American and Russian government officials…. Yet the co-production endured a relentless slew of challenges, including financing woes, the invasion of its offices by armed soldiers and thorny conflicts as the cheery ethos and bold aesthetic of Sesame Street ran headlong into Russia’s rich, but markedly different, cultural traditions. Time and again, Ulitsa Sezam had to be salvaged from the brink of collapse by passionate teams on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s a tumultuous tale lovingly chronicled in Muppets in Moscow, a new book by American journalist, TV producer and filmmaker Natasha Lance Rogoff.
In this hilarious, eye-opening memoir, an American TV producer recounts her adventures in bringing Bert, Ernie, Oscar, and friends, to post-Soviet Russian television in the mid-’90s.
In this thrilling debut, television producer and filmmaker Rogoff recounts her mission to bring Sesame Street to Russian audiences. In 1993, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sesame Workshop hired the Russian-speaking Rogoff to serve as the lead producer for Ulitsa Sezam—the Russian coproduction of the children’s program Sesame Street. Part of an American effort to help Russia transition to becoming a Western-style democracy, Ulitsa Sezam, Rogoff explains, was considered the perfect vehicle to convey democratic values of tolerance and inclusion to Russian children. Ulitsa Sezam enjoyed a successful run in Russia from 1996 to 2010, but as Rogoff reveals in captivating detail, its success came with challenges, from resistance among the show’s Russian crew (citing Russia’s “long, rich and revered puppet tradition” the lead writer told Rogoff “we don’t need your American Moppets in our children’s show”) to an armed takeover by Russian soldiers of the initiative’s offices in Moscow. Still, Rogoff persisted, enabling the creation of wholly new muppet characters that resonated with Russian audiences, all while balancing the task of new motherhood, even as the venture tottered on the verge of collapse multiple times. The resulting tale is one of perseverance and creativity that illuminates how even the most disparate cultures and perspectives can find common ground.
Rogoff’s wild tale of producing the Russian version of Sesame Street (Ulitsa Sezam) in the early to mid-1990s is skillfully written and a joy to read. She takes readers on the perilous journey that began when she accepted the assignment to launch the show in a post-Soviet Moscow; she was then a young Russian-speaking American independent documentary filmmaker who loved Russia and its culture. Ulitsa Sezam was partially funded by the United States, but Rogoff was responsible for financing the rest of the project. Her account of producing Ulitsa Sezam demonstrates the sheer creativity and all the joys and difficulties—at one point, there’s a military takeover of the production office—involved in the project. She carefully explains the work by U.S. and Russian set designers, puppeteers, musicians, and writers to create Russian puppets (that weren’t the “ambassadors of Western values” the United States had envisioned) and sets. The tale of this collaboration between U.S. and Russian artists working toward a shared educational goal creates a very unique story that is important and timely. For all readers interested in understanding international media and film production and its role in U.S. diplomacy.
When the USSR dissolved in 1991, the world headed to Russia to make money—but Rogoff's purpose was a little more ... furry. The Children’s Television Workshop wanted to launch a Russian version of Sesame Street and tapped her to executive produce. This memoir details her years toiling to launch an unheard-of show in the former Soviet republics, one that encouraged tolerance, independence, and a can-do attitude. She punctuates the story with her personal development, as she marries and becomes pregnant while trying to pull off the biggest Muppet caper of the 1990s, enduring hostile studio takeovers by armed soldiers, cynicism of potential advertisers, generational clashes between established Soviet workers and younger colleagues, and an entire society adrift in a new world with few shared cultural norms. Her descriptions of Russian friends and colleagues create a compelling cast of characters that reflects the diversity and danger of the time. Oligarchy ends up being no match for Oscar the Grouch and Rogoff’s plucky team in this retelling of a unique point in U.S.-Russian relations.
The book is fascinating as it details the logistics of navigating the Russian television landscape in 1996. Assassinations were a common industry problem, and the production lost multiple business partners to violence. Bills went unpaid as supporters ran out of money, and the political situation repeatedly threatened to shut the show down before the first episode had filmed. The situation resulted in plenty of intrigue for Rogoff, which is conveyed in an in-the-moment manner. But some of the book’s most fascinating sections also discuss the show’s creative process. Rogoff had to get Russian puppeteers and writers to embrace the Muppets despite their initial skepticism, and to help Sesame Workshop develop a trio of Russia-specific puppet characters. Rogoff’s team also had to navigate conflicts about topics like diversity, class, and even the notion of encouraging children’s optimism about the future. Those discussions and their resolutions are enthralling, and the book captures the methodical but inspired process of building new characters and a show with a Russian sensibility.
Muppets in Moscow is a gripping and intimate account of the early days of post-Soviet Russia, where danger was behind every corner. But somehow, the resilience of ordinary Russians made the seemingly impossible, possible. Lance Rogoff gives readers an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the core values and beliefs that shaped Russia in the 1990s and continue to play out today in the horrific struggle between Putin’s Russia and the West.
Muppets in Moscow is a brilliantly written, astonishing account of the difficulties of bringing America’s most-loved children’s show to post-communist Russia. Thoughtful, moving, humane, and unforgettable, I didn’t want it to end.
Moscow was once the capital of the Evil Empire of the USSR. Today it is in the grip of the ruthless Vladimir Putin. It is easy to forget the heady period in between and the seemingly endless possibilities that opened up to Russian society. Muppets in Moscow is a brilliant account of that time in Russia through the eyes of an American team of children’s story tellers—a team who genuinely believed that there was a place for Sesame Street in Russia. Extraordinary, moving, inspiring, and delightful all at once.
Fascinating and timely, Muppets in Moscow is an enthralling read; such a unique story that highlights the turmoil of the fall of the Soviet era, and the difficult growing pains of a culture trying desperately to shift into the modern age. Loved every minute of it, and I’ll never look at Sesame Street the same way again!
In sharing her story of bringing Sesame Street to Russia, Natasha Lance Rogoff serves up a literary treat that couldn't be more perfectly timed. Muppets in Moscow is a psychological portrait of a post-Soviet society in crisis—corrupt, chaotic, and soon to be all-too-ready for Vladimir Putin. It's great reading, filled with unforgettable stories and thoughtful insights—and leavened by a big dose of humor, too.
Muppets in Moscow is sheer fun, but with remarkable and deep insights into the tumult that was Russia a half decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This story—intimately told through the daily conversations and battles that Lance Rogoff had with all involved—conveys as well as any book the detail and texture of the tension between the old and the new.
The story of a woman with an unshakable vision along with a multinational team of people willing to give it a try. Colorful, heartfelt, self-revealing, and inspiring.
At a time when Vladimir Putin’s government has revealed itself to the world in its true and hideous colors—essentially those of a fascist regime—Lance Rogoff’s account of importing Sesame Street to post-Soviet Moscow is a captivating read. Anyone who spent time in Russia in the 1990s will remember the Weimar Republic ambience: the incongruous combination of giddy hope with economic chaos and criminal violence, the American economists on one side of the table, the future oligarchs with Uzis on the other. Muppets in Moscow is that clash of civilizations in microcosm.
11/20/22, The Fox News Rundown: Natasha Lance Rogoff talked about the book in this episode.