Russian Leaders: Brighton Beach Show's Title Synonymous With Prostitution

Michael Levitis Marina Levitis Rasputin Brighton Beach Show
Michael and Marina Levitis, two of Russian Dolls' stars (Source: James Edstrom)

Lifetime’s newest show, the Brighton Beach-themed reality series Russian Dolls, is taking another round of flack as Russian leaders zero in on the new title, saying it’s synonymous with one of their community’s bugaboos: escort services.

You might be more familiar with the show’s working title, Brighton Beach, which was originally conceived as a Russian-American response to MTV’s Jersey Shore. The concept was eventually rejected by MTV and picked up by Lifetime. First, some Russian leaders expressed concern the show might depict the community as a bunch of opulent, vodka-swilling party animals. Others defended Lifetime, taking at face value the A&E-owned network’s assertion that it would be a “multigenerational cast … [chronicling] several colorful families, with the show’s action centered on a popular local nightclub.” And their faith stayed firm after Sheepshead Bites revealed that the show would focus on the family of Rasputin owner Michael Levitis, who was recently caught up in an FBI probe allegedly acting as a middleman in a bribery scheme involving State Senator Carl Kruger.

But the name may be beyond the pale. “Russian Dolls” is a term frequently used to advertise Russian escort services and prostitution fronts, a detail not overlooked by the community’s leaders.

“It’s the most ugly name I’ve ever heard,” said Raisa Chernina, director of the Be Proud Foundation, a non-profit with roots in the Russian-American community. “The name speaks for itself. Russian Dolls is a very polite way of saying escorts.”

“They told me it was Russian Dolls and I said ‘My God.’ It’s like those Danielle Steel books,” Chernina added.

Chernina is not alone. John Lisyanskiy, the founder of the Russian-Speaking American Leadership Caucus, issued a statement last month slamming the decision.

“This is again a very unfortunate and controversial turn of events with this production; they just can’t bear to show the good in us,” Lisyanskiy said. “[Lifetime is] looking for ways of negative portrayal … I think it is outrageous that they would name it that.”

A source close to the production, who could not be quoted due to contractual agreements, said the decision to call the show Russian Dolls was Lifetime’s alone, and that the production team was not heavily involved in the show’s branding. The source added that the Brighton Beach title was only meant to be a working title. It was unclear if any Russian-Americans were involved in the decision-making process, and Lifetime’s spokesperson was not available for comment by deadline.

Stay tuned for Russian Dolls, premiering on Lifetime, July 27 August 11, featuring vodka, fur, mafia ties, shady businessmen and a hint of sex trafficking. What, couldn’t work in Medicaid fraud?

UPDATE (July 7): The original premiere date of Russian Dolls has been pushed back from July 27 to August 11.