Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Something to Say? Hit the Airwaves

Znak Kachestva, or Mark of Quality, a 15-minute nugget on TV-6, is so bad it's good.

Yet most working stiffs miss the afternoon segment. And those who succumb to the soporiferous seductions of Somnus before 1 a.m. miss the repeat broadcast of the daytime show.

But if they could sneak away from the office during the afternoon or prop their eyelids open until the wee hours of the morning, they could watch this wacky smorgasbord of amateur performances, public service announcements, calls for financial "sponsorship" and ads by small businesses.

Now in its second month on the air, Znak is a boon for budding musicians, struggling poets and would-be models: TV-6 accepts no fee for filming and broadcasting the brief clips. "We simply give people an opportunity to appear on television and present themselves," said TV-6's executive producer Valery Bakayev. "We don't try to hinder people if they think they have certain artistic abilities."

Those abilities cover a vast range, from the mostly amateur to the occasionally professional. One recent show, sandwiched between ads for imported jeans and a vibrator-massager that ostensibly rids the gluteal area of unsightly adiposity, stuffed 19 vastly disparate clips into a brief quarter of an hour.

Elvira, Inna, Nastya, Marina, Natalya and Irina, all young women in the bloom of youth, posed or vamped in front of the camera with varying degrees of inelegance, hoping thus to find work as models. Phone numbers -- either the women's own or that of TV-6, which agrees to act essentially as answering machine -- flash across the screen during the clips.

Sergei, a blond, 23-year-old buck, full of "strength and energy," as he said, frankly offered his "services." When asked in a telephone interview just what services he was offering, he said with a giggle, "I can't tell you that over the phone."

Nadezhda Panova, 42, and Konstantin Golovin, 27, provided a blatant counterweight to this painful samodeyatelnost. Panova, who had hoped to attract a partner with her lyric soprano, sang a romance of her own composition to Golovin's subtle and dulcet guitar accompaniment.

Cut from sublime to ridiculous: Vladislav Zamogilny -- the last name, not his own, means "beyond the grave" -- recited the third poem in his series "Necrology for Animals," a gleefully morbid paean to his lately deceased canine.

The very weirdness of it all could help Znak Kachestva rocket to cult status, a sort of Russian television Rocky Horror Picture Show that appeals through sheer amateurish perversity. According to Bakayev, in its first week Znak Kachestva received a better viewer rating than RTR's popular "Raz v nedelyu," "Ugadai melodiyu" or "Vremechko."

According to Sergei Gannochka, Znak's director, 300 people have been filmed during the show's first month and a half. And no idea, skit, appearance or performance, Bakayev said, has yet to be turned down due to thematic content. Since Znak Kachestva is broadcast throughout Russia to TV-6's 80 million potential viewers, many participants can thus enjoy their 15 seconds -- if not Warhol's proverbial 15 minutes -- of fame.

Among the more serious announcements, Alexander Nevsky, Mr. World 1995, with a neck the circumference of a prize watermelon from Astrakhan, warned young body-builders of the perils of using anabolic steroids. Valentina Samsonova, disturbed that none of the people she queried knew the melody or lyrics of the Russian national anthem, considered it her duty to sing that composition in her tremulous alto, then asked viewers to call her with their "constructive suggestions."

The wares peddled on Znak Kachestva -- advertisers pay only if the clips are overtly commercial -- cover a range as broad as that of the show's participants. From tables bought in Egypt on business trips and no longer needed by their owners to rare cats from Togo -- a steal at $3,000 -- to openings in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' suburban Moscow children's lyceum to flower arrangements to cashmere coats to Doberman puppies -- they're all offered through Znak Kachestva.

Why the name? Bakayev explained that, during the Soviet period, the pentagonal "mark of quality" conferred a certain cachet on the best Soviet products. "There's not exactly nostalgia for that time," he said of the Soviet period, "but the name does carry a certain irony."