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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Making the KGB the Good Guys for U.S. TV

The man who brought Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn and Jim Carrey to Moscow this summer has a new project up his sleeve — a Hollywood television series about the KGB.

This time, however, they won't be the cruel psychopaths of Cold War movies or the megalomaniacs of James Bond films. They're the good guys.

Producer Bob Van Ronkel is putting together a multimillion-dollar television series tentatively titled "Files From the KGB" that will be filmed in Russia and use an almost all-Russian cast to show the swashbuckling adventures of what was arguably once the world's most feared intelligence agency.

"I thought it would be a success with the fascination in the U.S. with the KGB," said Ronkel, who said the series, filmed in English, will deal with the KGB's missions abroad in the style of television series such as "La Femme Nikita."

Ronkel, a California native, is currently in Moscow attempting to get an official seal of approval for the series from the Federal Security Service, a successor of the KGB. He also wants to win rights to use the official KGB badge and to have an FSB consultant on hand during filming to double-check script accuracy.

The series will initially consist of 21 or 22 hourlong episodes costing about $200,000 each, he said. In comparison, the average hourlong action series in the United States costs upwards of $1 million.

"Files From the KGB" will, Ronkel insisted, depict Russia in a more positive light than the usual images of crime and corruption that flood Western television screens.

"It will be a lot more positive for Russia and the KGB," Ronkel said. "It's positive publicity for the FSB."

The proposal to create a television series extolling the virtues of an agency that, among other crimes, was complicit in the arrest of millions of people in Stalin-era purges is getting a lukewarm reception in some Russian circles.

"There is nothing positive about KGB activities," said Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a former KGB lieutenant-colonel who is now a harsh critic of the FSB.

"It [the series] may deceive the world. It may increase the number of people who will cooperate with the KGB," he said. "Is there any positive evidence about the Nazi police or North Korean intelligence?"

As for Ronkel's seeking FSB assistance to ensure accuracy, Preobrazhensky said that the FSB would only distort events.

"They would give him lots of false history," he said. "He would become a tool of the KGB to help the KGB to deceive the whole world."

Ronkel, who brought over Nicholson, Penn and Carrey for the recent Moscow Film Festival, has no concerns that making a series about the KGB might be inappropriate.

"When you do cop shows you don't do them beating Rodney King," said Ronkel, referring to the much-publicized incident in Los Angeles when a group of police officers were captured beating a black driver on home video.

"There's always people who'll protest," he said. "Hopefully it will be entertaining so that no one will be offended."

"It's not a documentary," he added. "I'm creating Hollywood television."

Ronkel said he thought up the idea for the show on a flight to Moscow last year and has already found financing from Firestone Entertainment, the company that participated in the filming of "Onegin" with Ralph Fiennes and "The Believer," winner of this year's Sundance and Moscow film festivals.

He said he is still having trouble getting permission from the FSB, although he remains confident and has even written the agency a letter stating that he is not a member of the CIA, FBI or any other foreign government organizations.

FSB officials could not be reached for comment about the series Monday.

KGB agents, not surprisingly, were often depicted as glorious heroes in the Soviet Union. Their glory period on the small screen came while Yury Andropov was head of the KGB with such programs as "Seventeen Moments of Spring," which showed KGB undercover activities during World War II.

The film "The Sword and the Shield," which was also shot during that period, inspired Preobrazhensky and, supposedly, President Vladimir Putin to sign up to the KGB.

Some say that Andropov was a great admirer of James Bond and wanted to create a more exciting image of KGB agents at home.

Film historian Viktor Lostov said that the image of the KGB agent has evolved in Soviet and Russian films from that of a Marx-reading idealist to a cynic who cares for nothing but himself.

While Ronkel is waiting for an official response from the FSB, he is getting some comfort from assurances from well-connected friends in Moscow that at least one former KGB agent, Putin, would no doubt be pleased with the project. "If I got the rights and permission and if he approved I would love for him to star as himself," Ronkel said.

But, he added, "I'm sure I couldn't afford it."