NAKED NEWSCASTERS ON BULGARIAN TV
At first, Dobrinka Petkova was a proud mother watching her daughter make her debut as an anchorwoman. But that was before Galina began stripping, somewhere between the item on increased utility prices and the earthquake in Indonesia.
The striking 19-year-old first began unbuttoning the top of her red two-piece outfit. Next went the primly starched blouse and the skirt.
Not missing a cue from the TelePrompTer, she then shook loose her long blond hair, before reaching behind to undo and remove her bra -- until she stood clad in panties just in time for the weather forecast.
For Dobrinka Petkova and other viewers of Bulgaria's M-SAT TV, ``The Naked Truth'' has proved an eye-opener.
The premise -- first attempted in Russia about a year ago -- is simple.
Take five good-looking women, aged 19 to 23. Get them to read news. And have them strip to the bare essentials while doing so.
The Russian program showcased primarily young strippers whose commitment to news was questionable and went off the air several months ago, as viewer interest flagged. In contrast, say the producers of the Bulgarian version, their broadcast is not only meant to bare all.
(NakedNews.com, a 2-year-old, Toronto-based Web site, is also in the game, with 12 presenters -- eight women and four men -- keeping Web surfers up to date. It has recently expanded to a weekly TV show on pay-per-view cable.)
``Our approach to the news is absolutely serious,'' said producer Stilian Ivanov. ``I don't think that what the Russians did is similar to our show.''
By Thursday, four days after the newscasts premiered, the program's rating outstripped the state television's late evening news program -- normally the most commonly watched.
``It's the first time in Bulgaria that a cable program is outdistancing mighty state TV,'' the producers said in a statement. Subscriptions to M-SAT cable have doubled since the show aired, they said, without giving figures.
While Bulgarians are divided about the aesthetic -- and news -- value of ``The Naked Truth,'' the program does reflect how far the country has come in a little more than a decade. Back then, news was censored, read by buttoned-down talking heads.
Sex on TV back then was more on the order of a diplomatic kiss between Todor Zhivkov and Leonid Brezhnev, the then communist leaders of Bulgaria and its ``big brother,'' the Soviet Union.
Over the past few years, television has moved to reflect Bulgaria's freewheeling transition to a modern and free society. Old Latino soap operas and low-budget U.S. action movies dominate the handful of private television networks.
Even staid state TV has livened up, with programming now often including live discussions on everyday problems, or live transmissions of major events from around the globe.
Not everyone loves ``The Naked Truth.'' The Orthodox Church has voiced protests, and Mrs. Petkova -- who says she wasn't warned what to expect -- is still not happy.
``Of course I was somehow upset, when I saw what Galina is doing,'' she said.
Still, she gives her credit for ``boldness.''
But the overwhelming majority of Bulgarians seems to enjoy the exposure in a country that under communism paid only lip service to equality of the sexes.
``This is exactly the mixture that fits the habits of men in the Balkans,'' said Yordan Lilov, a 53-year-old salesman.
Ivanov says the hundreds of calls since the show first was aired have been overwhelmingly complimentary.
As of Jan. 1, the program will be expanded from 10 to 15 minutes -- and newsreaders will strip completely to the buff. The positive feedback and strong ratings also have inspired producers to offer equal opportunity: Men will join the women as of Valentine's Day ``discussing news, business, sports, entertainment and other stories,'' said Teodora Stoyanova, M-SAT's director of programming.
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