The show was picked up by Lifetime network, which said its theme would be cross-generational and more family-oriented than MTV's popular Italian-American version starring party animals Snooki and The Situation.
There is room for debate on that point, however.
Casting calls for the 12-episode first season were held in night clubs and attracted an array of scantily clad, muscle-bound Russian-Americans who touted their vodka-drinking prowess. In advertisements, producers of the show asked for outrageous personalities.
“The show's cast is almost complete,” its producers said in an August post on their Facebook fan page, “and we'll start shooting soon!” They then went on to request photographs of a “gorgeous guy” to round out the cast.
One fan responded, “Really hoping this show doesn't make all of us look like morons. By the way this show won't make it unless I'm on it, and if I'm on it people will be saying 'The Situation who?' I'm The Predicament!”
The response highlighted conflicting feelings inside of the Russian-American community that were on display during a recent trip to Brighton Beach. The mood was one of cautious optimism. On one hand, people are nervous the show could enforce negative stereotypes. On the other hand, exposure is not such a bad thing, no?
“My first instinct was, 'oh, no, this is a nail in the coffin,'” said Pat Singer, the founder of the Brighton Neighborhood Association. “But then I started talking to Russian teens.” For the most part, she said, they sounded excited. Many auditioned to be on the show.
Singer, whose mother was Russian, formed the organization in 1977, when the neighborhood was in decline. Its empty buildings and storefronts accommodated a wave of Russian immigrants in the late 1970's. More arrived after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Today the neighborhood is thriving, though it is not without its problems.
Rumors that it is a hotbed of Russian mobster activity persist though Singer, the matriarch of community organizing in Brighton Beach, said they aren't true. She has worked to undo them, and other myths about the ethnic enclave, for decades.
Now the reality television show could change that.
If the cast members “drink vodka all over the place. If I see that I would be appalled because I don't think it would help this community,” Singer said. She has pinned her hopes on the Lifetime network, which caters to women and is not known for racy content.
Yet despite her worries, she also saw a silver lining: if the show is tasteful, it could provide an economic boost. “I'd love to energize tourism here,” she said. “We have Chinatown, Little Italy. Why not Little Odessa?”
A start date for the show has not been announced, but when it airs, it will be interesting to see the impact it has on life in Brighton Beach. The neighborhood is not a major tourist destination now, but there are several things working in its favor.
The main commercial strip, Brighton Beach Avenue, is accessible by train, relatively short, and packed with restaurants and stores. Unlike in the heart of Chinatown, signs are bilingual, making for easy navigation for curious visitors.
And the neighborhood boasts its own boardwalk and beach, which is clean and less crowded on summer days than Coney Island, whose rides and attractions are within walking distance.
“I think it's a good idea to get exposure,” said Janic Vyater, a Brighton Beach native who supports the idea of a reality show. “Not too many people outside of Brighton know about it.”
Others were more skeptical.
Janet Veksler's 17-year-old daughter, a solid student and soccer player, auditioned for the show but was not cast. Her mother was comfortable with the choice.
“They're looking for Jersey Shore people. The drinkers, the bar people,” said Veksler, who does not think the show will help or hurt Brighton Beach, where she lives. “They're not looking for soccer players.”
Vyater, a well-built 30-year-old wearing a white gym ensemble and sunglasses, wondered if he was too old for the show. In his younger, wilder days he said he would have jumped at the opportunity. He still might, he decided.
“I would, why not?” he said. “Free rent for a while. Meet some girls. You know they're going to be hooking up. It's gonna get juicy.”