With broad strokes of color and lively observation, Garrick Utley's taped reports on the nature of life in Russia add dimension to NBC television's unique full-court press of the Soviet Union.
Utley, chief foreign correspondent for the network and a seasoned visitor to Russia for more than a decade, spent two weeks in the country with two production crews assembling reports to establish a basic context for viewers' understanding of the communist superpower.
Inserted into the "Nightly News" this week, Utley's three-minute segments deal with the character of the Russians, Soviet propaganda, the country's economic woes and the growth of the Moslem minority. A summary essay will be broadcast early next week.
The segments on Soviet propaganda and the Central Asian minorities stand out as special examples of Utley's ability to move smoothly beneath the surface of things to find a new aspect of the country's endlessly surprising reality. Soviet propaganda, he shorthands, paints U.S. life in primary colors: "violence, unemployment, human misery." This is a commonplace observation. But Utley takes the next step: Do Soviets believe what they see? A street interview with a Soviet breadwinner casually and abruptly reveals the self-righteous fears crafted in the populace by the regime's propaganda:
"You have crime, sadism, drug addiction . . . Our TV can always be trusted," intones this Soviet everyman without batting an eye. "I would never trust American TV -- all those channels and programs!"
In the section on Central Asia, Utley and his crew take us to Tashkent, the capital of Soviet Uzbek, and to Samarkand, the fabled ancient city of Tamerlane, which reigned supreme in the region six centuries ago. Now, Utley points out, Tamerlane's descendants are multiplying at an astonishing rate; unless current population trends change dramatically, the Russians will be a minority in their own country in about one more decade.
The challenge this seemingly inexorable development presents to the aged, fearful Kremlin leadership is incalculable, Utley reminds us. The U.S.S.R. may look like a monolith, but it is dynamic and changing, he concludes, "by the numbers."