Stengel’s best bet was Michael M. Lynton, then the chairman of Sony Pictures, who had grown up in the Netherlands and immediately understood what Stengel was trying to do. He recalled how in the 1970s one Dutch political party sponsored episodes of “M.A.S.H.” to portray America as sympathetic to the antiwar movement. A rival party bought the rights to “All in the Family” to send the message that U.S. cities were filled with bigots like Archie Bunker.
But Sony’s agreements with broadcasters in the region prevented Lynton from giving away programming. Other studios also turned Stengel away.
Back in Washington, Stengel got Voice of America to launch a round-the-clock Russian-language news broadcast and found a few million dollars to translate PBS documentaries on the Founding Fathers and the American Civil War into Russian for broadcast in eastern Ukraine. He had wanted programing such as “Game of Thrones” but would instead have to settle for the likes of Ken Burns.
“We brought a tiny, little Swiss Army knife to a gunfight,” he said.