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Russian TV Pulls Plug On Ukrainian President's Comedy Series One Day After Premiere

Then-actor Volodymyr Zelensky during the shooting of the comedy program in December 2016
Then-actor Volodymyr Zelensky during the shooting of the comedy program in December 2016

Russia's state-connected TNT TV channel has pulled Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's Servant Of The People sitcom off the air just a day after its premiere in the country.

TNT aired the first three episodes of the first season of the series, in which Zelenskiy plays the main role of a history teacher who unexpectedly gets elected president, on December 11.

TV listings originally showed subsequent episodes were to be aired on December 12 and 13, but late on December 11 they were changed and now show two other TV series -- Interns and SashaTanya -- replacing the Ukrainian sitcom.

TNT, owned by Gazprom-Media, told local media that it had never planned to air all the show's episodes despite what was advertised, saying the decision was a "marketing ploy" to raise the visibility of its subscription service.

State-controlled gas giant Gazprom's media arm is Russia's largest media company, with holdings including several leading television channels, radio stations, and print media.

In its promotional ad for the show, TNT told its 35 million weekly viewers several preemptive words: "The show is a utopia that has nothing to do with Zelenskiy's Ukraine."

Before the plug was pulled, viewers in Russia's earlier time zones in the Far East reported on social media of being able to watch the uncut version of the comedy show.

Later in the day, viewers in the European part of Russia, including Moscow, noticed a scene was cut in the first episode where Zelenskiy's character names a luxury Swiss watch brand whose pronunciation sounds like a crude Russian obscenity that some critics use to describe Putin.

Servant Of the People was scheduled to start airing on the popular Russian online streaming platform Premier on December 12.

The show's airing and then cancelation comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zelenskiy met face-to-face for the first time in Paris to find a lasting peace in the eastern Ukrainian conflict.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on December 12 that the Kremlin had no involvement in the show's cancelation.

The first season of the show was released in Ukraine in 2015 and Zelenskiy was elected president in May 2019. His Servant of the People party later in the year won an outright majority during parliamentary elections.

With reporting by the BBC's Russian Service and Vedomosti

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