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Russia dropped the Ukrainian president’s satirical TV show after censoring a Putin joke in episode one. According to preliminary data in Moscow, the ratings were actually pretty good.

Source: Meduza
Studio Kvartal-95 / Ukrainian Independent Information Agency (УНИАН)

The show didn’t last long on Russian airwaves, but the first two episodes of Volydymr Zelensky’s political satire, “Servant of the People,” outperformed other shows on the TNT network (not to be confused with Turner Network Television) when they were broadcast on December 11, earning higher ratings than the Russian sitcoms “Interns” and “SashaTanya.” That’s according to Mediascope's preliminary data in Moscow. shared with Meduza by staff at two Russian TV networks.

TNT’s December 11 broadcast of “Servant of the People” captured an estimated 4.6 percent of Russian TV viewers with its first double episode and five percent with its second episode. Before Zelensky’s program aired, TNT showed four episodes of “Interns,” which peaked with a 4.6-percent audience share, and afterward the network broadcast an episode of “SashaTanya” with a 4.1-percent audience share.

The numbers show that “Servant of the People” drew higher ratings than TNT’s average audience in Moscow. Based on Mediascope’s records for the week, TNT programming averaged 3.4 percent of all television viewers in Moscow above the age of four. 

Among the network’s target audience in Moscow (Russians between the ages of 14 and 44), “Servant of the People” also drew more viewers than average for TNT: 11 percent instead of nine percent.

TNT’s most popular show this season, the comedy “Polyarny” (about an ex-con hiding from gangsters in Russia’s Murmansk region), premiered with a 7.4-percent share of Moscow’s television audience, according to Mediascope’s data. The sitcom, which concluded on November 27, also outperformed other shows that aired on rival networks in the same time slot, according to TNT

TNT broadcast only the first two episodes of “Servant of the People,” and actually censored a joke about Vladimir Putin, before announcing that the rest of the show’s first season will not air but be available online through the “Premier” streaming service. Dmitry Chernyshenko, the CEO of Gazprom-Media, which controls TNT, says the rights to the series were “originally purchased for the paid platform.”

But an employee at another television network controlled by Gazprom-Media told Meduza that the media holding has never marketed a show like this before. “It’s a very strange approach: showing the series on a paid platform when it’s available [elsewhere] for free,” a top executive at another broadcast network told Meduza.

A source at one of Russia’s national TV networks told Meduza that the state hasn’t paid close attention to TNT until now because it doesn’t feature news or political broadcasting. Reports about the channel censoring a joke at President Putin’s expense, however, rocketed to the top of Yandex’s news aggregator, which could have caused a stir inside the Kremlin about the show, says Meduza’s source.

At the time of this writing, Gazprom-Media has not commented officially on the “Servant of the People” ratings released by Mediascope. An executive at another TV network told Meduza that nationwide ratings might better explain TNT’s decision to move the show off the air.

Report by Anastasya Iakoreva

Translation by Kevin Rothrock