Russian channel pulls Ukrainian comedy after one day

Moscow (AFP) –


A Russian TV channel that broadcast a popular Ukrainian comedy series starring actor-turned-president Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday cancelled the show, after just one evening.

The series Servant of the People premiered in Russia on Wednesday evening on the entertainment channel TNT, which is owned by Russian gas giant Gazprom.

The first of three episodes was shown after a high-profile summit with Zelensky and Russia's Vladimir Putin, and was seen as yet another indication of warming ties.

But the channel on Thursday said it would no longer show the series on TV and invited fans to watch it on its paid internet platform, calling the decision a "marketing move."

"Our goal was to entice users of the platform with new content," spokeswoman Ekaterina Trofimova told AFP.

Servant of the People premiered in Ukraine in 2015 starring Zelensky as Vasyl Goloborodko, a history teacher who suddenly becomes president, roots out corruption, and takes on powerful oligarchs.

In the first episode, as Goloborodko assumes the unexpected presidency, he is shown a range of watches to choose from, including a Hublot timepiece worn, according to the series, by Vladimir Putin.

"Putin - Hublot?" Goloborodko says incredulously, in a play on words which references a popular obscene anti-Putin chant.

The episode was shown without the scene by TNT on Wednesday evening, drawing instant ridicule online, after which the first reports emerged that the show would be pulled altogether.

Viewers pointed out on TNT's VK social networking page that the decision to move the show onto a paid platform in fact makes no marketing sense because it was already available to internet users for free on YouTube.

"Shame on you!" wrote one commentator Anton Gololobov. "Was cutting out the scene about Putin's watch also a marketing move?"

Zelensky, 41, was inaugurated in May after winning the election over incumbent Petro Poroshenko, capitalising on Ukrainians' despair over mainstream politics, the ongoing war war with Kremlin-backed separatists and corruption.

According to Gazprom Media, 38.5 million Russians watch TNT every week.