Countries are vying for the rights to Servant of the People – a comedy series starring the Ukrainian president, as Ukrainian president.
In 2015, former actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky played Vasiliy Petrovich Goloborodko, a high school teacher propelled to the presidency after a video of a student showing him speaking out against official corruption in Ukraine went viral.
Goloborodko sets out to run the country while avoiding the perks of being chief by keeping control of his normal life.
A hit in Ukraine, where it ran for three seasons and a spin-off film, interest in the series has peaked since Zelensky became the face of the nation as he comes under attack from Russia.
Eccho Rights has distributed the program, produced by Zelensky’s Studio Kvartel 95, since its launch. The company’s managing partner, Nicola Söderlund, said sales had increased significantly over the past few days, calling interest in the program “remarkable”.
“It’s already an old show,” he explains. “But, of course, given the circumstances, it became very, very, very interesting for everyone.”
Channel 4 has announced that it has the rights to Servant of the People in the UK and plans to air an episode on Sunday, alongside a current affairs program on Zelensky. Eccho Rights also reported deals with MBC in the Middle East, ANT 1 in Greece and PRO TV in Romania, as well as broadcasters in Bulgaria, Moldova, Estonia, France, Finland and Georgia.
“People are surprised that a comedian could be a politician, but he was,” says Söderlund. “His skills in delivering compelling messages to people, which is what you have to do if you’re a TV host, helped him a lot in becoming a politician.”
Eccho Rights has donated 50,000 euros to the Ukrainian Red Cross, which Söderlund says should offset the money they earned from selling the show. The company has also removed from its catalog all TV shows produced in Russia or in Russia.
Söderlund met Zelensky in 2012 when they distributed one of his comedy shows called Crack Them Up, where ordinary people have to make comedians laugh. The premise of Servant of the People immediately appealed to him.
Zelensky tapped into the humor of an ordinary man in a corrupt society riding his bike to the presidential palace, foregoing a pay raise, and living at home with his mother. “That was kind of the idea,” Söderlund said, “and I loved it.”
Servant of the People won Best Feature Series at the Teletriumph Awards in Ukraine as well as the Gold Remi Award for Television Comedy at WorldFest 2016 in Houston.