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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Political Shows Jockeying for Position

In a sign that the information war during the presidential race will be at least as vicious as the one during the parliamentary campaign last year, Russia's leading television channels last weekend reshuffled the timeslots of their heavyweight political shows as ORT's Sergei Dorenko and NTV's Yevgeny Kiselyov returned after a two-week vacation.

This time, television and politics addicts will no longer have to employ their VCRs to see both shows or frantically flip their remote controls, as they had since early September when the shows went into direct competition at 9 p.m. Sunday.

NTV announced in late December that Kiselyov's show "Itogi" would move to the 7 p.m. slot Sunday. In the old 9 p.m. slot, NTV scheduled a vastly popular Russian police series, "The Street of Broken Laterns," or "Menty," hoping it would draw the audience away from Dorenko.

But as the drama of what is known among television professionals as "counter-programming" unfolded, ORT unexpectedly announced Friday that Dorenko's show was moving to 9 p.m. on Saturday, instead of Pavel Sheremet's analytical "Vremya" program.

In an interview published Saturday in the newspaper Segodnya, Dorenko said since Kiselyov "fled the battlefield" he "didn't feel like staying" there. "Coming out on Saturday, I have one more day off" Sunday, he was quoted as saying.

NTV said its rescheduling of "Itogi" was not acknowledgment of a defeat by Dorenko. NTV spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova said Monday that "Itogi" was "returning to its roots" since it came on at 7 p.m. when it began eight years ago. The change also "helped build up a better schedule," Blinova said in a telephone interview.

According to GallupMedia polling research done for NTV, Dorenko's program gradually surpassed Kiselyov's show in the ratings in Moscow. In the provinces, where the outreach of NTV is smaller and people are more used to watching ORT, the gap was bigger.

On Saturday, Dorenko's program offered a retrospective of Boris Yeltsin's era and an extended interview with acting President Vladimir Putin. Dorenko's tone was largely pro-Putin, although he pointed to the hard time the military is having in Chechnya. He also kept up his assault on Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

The following day, Kiselyov's tone in his coverage of Putin's ascent to power sounded skeptical. Contrary to the common view that Putin has started to dista nce himself from Yeltsin's entourage, "Itogi" stressed that the key figures in the presidential administration remained in place. It also criticized the Chechnya operation in extended coverage.

Blinova said, according to GallupMedia, 15.3 percent of Muscovites watched "Itogi" on Sunday and 12.2 percent tuned in for Dorenko on Saturday. The "Menty" series, uncontested by Dorenko's show, attracted 22.1 percent of Muscovites. No data for Russia's provinces was available.

ORT spokesman Grigory Simanovich said Monday that Sheremet was preparing another program, which would appear on Sundays in February. He could not say if it would be at 9 p.m. or not.