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Ratings through roof for Rossiya’s ‘Master’

Opening episode nabbed 29.7% in Moscow

Russian pubcaster Rossiya is scoring an end-of-year triumph with its adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “Master and Margarita” from helmer Vladimir Bortko.

Ratings for opening double episode of the 10-parter, which aired Dec. 19, were a stellar 29.7% in Moscow and 24.2% on a 47.1 share around Russia.

Broadcast also set a local precedent by airing without ads. Subsequent episodes are airing with considerably fewer ad breaks than is standard in the territory.

The series, which mixes scenes from 1930s Moscow with historical episodes from the time of Jesus Christ in the Holy Land, had a budget of more than $5 million, according to Rossiya. Moscow scenes are shot in sepia, with color and dramatic special effects in other episodes.

It’s a vindication of the station’s commitment to the classics, and follows on from Bortko’s internationally acclaimed version of Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” two years ago. Bortko helmed another Bulgakov adaptation, “Heart of a Dog,” in 1988.

Cast includes vets Oleg Basilashvili as the wizard Woland and Kirill Lavrov as Pontius Pilate, alongside younger talent like Sergei Bezrukov as the Christ figure, Yeshua.

Bortko wrote a first script 10 years ago and originally entered into production four years ago on a commission from rival channel NTV. Rossiya later took over and has heavily advertised series locally as the net’s key production of the year. Director Valery Todorovsky (“Land of the Deaf”) produced for Rossiya.

The novel, long banned in Soviet days, has developed something of a local reputation for the bad luck associated with Russian attempts to film it.

Director Yury Cara completed a version in the early 1990s that never saw the light of day due to disagreements with producers. Elem Klimov also had very ambitious — and pricey — plans for the work, but, despite interest from Hollywood, that never became reality.

For auds not sated by the closing seg, which aired Friday, Rossiya will release the full series in a multi-DVD package in late January.

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