Can you name the TV show that was more popular than Cheers or Seinfeld and that also contributed to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power? Well, have a vatrushka on me if you correctly named the Soviet Union’s answer to James Bond – Seventeen Moments of Spring!
For 12 consecutive nights starting August 11th, 1973, between 50-80 million Soviet viewers tuned in to this black-and-white WWII spy drama about an undercover Soviet agent infiltrating the Nazi upper ranks.
It’s February 1945. Allied forces are fighting on German soil, in both the West and the East. Clearly, Nazi’s Germany’s days are numbered.
However, Soviet paranoia is only rising, and quite justifiably so. The Soviets worry that the Nazis are conducting secret negotiations with the Americans to set up a separate peace treaty. And so, Soviet spy, Maxim Isaev, operating as Max Otto von Stierlitz, is directed to find out what’s going on.
Interested in watching yet? Maybe these facts will intrigue you:
- The head of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, was so gripped by the show that he would change the Politiburo’s Central Committee meeting times to ensure he could catch every episode.
- The series was commissioned by the head of the KGB and later Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, to improve the spy agency’s public image, including with young potential recruits.
- Vladimir Putin is reported to have been inspired by the show. Two years after it first screened, he joined the KGB and thereafter spent many years serving in East Germany.
- Many people in Russia and the former Eastern Bloc associate Putin with von Stierlitz. In 1991, a Russian short film made about then St. Petersburg city councilor Putin directly linked him with von Stierlitz. The comparison continues to this day
- There is an entire subgenre of jokes based on von Stierlitz’s humorless, deadpan delivery. Watch to get in on the in-jokes!