William Shatner Fires Back at Russian TV Executive

William Shatner arrives at the opening of "Destination Star Trek London", first official Star Trek event in the UK in a decade, at the ExCel centre in east London on October 19, 2012.

Leon Neal/Getty Images William Shatner arrives at the opening of "Destination Star Trek London", first official Star Trek event in the UK in a decade, at the ExCel centre in east London on October 19, 2012.

William Shatner of “Star Trek” fame recently announced that he will be hosting a new show called “I Don’t Understand” on the Russian network RT. The network is part of Russia’s state-owned media.

Soon after he made the announcement, journalists, public figures, and fans began to criticize Shatner for associating himself with a media outlet controlled by the Russian government. Shatner took to Twitter to fire back at his critics. He explained that he didn’t have any control over the network on which his new show would air, clarifying that RT bought the distribution rights to the show. Shatner also insisted that though the show would be airing on a state-owned network, his show was neither political nor propaganda as critics suggested.

The Twitter War between Shatner and his Twitter critics continued for several days after the announcement.


Shatner vs. RT’s Editor in Chief

On Friday, July 2, the Editor in Chief of RT, Margarita Simonyan, inserted herself into the discourse, tweeting, “William Shatner – the legend of the American TV series Star Trek – will host a new program with us. Captain Kirk went over to the side of good :).”

When the tweet was brought to Shatner’s attention, he fired back, insisting that he had no relationship with Simonyan. He again clarified that the network had simply bought the distribution rights to the show and that he himself was not affiliated with the network in any way.


Shatner’s Tweetstorm

Shatner’s response to Simonyan started a tweetstorm centered on how much control Shatner had over where his show aired.

Several people accused Shatner of downplaying his involvement with RT, insisting that he must have had some idea that his show would be aired on the state-run network. Shatner shot back, emphasizing the fact that he had no “contractual relationship with RT.” He clarified that he’d signed a contract with Ora Media, not RT, and reiterated that he had no control over which networks bought distribution rights from Ora.

Shatner also pointed out that he did have a contractual obligation to promote the show, regardless of his personal feelings about the network. When people pushed back, asking what would really happen if he failed to promote the show, Shatner insisted that he could be sued.

Shatner also pointed out that the show that made him famous airs in multiple foreign countries, and that people don’t seem to be upset about that.

“And what about Star Trek shown in countries all over the world on stations that are owned & run by the governments that have major human rights violations. You going to blame me for that too?”

The tweet furthered his argument that he, as an actor on a show, should not be held responsible for the problematic networks on which the show airs.


How Much Say Does Shatner Have?

According to a paper written by Daniel Satorius, a lawyer experienced in television and film distribution rights, the producers typically negotiate distribution deals with television networks. Producers, and their lawyers, work with television networks to establish which networks can air their shows.

According to the press release from RT, Mikhail Solodovnikov is the executive producer of Shatner’s new show. Solodovnikov is also the head of RT. The press release from RT called Shatner the host of the new show and did not mention whether or not he was a producer on the show.

Shatner’s tweets do not address whether he knew that Solodovnikov was the executive producer when he signed the deal with Ora Media. They also do not address whether he is also a producer on the show. The information about the show currently available also does not indicate that Shatner is a producer on the show.

If he was a producer on the show, it’s possible that he had a say in which networks could air his new show. However, if he’s not a producer on the show, he may not have known which networks had bought distribution rights. Shatner is certainly presenting the narrative that he had nothing to do with the distribution deal.

Several Twitter users pointed out that an experienced actor like Shatner probably has more awareness about these deals than he’s saying he does. However, it’s unlikely that the extent of his involvement in the distribution rights deal will be made public.

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