But if you were watching the pop-up questions sent through the Internet during the hours-long event, you might think you were in a parallel universe.
“Putin, do you really think that the people believe in this circus with fake questions?” read one question, which appeared on-screen minutes after the program began.
The question, which seemed like a mistake, was quickly shared by gleeful Russian commentators critical of Putin.
Was it a mistake? Or a purposeful attempt to show that Russian TV is uncensored? Whatever it was, the provocative questions became a welcome contrast to the softball questions being tossed at Putin by the presenters.
Soon, viewers were taking up the question of whether Putin should stay in power.
Less than an hour into the program, the question had appeared behind Putin: “Maybe you're tired and it's time for you to take a break?”
So far, Putin has carefully avoided saying whether he will run for a fourth term as president, setting up a potential 24-year reign that hasn't been seen in Russia since the time of the czars or Stalin.
Those words (“maybe you're tired") also recalled the final speech given by Boris Yeltsin, who in a shock decision delivered at midnight on Dec. 31, 1999, told a nationwide audience, “I am leaving.”
“Russia should enter the new millennium with new politicians, with new faces, with new, smart, strong, energetic people,” Yeltsin said then, against the backdrop of a Christmas tree. “And we, those who have been in power for many years, we should go.”
A troupe on the Russian comedy show KVN parodied the speech another way: “I'm tired. I'm leaving.”
There were more questions in the same vein. Another one read: “All of Russia thinks you've sat too long on your 'throne.'”
This isn't the first year this has happened. In 2015, a crawl on the bottom of the screen showed questions that were obviously unedited, such as, “Why has Mr. Putin established an authoritarian regime which is turning into a totalitarian one?”
Yet it still seemed to catch producers by surprise. As John Sparks, Moscow correspondent for Sky News, noted later in the program, “studio cams now trying to avoid big screen.”
Some touched on topics the Kremlin studiously avoids, such as criticism from opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose name Putin avoids saying on camera even when asked point-blank about him.
“Are they really saying that Navalny is now shooting a film about you?” another question read.
That was a reference to a film produced by Navalny about properties tied to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that he allegedly received through corrupt schemes. The revelations set off the latest wave of anti-corruption protests in cities across Russia, leading to thousands of detentions and reinvigorating a political opposition that has been largely dormant for years.
Another barb aimed at Medvedev was a question riffing on his remarks: “There's no money, but you hang in there.”
“How long are we going to hear: 'there's no money, but you hang in there?' ” wrote a commenter who identified herself as a retiree.
Critics also took aim at other officials and corrupt practices, including a deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, whose 35-year-old son was recently appointed to a plum position as general director of a major Russian aircraft manufacturer.
“Rogozin found a job for his son. Maybe he can find a job for my son too?”
Some were even seeking to turn back the clocks a few decades. “When are you going to give power back to the Communists?”