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February 6, 2024 39 mins

Along the walls of the Chamber of the Great Council in the Doge's Palace in Venice, there are portraits—one after another—of the Republic's doges. Each man has his likeness, and a description of some of his accomplishments. But there's a gap in the parade -- one man was painted over, and covered with a painted black veil. A man who committed a crime against the Republic so great, that he was "condemned in memory."

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to Noble Blood, a production of iHeartRadio and Grimm
and Mild from Aaron Manky listener discretion advised. Last year,
I was lucky enough to go on my honeymoon to Italy.
We began our trip in Venice, and after shaking off

the jet lag and enjoying our first Italian espresso, we
set off to the iconic Piazza San Marco or Saint
Mark's Square for a tour of the Doge's Palace. First
built in thirteen forty, it was the seat of the
government of the Venetian Republic and the residence of the

Doge himself for hundreds of years. But it's far from
your typical medieval palace. Its relatively simple, rectangular structure is
balanced by a delicate pattern of pink and white bricks,
with intricate stonework elements and plenty of arches along the

balcony and arcade below. Along with the basilica attached to it,
The palace dominates the eastern end of Piazza San Marco,
Venice's largest and most iconic square that for centuries was
the center of civic and religious life in the city.
The palace became a museum in nineteen twenty three. Each

room in the palace, from those making up the Doge's
apartments to the institutional chambers for the Republic's many governing bodies,
is adorned to an almost absurd extent. There are hand
carved furnishings, gilded accents, and on nearly every wall and

ceiling a mural painted by someone famous, though our tour
guide did note a few murals that were recreatedations Napoleon
having stolen the originals. Even the bridge from the main
palace to the now defunct prison has a breath taking
view of the lagoon. That bridge is aptly called the

Bridge of Size, because famously that was the sound reportedly
heard over the centuries from prisoners taking one last look
at the outside world before they were locked up. But
perhaps the most splendid room in the palace is the
Chamber of the Great Council. It's one of the largest

rooms in Europe, a fun fact that you might not
think much of until you're actually inside of it. It
is massive and imposing, almost one hundred and seventy five
feet long and over eighty feet wide, with fifteen foot ceilings,
and nearly every surface is covered either inornate gold, dramatic

dark wood, or an intricate, gigantic painted mural. It's easy
to get overwhelmed by the dizzying amount of art in
the chamber. You could strain your neck trying to take
in the twenty one murals that grace the walls alone,
featuring work by the likes of Tintoretto, Palma the Younger,

and Varones. But if you can tear your eyes away
from the big ticket art, right along the top of
the walls, going all the way around the room are
a series of smaller portrait freezes, all quite similar and
easy to miss if you aren't careful. The portraits, all

painted in the sixteenth century, immortalize the likenesses of seventy
six Doges who reigned in Venice from eight hundred and
four to fifteen fifty six portraits depict each Doge in
his regalia, each holding an obnoxiously long and wavy piece

of parchment bearing his greatest achievements during his reign. That is,
except for one there's a break in the parade of Doges.
Instead of a portrait, there's just a painting of a
black drape, as if to protect viewers from laying their
eyes upon some great shame, and to deny the fallen

doge the honor of being remembered. In thirteen fifty five,
the Doze in power decided that just being the head
of a republic wasn't enough, and he attempted to stage
a coup that would prove a disastrous and tragic failure.
In a room otherwise filled with color and detail and

glittering odes to the serene republic. The black out portrait
certainly makes it clear that this doge had made some
fatal error, but as if a big old black box
weren't signal enough that he screwed up. The drape also
has an inscription painted in bold gold letters that leaves

no doubt as to the Doge's fate. It reads, in Latin,
he asked locus Marini filetro decapititi po creminibus. This is
the place of Marino Faliero beheaded for his crimes. I'm
Dana Schwartz, and this is noble blood. The early history

of Venice is a blend of myth and reality, bolstered
by a lack of historical records and an abundance of
dramatic flare tradition has it that Venice was founded on
March twenty fifth, in the year four hundred and twenty
one CE, at exactly the stroke of noon. Three consuls

from nearby Padua were said to have founded the city
that would become an empire, with the establishment of a
trading post on the islands of the Rialto and the
consecration of a church dedicated to Saint James. The mainland
making up the coast of the Venetian Lagoon, which the

Venetians would come to call the Terra Firma, was likely
settled in the second century by Roman refugees from what
is now northern Italy, who ran to the coast as
they were fleeing Germanic and hun invaders. Successive invasions over
the course of several hundred years continue to push them further. Finally,

after the invasion of the Lombards in five hundred and
sixty eight, we begin to see references in documents to
the in Kalai Lacouni, or the Lagoon dwellers, those who
had not only begun to take refuge on the islands
in the Lagoon, but had fashioned them to their benefit
by building embankments, allowing them to thrive in what had

previously been an uninhabitable environment. According to legend, the lagoon
dwellers elected their first doge in six hundred ninety seven,
But the first doze for whom we have historical evidence
was elected by the twelve major families of Venice a

few decades later, in seven hundred twenty six or seven
hundred and twenty seven. But unlike most of the dukes
that you know, who tended to either answer to a
king or rule an area as sovereign, the Venetian Doge
from the very beginning, was intended as the head of

a republic. The doge was the head of state, but
a great deal of political power rested in the hands
of the Concho, the People's Assembly, which consisted originally of
all male citizens and patricians, that is, nobles of Venice.
The Concho initially had the responsibility of appointing the Doge.

The doge wasn't a hereditary position, but an elected one.
The same went for the members of the Great Council,
a group of so called wise men appointed by the
Concho to assist the Doge in governance. All this to say,
the history of Venice, and more importantly Venetian's idea of

the history of Venice was ever present as the Republic
continued to grow and change into the Middle Ages and
far beyond. Central to the Venetian civic identity was this
traditional story of a group of people coming together to
collectively defend themselves against a common enemy and to build

their city literally from the ground up together. It was
this steadfast commitment to the idea of the republic and
what it stood for that earned Venice its nickname La Serenissima,
meaning the most serene. However, contrary to this self given moniker,

medieval Venice was not without its rumblings. Marino Faliera was
born in twelve seventy four, and by that time Venice
had seen a number of significant political shifts as the
city wrestled between its republican ideals and the hunger of
a growing elite class who wanted more power. We know

very little, if anything, about Marino Falierro's early life. He
was the son of Yaho Capo Falieriro and Bariola Lurdon,
and was one of three sons. He had an uncle
who shared his name, which has led to some confusion
over the years. In the historical record, we know the
Faliero family was patrician, which was particularly important given that

in twelve ninety seven, when Faliero was twenty three, the
nobles of Venice orchestrated what came to be known as
the Great Lockout. The Great Council moved to make membership
in its ranks hereditary rather than elected, essentially stripping the
Concho of its power, including the power to elect the Doge,

and creating a closed noble class in the city. Venice
continued to call itself a republic, but it was now
very much an oligarchy. Despite our sparse history of his
early life, we do know that Falierro's early polite medical
career was defined by dealing with the aftermath of that lockout.

His first documented appearance in the historical record finds him
rising in these now closed ranks. On October tenth, thirteen fifteen,
at forty one years old, he was on the newly
formed Council of ten, an inquisitorial arm of the Venetian government,

when it decided to reward the man who had killed
Niccolo Quarini, who had played an instrumental role in an
attempted coup that had taken place a few years prior
that conspiracy had happened in thirteen ten, when Niccolo Quarini,
Baiamonte Tiepolo and other conspirators had attempted to overthrow the

Venetian government in order to restore the power of the concho.
For a number of reasons, including poor planning and bad weather,
their plan failed. The Council of Ten, which Falierra was on,
was originally formed to deal with the aftermath of that conspiracy,
instituting the election of you guessed it, ten noblemen who

were tasked with prosecuting crimes against the state. When Tiepolo surrendered,
the ten exiled him and sentenced him to be quote
condemned in memory. This was a legal punishment at the
time that could be pretty wide ranging in what it
actually looked like, but the intended effect was to remove

a person from official accounts or public memory. The punishment
of being condemned in memory was not really about complete erasure,
though it was more symbolic than anything else, meant mostly
as a social punishment to a person's descendants and associates,
and a cautionary tale to anyone who would dare challenge

the nobility's power. So think less nineteen eighty four and
more burn from the musical Hamilton. Eliza knows that her
burning her letters won't mean that no one will ever
know who her husband was in the future. But without
those letters, the story that we tell about him will
be different. Forgive the musical theater reference, but it seemed

fitting for Tiapolo being condemned in memory meant that his
house was demolished, and in its place a so called
column of infamy was erected, the column which a henchman
of Tiapolo's would later lose his eyes and a hand
for attempting to destroy. Read roughly translated, this land belonged

to Baiamante, and now for his inquisitous betrayal, this has
been placed to frighten others and to show these words
to everyone forever. If all this sounds a little, I
don't know familiar, hold that thought. Marino Follieri remained on
the Council of Ten for another five years after his

first appearance in its records. Over the following decades, Falierro
continued to be appointed to various government positions that saw
him accumulate a good deal of power and a great
deal of respect. He would actually go on to serve
on the Council of Ten several more times, occasionally at

its head, interspersed with stints engaging in mercantile trade, serving
on a tribunal, mediating disputes between commoners, captaining a galley ship,
and representing Venice abroad as a diplomat. In thirteen forty three,
he was in the running for Doge, but in a
shocking upset, thirty seven year old Andrea Dandolo was elected instead.

The position of Doge, although elected, was traditionally given to
the eldest and most experienced member of the patriciate, and
Faliero outr ranked Dandolo in both regards. It must have
been a real blow to the older man's ego, but
if it was, he never let on. Valiero continued to

serve Venice faithfully. By September seventh, thirteen fifty four, when
Dandolo died at only forty eight years old, Marino Falieriro
was in Avignon, serving as the ambassador of Venice to
Pope Innocent the sixth. Meanwhile, Venice buried the Doge, and
then the Great Council began the comically complicated process of

selecting his successor put in place to attempt to prevent
any one noble from making a power grab. The process
began with the convening of the council and now bear
with me for a system that seems almost insanely baroque
and complex. So once the Great Council had convened, the

youngest councilor present would be sent outside palace to choose
a random eight to ten year old child off the
street who would serve essentially as the Vana White of
the Dojal election. This random child was responsible for drawing
smooth metal balls called belote where the word ballot comes from,

with the names of councilors written on them. Thirty council
members would be chosen this way, and then from those thirties,
the child would choose nine names. Those nine councilors would
choose of their own volition forty councilors, and then out
of those forty, the random street child would choose twelve.

The twelve would then choose twenty five councilors, and then
from those the child would draw nine. Those nine would
choose forty five, and the child of those forty five
would randomly draw eleven, and then those eleven would choose
forty one, and then the those forty one people would

elect the doge, and of those forty one electors, thirty
five this time around voted for Marino Faliero, one of
the oldest and most honorable members of the Venetian nobility
who had given decades of service to the Republic. A
messenger was soon sent to Avignon to retrieve him, and

a group of twelve ambassadors met him in Verona to
formally give him the good news. He was eighty years old,
but Marino Faliero was finally, finally the Doge of Venice.
He had reached the pinnacle, the ultimate goal of any
noble Venetian. How victorious he must have felt on that

boat coming into his city, watching Venice emerge slowly over
the water as if to welcome him home. But perhaps
his serenity, like the Republic whose honorific he now shared,
also had the sense that something else was bubbling under
the surface. Marino Faliero returned to Venice in October thirteen

fifty four as the ruler of a city in turmoil.
The Republic had been at war with Genoa again, and
barely two months into Faliero's tenure as Doge, Venice faced
an embarrassing naval defeat against Genoa in the Battle of
Porto Lungo, the result of poor strategy on the part

of the Venetian naval forces. While Genoa gathered power in
the wake of its victory, the Venetian people grew restless.
Resentment against the nobility had been brewing since the Great Lockout,
but it seemed now to be reaching a boiling point.
It was in this environment of tension, with the threat

of the Genoese on the horizon, that things began to
take a turn toward the treasonous for Marino Faliero almost
immediately after his reign as Doge began. There is much
we do not know for sure about the lead up
to what has been termed the Faliero Coup. There is
uncertainty even about why he did it at all. At

first glance, it seems at odds with Falierro's character and history.
How could this man who had seemingly spent decades in
service of Venice without causing any trouble turn on his
beloved republic so suddenly In classic Venetian fashion. There is
a traditional story on one hand, and a less interesting,

more complicated, but ultimately more likely theory. On the other
we'll start with the juicy story. Obviously not long into
Falierro's reign, it seems early thirteen fifty five Faliero married
a woman named Alquina Grattenigo, the daughter of a former doge,
Pietro Grottenigo. This was not Faliero's first marriage, but we

don't know much about his first wife. She may have
been named Thomasina Contarini, and it seems that they had
two daughters, Lucia and Pinola. In any case, Alquina, at
forty five years old, was much younger than her husband,
only slightly more than half of Faliero's age. The truth

is we know pretty little about her too, but the
story tends to paint her as a fourteenth century gold digger, beautiful, vivacious,
and most of all licentious. According to the story, she
was rumored to have been engaging in affairs with numerous

members of the patrician class. During a carnival celebration at
the Doge's palace in thirteen fifty five, it is said
that Doge Faliero observed one of these nobles, the twenty
four year old Michel Steno flirting with the Dogaressa, or
possibly flirting with one of her ladies in waiting. Either way.

Incensed at the disrespectful actions of the young noble, Faliero
kicked Steno out of the festivities. The incident would have
certainly rankled the aging doge to see his beautiful, younger
wife receiving attention from a much younger man, But the
real kicker came reportedly hours later, when Steno snuck back

into the palace under cover of night and carved an
insult into Faliero's chair in the chamber of the Great Council.
It got right to the heart of the matter. Quote
Marino Falliero with the beautiful wife, he maintains her and
others enjoy her. For this act, the story goes, Steno

was a rested, but still Falierro wasn't satisfied. He wasn't
just angry at Steno, but at the entire Patricia. After
his decades of service, this was how they were paid
him by sleeping with his wife and defacing the symbols
of his office. He thought of the other city states

of Italy, whose dukes commanded almost absolute power in comparison
to his they would never have been humiliated in that way,
and if they were, the punishment would have surely been
more severe. Well maybe it could be. Of course, there
isn't really much actual historical evidence to support this salacious

revenge story, and it seems to have begun spreading much later,
which is generally a good historical indicator that the story
didn't really happen. It's more likely that Falierro's quarrels with
the nobility were political in nature and bolstered by the
class tensions brought on by the lockout and stoked by

the war with Genoa. If indeed he looked to the
other city states and to the absolute power wielded by
their dukes, Faliero was probably thinking less about punishing his
personal enemies and more about how a singular, powerful doge
might benefit Venice. We also can't discount simple greed or

hunger for power. At his trial, Falierro seemed to regret
the coup and framed it more as a crime of
passion than a calculated political scheme, never mentioning any belief
that absolute rulership would benefit Venice. It's possible he simply
saw an opportunity to have it all and tried to

take it. Whatever the reason, it seems that the conspiracy
began to take shape in in the early spring of
thirteen fifty five. It was then that Faliero connected with
Bertuccio Isirello and Filippo Calendario, two men who were among
the class of Venetians who were respected and wealthy, but

still excluded from the closed noble class. We don't know
much about Isorello, but Calendario was an architect and was
in fact among the designers of the DOJ's Palace that
you can still see today. The plot had less the
air of a popular revolution and more the air of

a pyramid scheme. The idea was that Faliero and Isorello
would each recruit twenty men to their cause, and each
of those men were going to recruit another forty after that,
though the plot becomes very very simple in a manner
of speaking, kill all the nobles and their families. The

plan was to wait until in April fifteenth at dawn,
attacking at the stroke of the bells from San Marco.
Without the nobility, power in Venice would shift back to
where it belonged to the people, or perhaps more accurately,
to the one noble who wouldn't be killed, the Doge
leading the people. Things started off well enough. The conspirators

found sympathy, especially with those working in maritime trade, who
were particularly resentful of the nobility in the wake of
the Battle of Porto Lungo. The best part was that,
given the recruitment structure of the coup, the Doge's involvement
was really only known to the inner circle of a
few trusted men. It was that lack of transparency, though,

that would ultimately prove to be Faliero's downfall. On the
night before the coup was set to take place, one
conspirator who had been roped into the pyramid scheme, a
man named beltrom attempted to warn the Procurator of San Marco,
Niccolo Leone of the impending danger. Beltrommee had no knowledge

of Falierro's involvement, and so Leon of course went straight
to the Doze with his concerns. When Falierro dismissed them, however,
suspicion began to set in. Beltrommee seemed to have his
information on good authority. Why did the Doze just brush
them off? Leon brought his concerns to a few trusted

members of the Great Council. It turned out that Beltroma
was not the only conspirator who had squealed, and several
other nobles had also been warned of the plot. It
was becoming clear that something was very, very wrong, and
that Faliero may have had something to do with it.

Within hours, the Council of Ten was convened, along with
every major magistracy in the Republic except the Doge. As
nobles filed into the Piazza San Marco, armed to the
teeth and awaiting reinforcements, Philippo Callandario and Bertucci Isirello were arrested.

Under interrogation and likely torture, they revealed the names of
many of their fellow conspirators, including that of Marino Faliero,
the Doge of Venice. On April fifteenth, the day that
would have changed Venetian history forever, nine of the conspirators,

including Calendario and Isarello, were hanged from the arches of
the Doge's palace. Legend has it that they were hanged
with bits in their mouths so that they couldn't use
their last words to shout to the crowd watching from
the square. Below and stir up even more anti patrician.
Several other conspirators were sentenced to life imprisonment. With that done,

the nobles had to turn their attention to their greatest betrayal,
the Doge himself. The Council of Ten, the very council
from which Falierro himself had prosecuted a similar conspiracy just
forty years earlier, presided over the trial, along with the
Minor Council and the Zonta, which were all tasked with

mitigating the Doja's authority. The trial was quick and somber,
and by the next day a verdict had been reached.
The Doge's fate was sealed on April seventeenth, thirteen fifty five,
after fewer than seven months in office, and just two
days after he thought he would be the Lord of Venice,

Marino Faliero was sentenced to death. This would not be
a public execution. If Venetians knew anything was how to
spin a story, and they knew the difference between a
trader and a martyr is often a matter of optics.
They had made a display of the commoners they executed.

It was also important to show the might of the
republic against those who would destroy it. But a doze
who had turned on his own government was another matter entirely.
There would be no opportunity for Marino Faliero to become
a popular hero in death. Instead, the sentence would be
carried out in Falieriro's own home, in the courtyard of

the Doge's palace. Despite its privacy, however, the execution was
very much a performance in the presence of the entire nobility,
the men with whom Falierro had worked with for decades
and then betrayed. The fallen Doze was led by procession
into the courtyard. Members of the Council of Ten stripped

him of his royal regale before he was beheaded with
a sword to complete the story and likely also to
satisfy curious commoners. Once the deed was done, one of
the ten leaned out of a balcony with a bloody
sword in one hand and Faliero's head in the other.
He announced their victory. Look justice has been done to

the trader. On that day in thirteen fifty five, Marino
Faliero's new legacy was cemented, but his punishment was far
from over. Like Baiamante Tiapolo before him, Falieriro was sentenced
to dominetio memorie, being condemned in memory. In addition to

his removal from official records, the day of his conviction,
April sixteenth, would be marked every year, and subsequent dojes
would hold a precession and ceremony in Piazza San Marco
to remember Falierro's tragic betrayal and inevitable defeat. Legend has
it that all of the coinage from Faliero's reign, which

would have borne his likeness, was melted down, although it's
more likely that, given how short his reign was, it
simply hadn't been minted yet. But Marino Faliero's sentence wouldn't
really be complete until eleven years later, in thirteen sixty six,
when the Council of Ten decreed that his portrait in

the Chamber of the Great Council should be painted over
and an inscription placed in its stead hic fuits locus
ser Marina Feletri decapitated pro crimine pro di tiones. This
was the place of Sir Marino Fallieri beheaded for the
crime of treason. You may have noticed that that's not

quite the inscription I read at the beginning of this episode.
That's because in fifteen seven twenty seven, over two hundred
years after Marina Fellieri's execution, a fire destroyed significant portions
of the DOJ's Palace, including the chamber of the Great Council.
When it was rebuilt, new paintings had to be commissioned

to replace the old, including the set of portraits and
the portrait that had been painted over that had been
present in the previous iteration of the chamber. Instead of
simply omitting his portrait, the Venetian government chose to keep
the spirit of Falierro's condemnation, commissioning the black drape with

the inscription. As you can still see today, there's no
portrait under the new painting. However, with the fire, the
last vestiges of the memory of who Marino Faliero had
been before the coup, devoted politician, defender of Venice, long
and faithful servant to the republic, had finally been erased,

leaving only Marino Fallieri, the trader and his punishment in
his place. That's the story of Marino Faliero's ill fated conspiracy.
But stick around after a brief sponsor break to hear

about how an unexpected historical figure helped to resurrect his memory.
A few months after spending a couple of rainy days
writing scary stories with his fellow romantics at Villa Diadatti,

the famed poet and noble blood favorite Lord Byron found
himself in Venice for the first time. It was the
winter of eighteen sixteen. The abdication of the last Doge
of Venice, who had capitulated to Napoleon, had happened not
quite ten years prior. Although the city's millennium or so

long tenure as a serene republic was well and truly over,
the memory of its glittering, powerful past was still very
much alive. Byron didn't intend to stay in Venice for
too long, but on brand as ever, he met a girl,

several girls, actually, all of them married, and that's a
story for another episode maybe, But because of his illicit
romantic pursuits, Byron ended up staying in Venice longer than planned,
three years in fact, and it ended up having a
significant impact on his work. Between swimming at the beach

on Ledo, learning Armenian from a community of monks, and
of course, arming married women in their fancy Venetian palazzos.
Byron had the opportunity to spend some time in the
Doge's Palace, which at the time still housed some administrative
and cultural offices. It's clear that the palace stuck with him.

In fact, it was Byron who gave the bridge of size,
translated from the Italian Pontide Soupire its famed English moniker,
when he wrote about it in his verse poem Child
Harold's Pilgrimage. I stood in Venice on a bridge of size,
a palace and a prison on each hand. But something

else in the Doje's Palace struck our dear Byron, the
black veil painted in the chamber of the Great Council.
He would later write that seeing Marino Faliero's absent portrait,
along with the great staircase leading into the courtyard where
the Doge had been executed, had quote struck forcibly upon

his imagination, so much so that in fact, in eighteen
twenty he published a tragic play dramatizing Marino Faliero's strange
and tragic story. To Byron, who had spent time reading
Venetian chronicles, hunting for the Doge's grave and learning everything

he could about Venetian history. Marino Faliero was quote a
man of talent and courage, but also a quote fiery
character plagued by an ungovernable temper. A failure as a ruler, perhaps,
but as a compelling dramatic figure. Byron could think of

no one better suited to the position. Byron's play, Marino Faliero,
Doge of Venice was meant mostly to be read, and
it was, but it was also performed in in London
shortly after its publication in eighteen twenty one. Two middling reviews.
Byron maintained that critics who disliked the play were just

disappointed there wasn't a romance plot in it. Nevertheless, the
play was influential. The painter Eugene Delacroix's gruesome depiction of
Falierro's beheading on the Giant Staircase, completed in eighteen twenty
five or twenty six, was drawn from Byron's writing. A
later performance of Byron's play in eighteen twenty nine would

also inspire the playwright Casimir Delvin to offer his own
spin on the Faliero story, which would in turn inspire
Gaetano Donizetti's opera Marino Faliero, which premiered in Paris in
eighteen thirty five. Byron's curiosity and the play that came
of it restored some piece of Marino Faliero's life and legacy.

Though certainly not the paragon of historical accuracy, it allowed
generations of people to think beyond the blacked out portrait
and the boogeyman story of the evil doge who almost
destroyed Venice. What we've been left with, funnily enough, is
a figure who is elusive and dramatic, part fiction and

part fact, in other words, unmistakably Venetian. Noble Blood is

a production of iHeartRadio and Grim and Mild from Aaron Mankee.
Noble Blood is created and hosted by me Dana Schwartz,
with additional writing and researching by Hannah Johnston, hannah's Wick,
Mira Hayward, Courtney Sender, and Lori Goodman. The show is
edited and produced by Noemi Griffin and rima Il Kahali,

with supervising producer Josh Thain and executive producers Aaron Manke,
Alex Williams, and Matt Frederick. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio
visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen
to your favorite shows.
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