Why ‘Hannibal’ Was Always Destined to Fail


Source: NBC

Some of the best TV shows on television are by their very nature fated to fail. Don’t get me wrong — some shows are fated to fail because they’re awful and no one wants to watch what amounts to a bunch of wealthy adults munching on craft services while they videotape a dialogue between anal cavities. Hannibal is not one of those shows. But it is one of those shows that most people know won’t make it very long for the exact opposite reason. It’s too unique, and it doesn’t cater to a wide enough audience.

With its recent cancellation, its apparent that even the creators were aware Hannibal‘s longevity might be questionable. They knew that it couldn’t last — and the reason it couldn’t last is that it’s too dark and hasn’t been kept on the same artistic leash that other shows of its kind have been subject to.

This is both a major win for the shows creative team, and ultimately an inevitable loss, because a show of that sort cannot survive forever. Even its latest season — Hannibal has reached it’s third and last installation in the series — refuses to be bound to what might be a more approachable structure, instead diving into the season without clearly tying up the lose ends from the season before, instead chipping away at season 2’s conclusion and including a lot of terrifyingly creepy bath scenes.

The point being that it doesn’t cater to a broad audience and try to draw in a large demographic at the expense of quality, instead sticking to its unique stylistic approach which has so pleased critics, if not viewership or ratings, over the course of the show. This is also why its being cancelled, but show writer Bryan Fuller has actually been very positive about the outcome of the show.

NBC has allowed us to craft a television series that no other broadcast network would have dared, and kept us on the air for three seasons despite Cancellation Bear Chow ratings and images that would have shredded the eyeballs of lesser Standards & Practices enforcers,” said Fuller, according to Hollywood Reporter. “Jen Salke (NBC executive) and her team have been fantastic partners and creatively supportive beyond measure. Hannibal is finishing his last course at NBC’s table this summer, but a hungry cannibal can always dine again. And personally, I look forward to my next meal with NBC.” That last is a sly reference to his next project, adapting Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” to television, and the fact that Hannibal may find its home elsewhere, picked up by another network — though whether this is set in stone, or which networks are interested, is still up for debate.

Hannibal is hardly the only show to suffer from strong writing and excellent artistic direction, but low ratings that can’t quite keep something high quality on air. And Bryan Fuller seems to be cursed with that particular blessing/problem — anybody remember Pushing Daisies? It lasted two seasons, but was the equivalent of an oil painting of Mike the Durable marrying Babayaga underwater with a nudibranch as the ring bearer. In other words, only a particular audience will be entertained and want that hung in their bedroom.

It’s a dark show, so we were never going to have a broad audience,” said Fuller in an interview with Hollywood Reporter, going on to explain a tweet from Martha De Laurentiis that suggested the show was always in a bit of danger, “I think the reference is just in general to niche cable interests on a broadcast network. It’s a dangerous place to be.” He noted that the choice to cut the show was purely an issue of the ratings, and that it made the decision an easy one for the network. “It’s a pretty cut and dry mathematical cancellation. We were a 0.5 [adults ages 18-49]! So no other factors were necessary!” he explained.

It’s the struggle of many great shows on TV, and its why fan support has been central towards resurrecting many of the fanatically loved shows with a more select audience — for example Arrested Development and the films that eventually followed the cancellation of Firefly.

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