At the recent San Diego Comic-Con, Hannibal executive producer Bryan Fuller defended NBC's decision to sever ties with the show after its third season. When a room full of Fannibals booed at the mention of cancellation, he said, "NBC let us do some crazy shit for three years, they deserve our applause."
Fuller has a point – Hannibal may be one of the most luscious, mesmerizing and groundbreaking shows on television, with stellar writing and mind-blowingly inventive art direction, but that doesn't mean its violence isn't too intense for strong cable ratings. Often, when I talk to people about whether or not they've ever tuned in, they let me know that they're intrigued by all the critical acclaim, but stories of extreme gore make it too much for the squeamish to tackle. Not surprising for a show that made a man dine on his own limbs, or that turned a mutilated corpse into a human cello, with vocal chords played like strings.
Hannibal's fan base certainly may be obsessive – organizing Twitter "thunderclap" campaigns and petitions to save the show (one on Change.org had close to 80,000 signatures at the time of writing) – but their devotion simply can't carry the weight necessary to make the show a traditional mainstream ratings success.
Given its horrific content, Hannibal needs a home where more casual viewers can watch it at a psychologically safe, comfortable, self-dictated pace, meaning NBC's measure of achievement was never a good fit to begin with. I know I can only watch the show when I'm in the mood and definitely never while I'm eating.
Surprisingly, such obvious homes as Amazon and Netflix have declined to pick up Hannibal for a fourth season. (According to reports, Netflix backed off because of Amazon's streaming deal, and Amazon declined because Fuller didn't want to rush production on a new string of episodes.)
Complicating matters, Gaumont International Television has let options expire on both Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, freeing up the integral parts of the Graham/Lecter romance to pursue other projects. Fuller himself is working on his next series, a Neil Gaiman novel-based project, American Gods. Although Fuller promises fans he's still searching for a fitting mate, things are starting to look grim, or more grim than usual, for the dapper killer with a taste for human flesh. Even as Season 3 chugs along with its beautiful cinematography, satisfying narrative and gorgeous long-shots of goddess Gillian Anderson, the charming cannibal's days look numbered.
All, however, is not lost. By virtue of its quality, depth and the brand of devotees it attracts, Hannibal falls into that rare category of television shows that never really die, living on through panels and conventions, fan fiction and artist renderings, dedicated Twitter accounts and online mass re-watches. Think Twin Peaks, Battlestar Galactica, The X-Files or pretty much every show Joss Whedon has ever worked on.
In 2013, Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas managed to crowdsource more than $5-million (U.S.) to fund a (mediocre) movie based on his original series – six years after its last episode aired on the CW. (Fuller has alluded to the possibility of a Hannibal feature in the future – not such a far-off possibility given how many films producers roped Anthony Hopkins into.)
The show also wisely realized its passionate fan-base potential and pandered directly to it from the get-go. At Comic-Con, they handed out signed scripts, T-shirts and posters, and in October, England will host the star-studded Red Dragon, "the world's first event dedicated to the fans of Bryan Fuller's amazing TV series."
Whether or not another episode ever gets made, Hannibal is already a legacy show. Its disciples will still long be writing homoerotic fan fiction about the none-too-subtle love affair between Hannibal and Will, still be admiring the show's layers of complexity, still be watching and rewatching until every facet is explored.
With half a season left to securely enjoy, there's still an opportunity to experience this legend while it lives, regardless of its fate.