The Campaign to Bring Hannibal Lecter Back to Television

Hannibal Lecter b | by Freddy Agurto Parra

Most people know Hannibal Lecter as the villain of famous horror films such as Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs. The serial killer cannibal has captivated audiences for decades now, becoming one of the most iconic horror movie characters in film history. From 2013 to 2015, the story of the infamous Dr. Lecter was adapted for television by Bryan Fuller as the series Hannibal on NBC. Despite a dedicated core fanbase, the show was cancelled after just three seasons. Two years later, those same fans are trying to bring it back.

Hannibal was distinctly unique from previous adaptations of the Hannibal Lecter story, and not just because of its serialized TV format. The show, which starred Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter and Hugh Dancy as FBI agent Will Graham, had a distinctive narrative and aesthetic character. Though still very much based on the novels written by Thomas Harris, the show diverged from previous canon to bring a new interpretation of Lecter’s origin story and his relationships with the FBI agents who investigated him, while still maintaining plenty of references to past adaptations to pay homage to its predecessors. Elements of the story were also altered to create greater diversity of characters, including bringing more women and people of color into the story.

Aesthetically, the show was known for being almost too avant-garde for primetime television. Each scene, even the most gruesome blood-soaked murder scene, became its own work of art comparable to great works of literature and art (and indeed, the show was rife with references to both). Full of such beautifully arranged scenes, as well as a plethora of gorgeous close-up and slow-motion shots, the show was often as much a work of visual art as a vehicle of storytelling. It was no doubt unusual for primetime television, but for many fans, it was the combination of brilliant storytelling and experimental aesthetics that made the show so lovable.

Unfortunately, the show did not attract a particularly large viewership, instead maintaining a small but dedicated niche audience. While the fanbase made up what it lacked in numbers through sheer enthusiasm, it wasn’t enough to keep the show on air. Due to low ratings, NBC made the decision to cancel Hannibal while it was in its third season.

Not to be deterred, fans immediately began a campaign to save their favorite show. Throughout the remainder of the third season, this included livetweeting commentary during the episodes, an interactive fan tradition which generated a close relationship between the show’s creators and audience. When it became clear that Hannibal could not be saved on NBC, fans began to consider the option of the show being picked up by another network. They turned to creator Bryan Fuller, who informed them that it would take two years after the show’s final episode for the producers to be allowed to begin talks with other networks.

Undaunted as ever, fans kept up an unofficial campaign to save the show for the entirety of those two years. It involved rallying fans together and sending a steady stream of messages to services like Netflix and Hulu to demonstrate that there would be enough fan interest for it to be worthwhile for them to pick up the show. They also kept their spirits high and love for the show alive through a series of coordinated rewatches of old episodes and an annual fan convention called Red Dragon Con (after the show’s notorious villain Francis Dolarhyde, a.k.a. The Great Red Dragon). Their efforts ensured that desire for the show’s revival never died out.

Recently, the deadline which Fuller laid out for negotiations with a new network to begin came and went. Despite his busy schedule, which includes being showrunner for the new Starz series American Gods, Fuller has made it clear that he would be on board for a Hannibal revival, as have the show’s main actors. When the deadline to begin negotiations passed, fans celebrated on Twitter with the hashtag #22MonthsAreOver, many of them also tagging Fuller to get his attention and ask for news. He responded to one fan with this tweet:

Meaning that those talks have begun. In the two years since its cancellation, due in large part to the continuing online visibility of the fandom, the show has held on to original fans and even continued to attract new viewers. This all means that there may be hope for Hannibal yet. One thing is certainly clear: this has been one of the longest, loudest, and most enduring fan campaigns to save a television show that I have ever seen in my lifetime. Hannibal fans are nothing if not optimistic and enthusiastic, and for all their hard work and dedication, one has to hope that Hannibal Lecter will find a new home on television soon.