So, the Emmy nominations are out, and sure enough, Hannibal — an immaculately written and directed show anchored by intelligent, nuanced performances by everyone from the main cast to guest stars like Amanda Plummer and Jeremy Davies — got totally shafted. Granted, the Emmys aren’t really a barometer of quality; The Big Bang Theory is up for Best Comedy, for God’s sake. But still, Hannibal is the kind of show you think would be Emmy bait. So why is it getting passed over?
This one was likely a big factor. And I’m willing to give the Emmy voters a pass on it, because I get it. Half the time I’m grossed out by the show.
Still, it behooves voters to look past the gore and see why the show is so messy in the first place: There is no death, especially in the show’s second season, that does not have weight. By the dinner party from hell in the season finale, every death and possible death has a painful weight to it that even the monster at the center of the show feels. Hannibal’s heart breaks even as he slides in the knife, and that’s far more than you can say about most shows involving murder.
It’s A “Genre Show”
Calling a show a “thriller” or a “horror series” is the mark of Cain when it comes to awards: Either you have to “transcend the genre” or be incredibly popular. The Americans and Justified are just two examples of this bias at work.
But Hannibal has two strikes, in that it’s not just a genre show, but in a genre that doesn’t have the best track record on TV. A lot of horror shows on TV barely make it to a first season finale, and for a good reason: They stink. It’s not surprising Hannibal was dismissed out of hand for the genre it belongs to, but it is disappointing.
The Elderly Hate It
OK, so perhaps that’s a little harsh, but if you look at the ratings, the show consistently pulls in almost entirely the key demographic of 18-49 year olds and almost no one else. Emmy voters tend to skew older; notice that The Good Wife, despite not exactly being a cultural force on the level of Breaking Bad, got a lot of acting nominations. That tells you what Emmy voters tend to be watching.
It’s Made With Foreign Money
Hannibal is an odd duck in that it’s produced more like an independent film than a traditional American TV series; the majority of its funding comes from Gaumont and Sony, who air the show in foreign territories. That makes the show dirt cheap for NBC, but it also means nobody, including NBC, will make any money off it if it bags an Emmy nomination, so no one bothered to vote for it. It doesn’t help matters that it’s shot in Canada, leaving many Emmy voters even more disinterested in supporting it.
It Doesn’t Fit The Mold Of A “Quality TV Show”
Probably the biggest factor, though, is just that Hannibal isn’t afraid to be a difficult show on multiple levels. Gina Torres’ arc in the show is a good example: Any other show would treat Bella’s cancer arc as a big weepy dramatic plotline. Instead it’s a series of small moments, and honestly it’s far more honest about the ugly nature of grief than you generally see on television. Bella Crawford is not a pretty little victim dying of Old Movie Disease, but a messy, complicated human being angry that she’s dying and in pain because she wants to spare her husband what pain she can. And it brings out layers in the rest of the cast: Hannibal, for example, actually gives her good advice.
Even the background components aren’t traditional television; the show has managed to sneak hilariously dirty works of art (Link NSFW, obviously) onto the air uncensored, and Brian Reitzell’s score could not care less if it’s pretty to listen to.
To a lot of people, that’s not how television is supposed to work. It’s supposed to be neat and pretty, a place for everything and everything in its place. Hannibal doesn’t fit in with what too many Emmy voters see as “quality television.” But if it can’t win any awards, at least it’s won a place in our hearts.