Based on traditional ratings alone, NBC's “Hannibal” is among the least-watched shows on the traditional broadcast networks. But its reputation among the sorts of fans who come to Comic-Con has grown with each passing year. Two summers ago, it was just one half of a Bryan Fuller-focused panel (which also focused on his attempt to reboot “The Munsters” as “Mockingbird Lane”) in a very small room. Last summer, it moved to a slightly bigger room to accommodate Fuller and Hugh Dancy. This year, even without Dancy or Mads Mikkelsen or Laurence Fishburne, “Hannibal” has graduated to the big time, taking over the Convention Center's mammoth Ballroom 20 for a panel subtitled “Embrace the Madness,” featuring Fuller, director David Slade, writer/producer Steven Lightfoot, longtime Hannibal Lecter producer Martha DeLaurentiis, and supporting players Caroline Dhavernas, Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams, and moderated by Jonathan Ross.
Given that Dhavernas' Dr. Alana Bloom was one of several major characters whose life hung in the balance in the season 2 finale, her presence could be a huge hint about her survival, it could be a fond farewell, or Fuller and Dhavernas could try to stay cryptic for the full hour about Alana, Will Graham and Jack Crawford. (Though Fishburne suggested at press tour that he would be splitting his time next season between “Hannibal” and his ABC sitcom “Black-ish.”)
I'll be live-blogging the whole thing starting in a few minutes, and will update as often as my typing fingers and the Ballroom 20 wi-fi will allow.
4:44 p.m.: The clip reel starts a minute early, with highlights of season 3, including some very audible audience reactions to Beverly Katz's displayed corpse, Mason Verger feeding his dogs, and some of season 2's other graphic imagery. It is a very thorough breakdown of all of the season's twists and turns. (Given that it's Comic-Con, Gillian Anderson's Dr. DuMaurier gets perhaps the loudest response of any character appearing in the clips.) Now if anyone needs me, I will again be having nightmares about the last 20 minutes of the season finale.
4:50: “'Allo, 'Hannibal' fans!” Ross says as he takes the stage and introduces the whole panel en masse. Fuller gets the loudest ovation, followed by Dhavernas. Fuller is wearing a very bright red suit.
4:53 p.m.: Mads Mikkelsen has recorded a video message for the “Fannibals” from Denmark. He thanks all of them for making the show a great success, “and hopefully next year I'll see you for a quick lunch.” A mustachioed Dancy is in Australia, but recalls the great time he had last year, and hopes the fans can “squeeze some information from Mr. Fuller about season 3.” He jokes that Thompson's Jimmy Price will become Jack Crawford's personal butler in the new season. “If Bryan is not yet wearing a flower crown,” he concludes, “would somebody give him one?”
4:54 p.m.: Fuller notes that someone is here “Even though they shouldn't be here, because they were shot in the face,” And welcomes Mr. Raul Esparza onto the stage, saying he's “going to be a big part of season 3.” The crowd goes nuts for the very much not-dead Dr. Chilton.
4:56 p.m.: Ross notes that Chilton took a bullet to the face. “I can't believe how much people fell in love with Chilton this season,” Esparza says. “I love playing the part because he's a total douchebag.” He loves delivering the various “Fuller-isms” in the dialogue. “I was as surprised as everybody to find out I was going to get shot in the face.” Ross asks if anyone ever dies on “Hannibal” if you don't get eaten. Esparza wants to have an eyepatch, a hump and a parrot for season 3.
4:57 p.m.: Will Eddie Izzard be coming back? Fuller says they're writing a flashback for Dr. Gideon, who got eaten by Dr. Lecter (and himself).
4:58 p.m.: What does NBC say is okay and not okay for them to show? “No sex, but lots of violence,” says Lightfoot. Fuller is reading lots of slash fiction about Price and Zeller (or, “Preller”).
4:59 p.m.: Will we see Will and Hannibal together much this season, given their strong relationship? Fuller says “When you separate C3PO and R2D2, they don't become less interesting.” He's looking forward to introducing more characters from the novels (including some who never appeared in the films). Francis Dolarhyde (aka The Tooth Fairy) will first appear in episode 8.
5:00 p.m.: Ross asks about Clarice Starling. DeLaurentiis says the end of season 2 evokes the end of “Hannibal” the movie, and they'll mine both “Hannibal Rising” and “Hannibal” the book, mashing up those stories with the world of the show. With Dolarhyde, they'll have to tell the “Red Dragon” story (she doesn't commit to how long that will take) before doing “Silence of the Lambs,” noting again that MGM owns the rights to that property. She's still hoping to get MGM to partner with them on a “Silence” season, but if not, “We'll do our own mash-up” with some kind of Clarice stand-in.
5:03 p.m.: How free is the show to make changes to characters from the books? Lightfoot says they're always trying to find stories. With Mason Verger, for instance, they tried to give him more of a backstory than he had in “Hannibal” the book. And when they saw what Michael Pitt was doing with the role, they began writing to him. “That's the joy of series television,” Lightfoot says. “We get to see these guys grow.”
5:04 p.m.: After Ross tries to press the Clarice Starling issue some more, he pivots into discussing Alana going to bed with Hannibal. Dhavernas says Alana knew him before she knew anyone else in the show, “So the confidence and the trust is very strong. Everyone around her is behaving so weirdly to her, and he's her rock. That's why she can't see it. Will Graham is a roller-coaster, Jack Crawford is behaving off. Hannibal becomes very solid to her and gains her trust.”
5:06 p.m.: Ross asks Abrams and Thompson about playing for laughs in a very dark show. Thompson says it's a lot easier to be funny on the set of a drama than on a comedy, calling his time on “Kids in the Hall” “a nightmare.” Abrams says, “I didn't know I was hilarious. I thought I was being very dramatic.”
5:08 p.m.: Was there a period where Esparza thought he had been written off the show? “Bryan's always been very kind to me about what happens to Chilton,” he says. “He comes to me and says, 'We're gonna gut you! But it'll be okay.'” Esparza assumed he was going to survive just because he's read all the books, where Chilton survives well past this point. “It is the most creative experience to walk onto the set,” he adds, because he has no idea what crazy idea Fuller will try next.
5:10 p.m.: Ross asks Slade about the show's distinctive, gorgeous visual style. Slade credits his director of photography James Hawkinson, and discusses how excited the two of them were to set up a template where so much of the show takes place in darkness, yet looks so rich.
5:13 p.m.: What is everyone's favorite prepared murder scene of the series? Esparza liked the flesh angels, “Because it was the first time I realized they were f—ing doing this on network television.” Abrams likes “lady horse baby uterus person.” (Fuller says, “In the writers room, we called it 'the turducken.'”) Thompson liked the mushroom killer because “not enough people stick it to the diabetics. It's about time!” Dhavernas liked the tree man; “He looked so proud and generous, yet he was missing everything.” Lightfoot liked the totem pole killer, which was the first one he wrote. DeLaurentiis liked the eye of God tableau from the start of season 2. Fuller loved the human cello, “and I'm a particular fan of Michael Pitt cutting off his face and feeding it to the dogs.”
5:15 p.m.: Did Hannibal and Will Graham fall in love? “I think they have love for each other,” says Fuller. It's not a sexual love, “But they have a pure, genuine love for each other.” He is also well aware of all the fan-art of Will and Hannibal as a couple. Bryan Fuller is a man who spends a lot of time on the internet. “In essence, the whole show is fan-fiction,” he acknowledges.
5:17 p.m.: Audience questions begin with a “Wonderfalls” fan psyched to be in the room with Dhavernas, and asks who might play Barney. Fuller says that Barney is one of the characters MGM still owns, but he's excited to introduce Murasaki in season 3.
5:19 p.m.: Is it by design that the “Hannibal” storytelling style sometimes resembles anime? “Anime is a huge influence in all sorts of ways,” Fuller acknowledges. “There's a lot of cinematic influences from David Lynch to David Cronenberg to David Slade, who brought his own bag of tricks to the show… We just want the show to be gorgeous, and as refined aesthetically as possible.”
5:20 p.m.: What do Abrams and Thompson want to see for their characters next season? “We have a spin-off in development where we move to a small fishing town and we open up a bait shop together, but we just can't stay out of trouble!” says Abrams, who has dubbed the spin-off “Catch of the Day.”
5:21 p.m.: A woman in a Hannibal Lecter suit asks what the cuisine will be next season. “Italian,” says Fuller, who calls it a clue to where Hannibal will be.
5:22 p.m.: Now a woman dressed as Will Graham (complete with facial scruff) asks about the names of Will's other dogs. Fuller invites fans to tweet him dog name suggestions.
5:23 p.m.: Would Fuller be interested in a Hannibal musical? Fuller notes that Esparza can carry a tune. Abrams tries improvising a song about a horse uterus, while Esparza has lost his voice and the other panelists duck the invitation. “I would love to do a surreal musical number in Hannibal's mind palace,” says Fuller. “I imagine him dancing like Christopher Walken in 'Weapon of Choice.'” Esparza has personally witnessed Mikkelsen dance during downtime in filming: “The man can dance.”
5:27 p.m.: “If you were gonna be eaten – and I'm not saying it's gonna happen – what dish would you prefer to be served in?” Fuller wants to be on an Hermes platter. Lightfoot wants to be raw. Thompson wants “to be eaten with your fingers.” Dhavernas would like to be some kind of dessert. “Aaron's obviously a tiramisu,” Thompson adds. “I've thought a lot about how I would eat Zeller.” Esparza would want to be roasted in the ground like a pig at a luau.
5:28 p.m.: Is it a coincidence that Will and Margot wound up with the same scar on their abdomens? Fuller said there was symmetry between the Verger siblings and between Will and Hannibal, and “they're both left with scars from their oppressors” and jokes that “they each got smiley-faces on their tummies.”
5:29 p.m.: A man in a Hannibal straightjacket and bite mask notes that the first season started out as a procedural crime show and then diverged, and the second season followed a similar pattern, so how much of season 3 will deal with cases? “The entire first half of the season is relatively FBI-light,” says Fuller. “You only see the FBI once in the first seven, because it's all about the pursuit of Hannibal.”
5:32 p.m.: Is it true season 3 starts a year after season 2? “It's true,” says Fuller, “because we want to be very vague with who survived that bloody, bloody night, and because we wanted to land the characters in a place where they were active. It was very intentional that we wanted to take a space, land Hannibal and Bedelia, because the first episode is very much a pilot for a new series starring Gillian Anderson and Mads Mikkelsen. It was important for us to have a passage of time so we could come into their story at the most dramatic point, and episode 4 will detail what happened between the season 2 finale and the events of season 3. We're telling the story emotionally as opposed to temporally.”
5:34 p.m.: Where was Abigail in season 2? “It would be a lot of fun to do an episode in season 3 that explains where she was and what she was doing,” Fuller says, while praising Kacey Rohl. “She will be a part of season 3. We will see the actress again.”
5:35 p.m.: “The visual narrative of the show is hinging so wonderfully on what David Slade did for us in the pilot, in setting up the whole cinematic vocabulary,” says Fuller, noting how rare it is to have a pilot director like Slade to stick around and be so active on the regular series. Slade spends hours and hours working on the sound mix for each episode. “I've never worked with a director where, here we go into season 3, and David is coming back to direct more episodes.”
5:36 p.m.: Another dog question: what other breeds might Will rescue? Fuller calls Will “a mutt collector” and encourages the audience to take in rescue dogs.
5:37 p.m.: Why did Fuller turn several male characters of the book into women? “We needed more females in the show,” says Fuller. “We feel like we really are doing some interesting things with the female characters on the show… Most of them can see so much clearer Hannibal than the male characters, because Jack is wrapped up in his own law and Will is so confused by seeing this vision of a man who's very much his reflection. And the women can see Hannibal very clearly now, and we're going to be exploring that even more in season 3.”
5:38 p.m.: Following up on that, is the industry moving towards a place where featuring diverse female characters is more commonplace? Dhavernas notes all the strong female characters on TV right now, and thanks Fuller for making several of the men into women on the show. “It would have been very sad for the only female characters to have been victims.”
5:41 p.m.: What was Dhavernas' initial reaction to learning Alana would sleep with Hannibal? “I think it was kind of a natural progression,” Dhavernas insists. Alana knew she always got stuck in situations where she tried to fix men, “and now she wanted a grown-up relationship… And also, Hannibal is so wise that he didn't even have to do anything. I went to him. And also, it just makes Will's story so much more painful and interesting.” Fuller says he told Dhavernas before the series began that she would sleep with Hannibal at some point, “And you were over the moon!” Dhavernas admits she loved Mikkelsen's Danish films and was excited about the thought of playing romantic scenes with him.
5:45 p.m.: That's it for audience questions, so no real clarity at all on who survived the finale, though we did get a lot of other details about season 3. Fuller also announces plans to introduce four volumes of “Hannibal” music – two for each season – with the first one coming out August 15. To take us out, Fuller closes things as he did last year's panel, with a sneak preview of the season 2 DVD blooper reel.
That's all, folks…