A few days after NBC declined to order a fourth season of “Hannibal,” producer Bryan Fuller put the odds at “maybe a 50/50 chance” of another American outlet stepping in to take NBC's place.
Since then, the odds have grown significantly worse.
First, Gaumont International, which produces “Hannibal,” released all the actors from their contracts. This isn't a “Deadwood” situation where they would now need to lock down dozens of actors again to make it work – the show theoretically only needs Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy to continue (and could perhaps even get by with just Mikkelsen, since Will Graham doesn't appear in the later Hannibal Lecter books) – but it created an extra logistical hurdle to jump that wasn't there before. In addition, Fuller's Starz series “American Gods” now takes first contractual position for him; he can still work on a hypothetical “Hannibal” season 4, but it would have to be scheduled around the new job. (According to Deadline, this was a big factor in Amazon saying no, as it might take a whole year before Fuller would be free to return to “Hannibal” duties.)
And last night, Fuller dropped another piece of bad news on Twitter:
– Bryan Fuller (@BryanFuller) July 6, 2015
Netflix was always going to be a long shot, because they only like to rescue series where they already have the rights to previous seasons – doing six more episodes of “The Killing” enhances the title's value in the Netflix library – while Amazon has the streaming rights to “Hannibal” seasons 1 and 2.
Amazon, on the other hand, seemed the most logical home, for the exact reasons Netflix would have passed. I have no insider knowledge of the discussions, which could have been scuttled because the two sides couldn't agree on a price, or simply because Amazon wants to focus solely on shows developed internally.
Then again, Fuller told me that having “Hannibal” on an American broadcast network greatly enhanced its sales prospects in foreign markets. So perhaps a streaming platform wasn't that enticing an option to Gaumont to begin with – or, at least, not enticing enough to offer an Amazon or Netflix the same kind of steep discount NBC got.
So what options are left?
Find a cable home looking for a profile boost. Even factoring in the cheap rate NBC paid for “Hannibal,” it is insane to think that a show this graphic and, more importantly, this pretentious and arty, lasted three seasons on a traditional broadcast network. “Hannibal” always seemed a more comfortable fit on cable, and especially the longer it's run and the stranger it's gotten. Maybe a lower-rated cable channel with highbrow aspirations (Sundance? Pivot?) might be interested in cutting a deal for a short fourth season simply to raise their own profile. Then again, if the international market really prefers to be affiliated with a broadcast network show (see the continued existence of “Hawaii Five-0,” which is far more popular overseas than it is here), I doubt an affiliation with a relatively obscure American cable channel will do much, if anything, for sales.
Find another broadcast home, even if you have to neuter the product in the process. Hard to imagine another broadcaster – not even “Criminal Minds” home CBS, nor former “The Following” home FOX – wanting anything to do with this version of “Hannibal,” even with its stranger edges significantly sanded down. And it's even harder to imagine any of the creative principals wanting to to make a version of the show that another network would agree to buy. Financially, though, it might be the only way to keep it alive in its current form.
Speaking of which…
Turn “Hannibal” from an ongoing series into a series of specials. By all accounts, Fuller, Mikkelsen and Dancy all want to continue this project in some form. That form just may no longer work as a 13-episode per season TV series. From a creative standpoint, the third season suggests even 13 may be too much at this stage of the Lecter story; and from a business standpoint, there doesn't seem a viable match for the show anymore, for the reasons stated above. But given that Gaumont exists outside the traditional American TV bubble, they have the ability to be more creative, and to perhaps bring the core group back together for a limited series, or even a movie-length story, every few years, when everyone's available at the same time and Fuller has a story idea. (It would always help if MGM was willing to budge on giving him access to the “Silence of the Lambs” characters, but given the long odds on everything else, I wouldn't be banking on that.)
Again, this isn't exactly like the “Deadwood” situation, where those reunion movies were never all that feasible to pull off. Only two actors are really necessary (though if a Laurence Fishburne or a Raul Esparza wanted to come hang out, so much the better), there's no elaborate period set to be maintained in the interim, and the thing could be filmed anywhere, and even air anywhere, including On Demand with no network affiliation at all. If the team from “Sherlock” can get together for a couple of months whenever the main men are all free at the same time, this could theoretically be done, too.
I don't know that Gaumont, or Fuller, or Martha De Laurentiis would consider this arrangement worth the bother. But given where things stand at the moment, it seems the only realistic way left for this version of “Hannibal” to continue.
Even in this era when it seems like every even slightly beloved TV show can be revived elsewhere, it still takes two sides to make a match. “Community” was hours away from never existing again (because its own actors were about to be released from their contracts) when the Yahoo deal was struck. “Hannibal” is a wonderful show, but also a strange one with a very particular aesthetic and audience. It's limited in the kinds of places it would fit from both an artistic and financial standpoint, and its distributor has its own requirements for what is and isn't acceptable.
That there may not be a place for it on TV anymore is sad but not surprising. The real shock is that it lasted as long as it did, especially on NBC.