Hannibal Season 4 and Options for the Future

What are the chances we'll see Hannibal season 4 after the NBC cancellation? We take a look at possible avenues for a return...

The news that Bryan Fuller’s horror masterpiece Hannibal has been cancelled by NBC was upsetting, but unsurprising news. Hannibals ratings have gone from bad to worse this year, as the series doubled down on the surreal, macabre strangeness that arguably made it so inaccessible to a casual audience in the first place. And while Hannibal has proven itself to be a critical darling with a passionate fan base, it’s honestly a wonder that a show as unique and stubbornly left-of-centre as this one lasted as long as it did on NBC. 

But while the news of the cancellation was met with the requisite anger and disappointment across the internet, the responses from key creatives seemed far from pessimistic about the future of the show. This is, after all, 2015 and revivals of seemingly dead cult favourites have become something of a regularity. With the internet making the voices of fans louder than ever, we live in a time where enough vocal passion not only can keep a property alive, but is even somewhat likely to.

So what does the future of Hannibal look like?

Should there be a fourth season?

The answer to the above question from most readers is likely to be a resounding yes, but there are a few factors that should be considered before racing forward with more Hannibal. While creatively the series is in the prime of its life, Hannibal has never been a show that leant itself to longevity. One only has to look at the sad final years of Dexter to see why keeping an inherently limiting premise alive past its use-by date is inadvisable.

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Granted, Hannibal is a much better show than Dexter and has proved a willingness to blow up the status quo that the earlier show never had, but the pace of Hannibal’s storytelling does not necessarily work in its favor. We have now seen Hannibal living as a free man, we have seen him on the run and by the end of the current season we will see him behind bars. His relationship with Will Graham has been explored from many different angles and will presumably continue to be, but really, how long can this last? Nobody wants to reach a fifth or sixth season to find the plot twisted in increasingly more contrived directions to keep it fresh or, even worse, repeating itself.

One large challenge the series has found itself facing is that it is rapidly running out of source material. This may sound strange considering the show has yet to reach the events of the first novel in Thomas Harris’ series, but it has used plenty of material from across the books in many different ways. The third novel in the series (also called Hannibal) depicted Lecter living free in Florence while a vengeful Mason Verger attempts to track him down. Sound familiar? Fuller has been open about how much the novel and Ridley Scott’s 2001 adaptation have informed the first half of this season, and certain aspects of it were lifted wholesale for the penultimate episode of last year’s run as well. In fact, the only element Fuller’s version really lacks from the book is the presence of Clarice Starling.

Prior to the television series, Clarice was by far Hannibal’s most famous foil, largely thanks to Jodie Foster’s phenomenal performance in The Silence Of The Lambs. While Fuller has successfully rehabilitated Will Graham, Lecter’s original adversary, as a force to be reckoned with, there’s surely a lot of curiosity about how this series’ version of Clarice would look. But due to the rights to Silence being owned by MGM, it’s somewhat unlikely that Clarice could ever make her way on to the show, and furthermore this issue precludes an entire novel from ever being adapted for the series. With the events of Red Dragon to be covered in the latter half of this season, much of Hannibal already used and Hannibal Rising probably addressed as much as it ever will be, Fuller doesn’t have a lot of material left to play with in terms of adapting the novels.

This is not a huge problem in itself; after all, the majority of the series so far has been original material expanded from backstory given in Red Dragon and the prospect of more of Fuller’s expert fan fiction is far from an unattractive one, but if the finale of the novels or the events of Silence are no longer what the series is building towards, it does pose the question of what exactly the endgame could be. On some level, the series ending with the events of Red Dragon while having successfully used many elements of the other novels is not a sad fate for it. Furthermore, consider what Hannibal’s legacy would have been if it had ended after the shocking, heartbreaking second season finale. It would have been one of the bravest series endings in history, destined to be talked about for years to come. If (and he promises to) Fuller pulls off a similar trick this year, then it might not be the worst final memory of the series to have.

The reality that many people don’t want to admit is that just because a series can continue doesn’t always mean it should. While Community’s sixth season on Yahoo certainly had its moments and was vindicating in terms of the series’ endurance against all odds, it often felt tired and suffered from a clearly compromised budget and loss of so many of the characters that made the early seasons so well balanced. Does anybody really want to see Hannibal move online only to become compromised in some way and lose so much of what makes it special?

But while these arguments may be valid, they do not change the fact that Hannibal is still a young series with boundless energy and imagination coursing through it. Fuller’s passion for his show shines through in every Tweet and interview and it’s hard to imagine any of that flagging in a potential fourth season. And as far as the lack of source material goes, the strength of Hannibal’s adaptation has arguably always been in reading between the lines rather than directly lifting from the books. Will Graham disappears from the novels after the events of Red Dragon; isn’t there something tantalising about finding out exactly what happened to him? As far as I’m concerned, if Fuller is excited about a fourth season then so am I, and we have never been given reason to doubt that whatever comes next will be brilliant, mind blowing television, whether adapted from the novels or not.

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If this is the end for Hannibal, there is some comfort in knowing that while the series lived it managed to do so many amazing things. But the fact is, this is not how the key creatives want the show to end, and no matter how good the season three finale is there would always been a lingering dissatisfaction with the fact that we didn’t get to see Fuller’s entire vision come to fruition.

What are the show’s options?

The threat of cancellation has hung over Hannibal from its very first season, and even back then Fuller was open about the fact that he had ‘other parties’ interested should NBC ditch the show. Now that that has happened, are those parties still in play and if so, who might they be?

The most obvious new home for Hannibal would be a streaming service of some kind. While more and more of these services are producing their own content, Netflix, Amazon and Yahoo all attracted attention for saving seemingly dead shows and Netflix in particular seems to be the go-to saviour for fans when something beloved is cancelled. But even if they were interested (and according to Bryan Fuller they might well be), rights issues may get in the way. The most obvious contender at the moment is Amazon, who has the streaming rights to the series, but without the financial backing of NBC it is possible that the international partners who made Hannibal possible will depart. Additionally is there any way of knowing if the viewership problems that plagued Hannibal on NBC would not be repeated elsewhere?

Streaming certainly would make the show more accessible. In Australia, for example, Hannibal has a voracious following but without any Australian channels showing it most fans are forced to either wait for the Blu-Ray or resort to piracy in order to see the series. Debuting on a streaming service would eliminate this problem and certainly add a large bump to the viewership. In many ways, an internet friendly show like Hannibal seems more at home on a streaming service than being buffeted around different times by a television channel.

Additionally Hannibal always seemed singularly unsuited for NBC, and either streaming or a cable channel would be a more obviously fitting place for the show. After all, on cable the ratings Hannibal managed would actually be quite respectable.

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The beauty of Hannibal is that the people who love it really love it, and those include many vocal television critics. It falls comfortably into the same category as something like Community or Arrested Development, and both of those managed to sail again on second winds. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t at least some serious interest in reviving the show, and at a stretch I would go as far as to say that its resurrection is more likely than not. Put it this way: Netflix rescued The Killing, a critically reviled show that never had the same fan adoration Hannibal enjoys.

Even if its return is limited to a miniseries or a movie, Hannibal does not seem dead yet. If finding a new home fails, there is always Kickstarter, and the good thing about NBC announcing the cancellation this early in the season is that it gives the show and the fans time to explore their options. There are still ten weeks of Hannibal to go before an uncertain future comes down on it; in the meantime we will enjoy and hope for the best. For fans of the show, now is the time to be as loud as possible; keep the buzz going and demonstrate to the powers that be that there is a love for this show that can carry it into the future.

Personally? I’m pretty optimistic.

Read more about Hannibal, including interviews with showrunner Bryan Fuller, on Den Of Geek, here.