Hannibal: Ratings, “Show Business”, and “Show Art”

I have a theory on why the ratings for this season are down, and it boils down to “show business” vs “show art”. Truly, Hannibal is a spectacular piece of art. Superlatives for the acting and production values have been better said by better people, so I won’t comment further on that particular aspect. The problem lies with bringing in new viewers, and if they have not seen the first two seasons, the “art” of the third season is confusing, dense, and dare I say it: slow. Sometimes I wish there was a bit more “business” in the episodes.

I’ve seen the first two seasons of Hannibal and while not a show that I could sit down and binge watch in one day – it is dark stuff – I’ve allowed the relationships between characters to sink in enough to find the humor in each episode. I’m part of the choir. I get the “in” jokes. I love the dinner scenes.

New viewers, however, coming into this show uninitiated? Snails? Why are we watching snails? I understand why new viewers are having a hard time sticking to it. I “get” the snails, but I can understand why the first few episodes of this season are perplexing to new viewers, and sadly, new viewers are what Hannibal needs to attract.

My mother gave the first two episodes a go and then gave up. She might try again when they get to the Red Dragon episodes, after all, Rutina Wesley is a hometown girl, and lord knows I’ve gone on enough about Richard Armitage in The Crucible and The Hobbit. I know she is curious, but that might not be enough. I’m hoping she will try it again, but I can’t help but think that she is emblematic of a lot of potential viewers out there who wanted to like Hannibal but have given up because the first few episodes have so heavily catered to the choir. Fannibals understand the art. New viewers needed the business.

The move to the summer time Thursday night slot also didn’t help. If you work Monday through Friday, chances are you aren’t going to stay up late on Thursday to watch. I know that by Thursday night, I am running on fumes. During the school year, I go to bed early on Thursday because I can’t stay awake.

This is also summer. People are on vacation. There is a lot of DVRing going on that is not reflected in ratings. At least the second season aired on Friday night. If you weren’t going out you could stay up late. Second season also had the advantage of airing during that weird programming lull. Midwinter cable shows like The Walking Dead were winding down, but there was still an entire month before Game of Thrones began. Those were the sort of viewers Hannibal needed to lure in. By June? They wandered off into other shows or off into vacations.

The one potential bright side to Hannibal’s cancellation last week is that it may very well be picked up by cable or Amazon, which is frankly, where this show always needed to be. Hannibal was always a weird fit for network television.

2 thoughts on “Hannibal: Ratings, “Show Business”, and “Show Art”

  1. I’ve been watching Hannibal since Season 1. With Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal, it was a done deal for me. That the rest of the cast were as amazing was even better, but I’ve never watched a show with hands over my eyes yet I can’t look away. The writing is impeccable as with all Bryan Fuller’s work (Pushing Daisies). My husband lasted 4 minutes during that first season, and he walked out of the living room and declared Thursday nights were my nights to sit in front of the TV.

    I do hope they get picked up by a cable channel, or Amazon and that way they won’t be walking on eggshells with each episode, wondering if they’re pushing limits every time.


  2. I think the show is amazing. I held out watching it until Richard Armitage was cast because I just couldn’t imagine it being as good as the movies. Part of it is my basic snobbery towards anything that is not original. If it is based on some other movie/TV show/comic book, my reaction is almost always , “Couldn’t they come up with something original? Hasn’t this been done to death?” In Hannibal’s case, “Yes” and “Yes”. They’ve done both brilliantly. Also, GoT and TWD filled up my quota of gore, and I really didn’t want more, but Hannibal has turned out to be weirdly addictive.

    It’s not an easy show to watch. If you are a lazy viewer or just not committed, a lot of details go right over your head.

    I agree with you. I really do hope it gets picked up by another medium. This is a show that should have been on a network like HBO to begin with. It would have been right at home there.

    On the other hand, with Bryan Fuller leaving to do American Gods, I wonder if the new show runner will give it the same amount of care and attention to detail that Fuller has given it.

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