Why are some TV shows with millions of fans cancelled? What drives a network to take one of its best products off the air? Could it be that some series are cancelled due to piracy?
This is what went wrong with Hannibal, an NBC series that picks up the story of the famous cannibal we met as Anthony Hopkins and read about with Thomas Harris. In spite of having one of the most faithful group of followers and the best reviews, the show was cancelled shortly after 39 episodes in a 3 season span.
What really happened with Hannibal?
Many claim that the show was actually cancelled because of its violent content and its intellectual reflection of the criminal mind. Others claim that it never really inspired a large fan base. However, none of that is true. After its first season, when the rumors that Hannibal would be cancelled spread, it was its fans that rallied up on the internet and convinced the network to renew it for a second season. In spite of it all, Hannibal survived only two more seasons.
Content, however, was not Hannibal’s problem. During its three seasons on the air, the show won many awards for its realization, its cinematography, its direction and its acting. The Denver Post described it as “a well constructed, masterfully written piece”. The New York Post wrote that it was “the most beautifully shot and produced show on network TV”. Their reviewer also stated that it had “many scenes simply and literally breathtaking“.
The AV Club‘s review Todd VanDerWerff stated that it “restores the seriousness of purpose to a genre long in need of it” before going on to talk about how it deals in very different levels and ranges from a cop drama or a serial killer thriller to an essay on the nature of human mind. Even Entertainment Weekly said that its last season was “finely acted, visually scrumptious, and deliciously subversive“.
The love for the series does not end with fans and critics. Robert Greenblatt, NBC’s own President states that he had special affection for it, even going to the extent of saying that “Creatively, ‘Hannibal’ is one of the best shows on television“.
So, what happened? Why was its fan base unable to save the series again? How come the good reviews and the networks own president were unable to save it?
NBC’s point of view
Executive producer, Martha De Laurentiis, has a theory of her own. She shared that almost a third of Hannibal’s audience came from piracy which meant that little over 2 million fans accessed the show by downloading it. TorrentFreak posted that at least one of the episodes of the first season was downloaded over 2,100,000 times. And those numbers only take into account torrent downloads. This means that if we included streaming and direct download through a cyberlocker, the number would be much higher. Including Hannibal in the list of series cancelled due to piracy.
But, was the show really cancelled due to piracy?
There are plenty of arguments against De Laurentiis. The main one is that Game of Thrones is the most pirated TV show in the world (for the fifth year in a row on 2016) and it is still on the air. But these people lose sight of two very important factors. Firstly, Game of Thrones is an HBO production, a subscription network. This means that HBO does not depend solely on advertising for its shows to survive.
HBO, like Netflix, can make riskier decisions. NBC, however, is a cable network and in great measure depends on advertising. This is why it is important to know where shows are broadcasted when discussing if they were or not cancelled due to piracy.
Secondly, Game of Thrones fans are much more diverse. Their audience reaches from Millenials all the way to Baby Boomers. This means that the none pirating audience reaches the minimum necessary to guarantee its broadcast.
In Hannibal’s case, its fan base was much less mainstream. Due to its intense psychological content and their aesthetically designed violent scenes, it was of little appeal to the conventional viewer. Robert Greenblatt explained in a press conference that “the minute you try to do something that is dark, and subversive, and frightening, and gets into that territory, you start to peel away the mass audience”. If its audience would have accessed it through legal channels, we could still enjoy those provocative conversation Graham used to have with Dr. Lecter.
Due to piracy, a series with a fan base that awed even the darkest corners of the internet was cancelled. This show redefined the terror genre with a new and exciting proposal. And still, we witnessed its premature death.
Content production and piracy
This makes us think not only about the shows that have been cancelled due to piracy but also of all those that were subversive, provocative and different that never left the drawing board because of it. Creative Content Australia warned in 2014 that piracy will only result in less investment by networks. This translates to the production of less exciting material.
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