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The Real Reason Why Hannibal Got Canceled

It's been five long years since all the "fannibals" of the world last shared a meal with one of the most beautifully blood-soaked and wildly entertaining dramas ever to grace network television, and most of them are still wondering why the fantastically gory feast du jour that was Hannibal ever ended. 

The tragically short-lived serial killer saga told the twisted tales of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played here by the great Mads Mikkelsen), the infamous, ingenious killer-slash-cannibal from Thomas Harris' famed novels Red DragonThe Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal. Hannibal made its debut on NBC in 2013, and immediately became a critical darling, with many hailing it as a just the sort of high-style, high-concept, and deeply unnerving series one rarely sees on network television.

In particular, critics were quick to praise Mikkelsen's work in the title role, as well as the work of his co-star and frequent scene partner Hugh Dancy, whose FBI profiler Will Graham played perpetual foil (and eventual "partner") to the manipulative criminal mastermind. And few could argue the taut, emotionally exhausting tête-à-tête that unfolded between those characters over Hannibal's 39-episode run didn't serve as one of the most intriguing and wildly-unsettling in the history of television, with a near flawless season 3 run delving deep into the seedier side of that relationship.

Even as solid as all three seasons of Hannibal were, pretty much every "fannibal" out there would be quick to confirm the series reached bold creative and narrative heights in its third season, which was capped with a blood-spattered finale for the ages. Sadly, that audacious season 3 finale ended up serving as a series finale for Hannibal, thus leaving the series' rabid fanbase starved for another helping of fabulously flayed small screen insanity. Half a decade later, we finally know why Hannibal got canceled. 

Ultimately, poor ratings killed NBC's Hannibal

Even if you were only casually aware of Hannibal, it's not all that difficult to understand why a series boasting both a devoted fanbase and heaps of critical praise might get the axe. It's a tale as old as television itself, after all — the sort that sees even the best of small screen ventures leaving the airwaves before their time because enough people just aren't watching.

That was indeed the case with Hannibal, because even as utterly devoted as "fannibals" were to the series' relentless physical and emotional carnage, they were simply never able to elevate the show above "cult hit" status in terms of ratings. In fact, by the time Hannibal aired its inconceivably savage finale in the Summer of 2015, viewership was pretty much non-existent. Complicating matters further is the fact that Hannibal (under the guidance of creator and showrunner Bryan Fuller) was an immaculately produced series that spared no expense in delivering a devoutly cinematic product, even tapping primetime (and likely pricey) talents like David Slade (30 Days of Night) and Neil Marshall (The DescentGame of Thrones) to direct.

Pricey production aside, Hannibal's ratings troubles have long been a source of conflict in and of themselves, with some believing the series was ultimately undone by viewers opting to watch it via illegally pirated downloads. Hannibal executive producer Martha De Laurentis is among them, telling Cinemablend in 2016, "When nearly one-third of your audience for Hannibal is coming from pirated sites ... You don't have to know calculus to do the math. If a show is stolen, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to fairly compensate a crew and keep a series in production."

Whatever the case, it's clear Hannibal was never able to reach as broad an audience as it needed to stay on the air. 

Hope still abounds that viewers might one day feast again on Hannibal

A few years off the air hasn't sated fans' appetite for more more gleeful Hannibal gore. Roused by Bryan Fuller's (and the entirety of the series' cast) perpetual enthusiasm about a possible new season, those fans continue to hold out hope it may one day materialize.

Those hopes were recently bolstered on two fronts, the first coming with the arrival of all three seasons of Hannibal on Netflix. Not only did the series' long-awaited Netflix debut give fans a chance to indulge in a full tilt, blood-stained binge, it also left many wondering whether or not strong viewership numbers might encourage the streaming giant to go all-in on a Hannibal revival series. 

It's safe to assume Netflix brass are still deciding whether or not ponying up for Hannibal season four would be a worthy endeavor. While they crunch the numbers, fans got another jolt of good vibes from Team Hannibal via a recent online event that found Fuller reuniting with the entire cast of the series. For the record, all involved appear optimistic, even eager, to get the band back together for a fresh season of hyper-stylistic frights. What's more, it seems Fuller already has a clear idea where the series will pick up. He even teased that brining his Hannibal cast into Thomas Harris' beloved The Silence of the Lamb narrative was very much part of the plan.

Per Fuller's statements (as covered by IGN), the idea for the new season would be like "Grumpy Old Men with cannibalism," and would open with everyone's favorite "murder husbands" — Will (Dancy) and Hannibal (Mikkelsen) — on the run in some tropical paradise. If the thought of Hannibal Lecter killing tourists in shorts and sandals doesn't pique your interest in a new season of Hannibal, you probably need to adjust your screening priorities.