Bryan Fuller on Hannibal, Fannibals, and Finally Having a Show Last More Than 2 Seasons

Photo: NBC

Fans of the “Fullerverse” — the sometimes-spooky, always-askew macrocosm where TV producer Bryan Fuller’s shows (Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies) are said to take place — have long been cautious about putting down roots there. That’s thanks to Fuller’s track record for making “brilliant but cancelled”–type fare, none of which has lasted more than two seasons. But he’s finally broken his two-and-done curse with Hannibal, his über-macabre take on the modern mythology of Hannibal Lecter, which received a third-season pickup in May. On the eve of Hannibal’s second season arriving on DVD today, we talked to Fuller about Hannibal’s diehard fans (called “Fannibals”), Hannibal’s most divisive characters, and who Kristin Chenoweth could one day play on the show.

As someone who’s been a fan of several of your shows, it’s such a pleasure to get to talk to you about a season-two DVD knowing that a third season is coming.
I know. First time ever for me!

What do you attribute that to?
There’s been such a groundswell of support from the “Fannibals” across the world.* Without their enthusiasm for the show and their very vocal passion and support, we wouldn’t have gotten a second season.

And networks have more tolerance for a passionate niche audience than they did three or five years ago.
They absolutely do. With the audience erosion we’ve been witnessing in the past ten years — because there’s been such a glut of programming and networks need to keep feeding their machine — standards are different. So even us, as low-rated as we are, when you add the DVR numbers, and when you add the Twitter numbers, and the online presence, all of those things are being calculated into the equation now, whereas they weren’t before. And with the advent of social media, fans have a face and a voice in a way they have never had previously. So it’s kind of a great time as a fan, to see fandom be more and more respected.

I don’t mean to reopen old wounds, but have you ever thought that if Pushing Daisies or Wonderfalls were around today, they’d get a longer life?
Absolutely. You can never predict, but the numbers that Pushing Daisies [were] cancelled at — those would be good numbers now.

Hannibal is not only the darkest show you’ve ever done, but one of the darkest shows I’ve ever seen — certainly on network TV. It’s such a stark transition from your previous work. How different is it for you to work in that darker arena?
Oh, absolutely, it’s drastic! [Laughs.] Usually I like to write with a little more absurdist humor, just because it’s more in line with my general point of view of the world. So, yeah, this is a dramatic departure from what I would write left to my own devices. But I felt like my responsibility was to write something in the spirit of the Thomas Harris literature, and so I’m essentially a cover band, in a way. A band who is using instruments that are unique to my sound.

Where are you right now, as far as trying to get the various rights to introduce more characters we know from Hannibal Lecter books and movies into the show?
Every season, we reapproach — as we did this season — the rights holders of Silence of the Lambs. The first two seasons it was, “Absolutely not,” and this season it was, “Ask us again next year and we’ll see where we are.”

I get the sense you’re being strung along a little!
I’ll keep asking!

Speaking of “keep asking,” you use a lot of actors on Hannibal with whom you’ve worked before, and I’ve read that you’re seeing about trying to get Lee Pace and Anna Friel from Pushing Daisies on the show. Is that still a possibility?
Every season we do the same thing, where Lee and I talk about, “How do we get to work together again?” And it’s always about navigating these crazy schedules.

Are there particular Hannibal scenes or plotlines that you’ve found have resonated with fans the most?
I get approached by people who really responded to the Abigail story line, and approached by other people who really loathe Abigail. So it’s an interesting division. But I appreciate the response to the Margot Verger story line, and I’m also excited about the opportunity to continue telling that story. I think people who enjoyed it in season two will, uh, have some nice surprises.

It’s funny you say that about Abigail because when the second season was about to debut, I wrote in a season-one refresher that we saw Abigail’s severed ear, but we don’t know what else is going on—

—and a few people seemed perturbed that I didn’t just say she was dead. It does seem like she brings out a very visceral reaction in people.
[Laughs.] I think there’s something very confusing about her story line because, is she the victim? Is she the victimizer? How much does she have to do with it? And really, with such a bent, horrific relationship she had with her father, I think people have their own preconceptions about what they would do in that situation.

Hannibal is one of the few shows that, even in a macabre way, addresses or explores mental illness from the point of view of the person going through it.
One of the things with Will Graham is that it’s always been hard to categorize what he suffers from because we played it very loosely on the show. He’s somewhere on the spectrum, whether it’s Asperger's or autism or what have you. He’s not any of those things. We’re not sure what, exactly, he is because mostly he’s a work of fiction and so it’s hard to categorize him in that way, with specificity. Beyond that, I think that it’s not uncommon anymore to have someone in your life who is open about having some kind of issue. So because some of those issues are more talked about now, and they are more recognized, it’s easier to see them reflected in fictional dramas. And as long as you’re treating the character with respect and complexity, there’s all sorts of ways to approach mental illness in quote-unquote entertainment.

You started out with a 13-episode order from the beginning, correct?
Right, right. It was always going to be a cable model. So we were going to be a 13-episode season.

Even in the two or so years since Hannibal debuted, that’s become a precedent that your show and others have set — blurring the lines between miniseries and series, between the number of episodes in cable shows and network shows. What sort of comfort or freedom or just enjoyment do you get out of that reduced number of episodes that maybe you didn’t get from your previous shows?
Well, you just have an easier time telling a more focused story. Because you aren’t planning those tales for characters to explore where it really isn’t advancing the broader story; it’s treading water. So the fewer episodes you do really forces you to focus a story. The idea of doing 22 episodes again makes me break out in a cold sweat.

Oh, no!
Thirteen? Ten to 13? Eight to 13? I’ll name that tune in eight episodes. Anywhere between eight to 13 is ideal to tell a great long-form story.

I’ve read that you’re aiming to get Kristen Chenoweth into the mix on Hannibal.
I’d love to have her.

But who would she play?
Um, an opera singer!

* This interview previously referred to Hannibal fans as Mannibals. They are not Mannibals. They are Fannibals which, while (in our opinion) less interesting sounding does make more sense.