Clarice Starling might well approve. Trusting its instincts, a confident NBC has placed a direct-to-series order for Hannibal, a new drama based on Thomas Harris' classic cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs). So bullish is NBC on the project that, in an unusual move, it's skipping the typical pilot stage and putting 13 episodes of the series in production, overseen by visionary Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller. Still, NBC's track record on direct-to-series orders isn't so hot. This season, the network went that route with The Firm, inspired by John Grisham's novel and its film adaptation (starring Tom Cruise), and the series has performed so poorly that it's been pulled from Thursday nights to be burnt off on Saturdays. Is NBC's series order for Hannibal a misstep?
It's too big of a gamble: Sure, NBC is saving money by skipping the traditional pilot stage, says James Hibberd at Entertainment Weekly. But for a network that's having trouble launching any new scripted series, that's a mistake. Pilot-testing is the go-to model because it gives the network and producers a chance to tinker with the final product (or scrap the experiment at little loss) before it hits airwaves. Considering The Firm's disastrous performance, it's baffling that the network isn't heeding its own cautionary tale.
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It's certainly problematic: We can't trash NBC's decision until we see the final product, says James Poniewozik at TIME. But we can raise concerns. To begin with, whoever is cast in the lead will suffer immensely from comparisons to Anthony Hopkins (whose big-screen work as Lecter is indelible). And while Bryan Fuller is one of TV's most creative producers, his "best work has been in lighter, quirky stories" like Pushing Daisies, in which "I recall pies eaten but not people." Then there's the violence factor. NBC is a broadcast network constrained by FCC standards. Can it "tell the story as it needs to be told?"
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Actually, this is a great idea: This is "an exciting concept that really could work wonders," says Sean Comer at Yidio. Fans will undoubtedly follow these captivating, popular characters to the small screen, just as they have consumed Thomas Harris' books and the resulting film trilogy. The source material also sets up a TV-ready framework: A character-driven drama that's also a police procedural. And while NBC will certainly face a challenge making cannibalism broadcast TV-appropriate, pushing the envelope could give the show a Dexter-like popularity.
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