“Hannibal” is probably one of the best shows on television right now.
The NBC drama starring Mads Mikkelsen as a twistedly delightful serial killer makes AMC’s “The Walking Dead” look like a jovial zombie sitcom. (Spoiler: A man was shown feeding parts of his face to dogs this season.)
Critics have praised it as a smart, beautifully haunting adaptation of Thomas Harris’ series with some going as far to call it the best horror show on TV. It has a huge cult following online that refers to themselves as Fannibals and probably one of the most self-aware Tumblr accounts of any television series.
There’s just one problem. No one is watching it — at least when it airs — and the network heads don’t seem to understand why.
“Hannibal” ratings are pretty abysmal. The show pulled in its highest viewership during its 2013 season premiere when approximately 4.3 million viewers. About 2.4 million tuned in for the recent season 2 finale.
This is in complete opposition with viewer response to the episodes. Fans have increasingly rated the episodes better and better on IMDB.
During the TCAs (Television Critics’ Association) press tour NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt said he doesn’t understand why the show isn’t pulling in better numbers suggesting it would probably fare better on cable or a paid network.
“It’s one of the best reviewed shows that this network has had since I’ve been here. And we still struggle to find an audience for it. It’s great, we’re keeping it going, we keep trying to build an audience for it. But, if this were on a cable network the small audience would not matter. It would be deemed more successful than it is on our network. I don’t know why five million people or eight million people won’t watch Hannibal on a broadcast network. Three million might watch it on Showtime or another cable network and that’s ok. The minute you try and do something that is dark, and subversive, and frightening, and gets into that territory, you start to peel away the mass audience. It’s just the way it is. Because the quality of that show is undeniable.”
When Hannibal first premiered on NBC, it aired on Thursday nights at 10 with a lead in from now-cancelled Matthew Perry show “Go On.” The dark thriller was an outlier in NBC’s Thursday evening comedy block. When it returned the following year as a midseason show it’s ratings continued to stumble after it was placed after the network’s fantasy crime drama “Grimm.”
Here’s an example of television ratings on a typical Friday night now:
Now, here are ratings for the rest of a sample week to compare from Nielsen via TVbythenumbers. I’ve highlighted the 10 p.m. slots for comparison. (Feel free to zoom in and out below. If you’re on mobile, head here.)
The last time I can ever think of something extremely successful airing on Friday nights was when ABC had its excellent TGIF (Thank God Its Friday) run in the ’90s with shows like “Family Matters,” “Dinosaurs,” and “Boy Meets World.”
Perhaps the most successful shows to have ever aired on Friday evenings in the 10 p.m. slot were soap operas “Dallas” and then “Falcon’s Crest” in the ’80s on CBS. Since then, the majority of networks have pulled away from airing serious network contenders on Friday evenings since its thought most people aren’t home to watch TV.
Below is an extensive list of shows that aired on Friday nights at 10 p.m. from 1990-2013.
CBS has probably been the most successful since 1990 with a string of hits including “Nash Bridges,” Numb3rs,” and, now, “Blue Bloods.” ABC has defaulted to mostly running “20/20” while Fox always runs local programming. NBC was the most inconsistent network over the past two decades when it came to late Friday night programming. Of the shows above, nine of them were cancelled after appearing in the 10 p.m. time slot.
Friday nights in general became known as a place where shows went to die. A few series that were moved to Friday nights (no specific time) and later received the axe during their last seasons include “Boston Public,” “Prison Break,” “Raising Hope,” and “Las Vegas.”
When “Hannibal” was brought back for season 2, it looked like NBC was ready to give a quiet goodbye to its killer thriller, but it appears an overwhelming amount of positive criticism helped keep it on the air.
If NBC says they’re really serious about finding an audience for the Bryan Fuller series then it needs to be given a better time slot. It won’t get 5-8 million viewers over night, and it may not get there overall, but airing it any day but Friday may be a start.