Pushing Daisies – Antenna http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Branding Hannibal: When Quality TV Viewers and Social Media Fans Converge http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2015/08/24/branding-hannibal-when-quality-tv-viewers-and-social-media-fans-converge/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2015/08/24/branding-hannibal-when-quality-tv-viewers-and-social-media-fans-converge/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 13:00:51 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=27934 Hannibal, Allison McCracken and Brian Faucette discuss the show's and network's branding efforts in relation to their appeals to "feminized" audiences. ]]> Post by Allison McCracken (DePaul University) and Brian Faucette (Caldwell Community College)

[Note: This is the first of a three-part series highlighting some of Hannibal‘s unique contributions to the television world, to commemorate its final week on NBC. The images and video in this post contain spoilers. Also macabre humor.]

Hannibal completes its third (and last) season this week, despite its critical acclaim and the devotion of its passionate fanbase (known as “Fannibals”). Critics have praised the program’s reconceptualization of the horror series and its compelling version of the familiar Hannibal character, but Hannibal has left its mark in other ways as well. This short series of posts examines how Hannibal has engaged with questions of gender: in remixing the markers of quality TV, in embracing the potential of its position within the fannish archive, and in privileging a complex teen girl character within its narrative.


A common exclamation for new viewers of Hannibal is “I can’t believe this is on network!” This astonishment reflects the dominant cultural hierarchies of value in which television critics have elevated non-network shows as “quality TV” for discerning viewers over network shows largely assumed to be mindless fodder for the undiscerning masses. As Elana Levine and Michael Z. Newman have argued (and critic Noah Berlatsky recently affirmed), such critical divides of taste and value perpetuate inequalities of class and gender in which quality is associated with middle class, male audiences/”masculine” tastes, and non-quality tv with mass, largely female audiences with “feminine” tastes.

This divide has become even more obvious as white middle-class audiences have largely fled the networks, preferring the suburban pastures of original programming on HBO, Netflix, Amazon, etc. In the face of this divide, networks have been even more willing to serve the audiences that remain by developing programming for undervalued viewers such as teens, women, queer people, and people of color, many of whom still watch live TV. In addition, networks have developed more programming from less critically regarded pulp genres (as opposed to “adult dramas”) such as musicals, science fiction, and horror.

NBC’s Hannibal is unusual in its ability to bridge this cultural divide by successfully developing a “class and mass” brand that has provided an innovative, unique model of program and promotion. Hannibal‘s brand appeals to and actively serves both quality TV audiences and an intensely invested fan base, led primarily by young women utilizing social media. The easy co-existence of these seemingly odd bedfellows is particularly remarkable given that the presence of young women is often seen to degrade (“feminize”) the quality bona fides of any media product. Yet just as Hannibal queered its source material, the program’s producers were able to develop a mode of promotional address that combined quality markers with overt acknowledgements of its fandom. Far from “degrading” the text, this integration has resulted in a richer, more experimental, more politically progressive program and a more inclusive viewer experience.

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In 2011, amidst the backdrop of reboots, rebranding, origin stories, and sequels, Hannibal seemed to be a perfect fit for NBC. The recent popularity of horror on American television—in series like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story—suggested to the network that a reboot of the familiar character of Hannibal Lecter would allow them to tap into this growing viewer demand. At the same time, NBC sought to establish a “quality” brand for the show. For example, the network committed to thirteen episodes rather than a full season, a break with network traditions that replicated the practices of cable’s prestige programs. The network also chose to skip the pilot stage because of the involvement of the French Gaumont studio group, who purchased the rights to the novel—and thus the characters from—Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, which would serve as the foundation for the series. The inclusion of Gaumont as a producing partner gave the show an international feel; European high-art aesthetics were evoked throughout the series, which included location filming in Paris and Florence.

Gaumont’s CEO Katie O’Connell then hired Bryan Fuller to write the first script and serve as showrunner. As the creator of several critically acclaimed series including Pushing Daisies (2007-09), Fuller brought with him his own auteur brand. He promised to reimagine the source material by altering key aspects of the original books, including diversifying the cast; focusing on character development and motivation; and establishing a signature lush, beautiful, and sophisticated style for the program that would look and feel expensive. Likewise, NBC promoted these “quality” production aesthetics throughout its publicity for the series.


Still, Hannibal struggled to find an audience on NBC, which, unlike premium outlets, needed the buy-in of at least a portion of its mass audience for the program to succeed. In this regard, the network and the program’s producers encouraged the activities of the Fannibals. Demographic research suggested that a significant portion of the audience was “young, smart, well-read women,” which delighted Fuller, who adored their creative production, their appreciation of the show’s dark humor, and their emotional investment in his development of a romance between Hannibal and Will Graham. The network embraced the community, setting up an official Tumblr account for the series and sponsoring a fan art contest (winners below). The NBC Hannibal Tumblr mods have been widely praised for their understanding of the platform and their supportive, respectful interaction with fans.

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In addition, Hannibal‘s producers and cast members, led by Fuller (in flower crowns, below), have frequently used Twitter to encourage fan activity, including regularly live-tweeting episodes; re-tweeting fan art and GIFs; and giving fans access to script pages, production details, and set photos. This sense of community between the series producers and its fans generated tangible results in the form of a third season renewal, as network officials and producers have openly acknowledged. This final season has both rewarded Fannibals’ ardor and affirmed quality TV tastes by further shifting the series from its procedural beginnings. Set partially in Europe, this season utilizes an art-house style of filming and focuses on character relationships in even more depth and detail, particularly that between the two leads. By developing program content that appealed to viewers across gender and class lines and by involving and supporting their “feminized,” network audiences, Hannibal constructed both an innovative program text and a series brand that will hopefully inspire television producers working across platforms to explore more ways of blurring cultural hierarchies.



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Report from SCMS: Thursday http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/03/19/report-from-scms-thursday/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/03/19/report-from-scms-thursday/#comments Fri, 19 Mar 2010 17:19:43 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=2599

In yesterday’s inaugural conference report, Derek Kompare described his ambivalence about existing academic conference structures, especially when there is not an “active online backchannel” perpetuating and extending some of the conversations beyond the walls of the seminar room.  Derek maps this observation onto some of the ongoing conversations we have been having for some time about the “future” of academic conferences, surmising correctly that what we are really talking about is our present moment.  In a similar vein, we have been discussing for some time similar questions about the future of academic publishing, in particular about the place of traditional scholarly forms–the monograph, the academic journal–in the age of blogs, Twitter, and YouTube.

These questions were fruitfully addressed in Jennifer Porst and John Bridge’s panel, “From Paper to Blog: The Past, Present, and Future of Cinema and Media Studies Publishing.”  The panel seemed especially productive because it seemed to take for granted the assumption that blogs and other online forms are already crucial forms through which scholarly ideas are shared and because of the focus on how newer publication forms might help us to reinvent scholarly publishing in potentially powerful ways.  Jason Mittell, reflecting on some of his recent scholarship on television and narrative complexity, offered some productive questions about whether some of our objects of study–contemporary practices in film, TV, and other media–lend themselves to the format of a book. Given the rapid pace of media change, there is incredible value in engaging with these changes in a short, timely manner.  Similarly, Eric Faden provocatively called for “bite-sized scholarship,” essentially asking scholars to think about their research production as “scalable,” as potentially fitting into a variety of media forms.

The ongoing debates about new textual models and modes of circulation seemed to inform all of the panels I attended on Thursday.  One morning panel looked at the particular challenges raised by adapting comic books into films.  Bob Rehak’s paper traced some of the reasons that the adaptation of Alan Moore’s The Watchmen was a “failed experiment,” noting not only the challenges of adapting a self-contained graphic novel (rather than the expansive universe of super heroes such as Batman and Spider-Man) but also director Zack Snyder’s status as a “functionary,” whose attempts at extreme fidelity made the film feel as if it was an exercise.  Most all of the papers on the comic book adaptation panel were attentive to the role of paratexts in helping to secure the authenticity of a given adaptation.

Similarly, an afternoon panel on “Making the Peripheral Central to Television Studies” focused on the ways in which “ancillary” texts–DVD extras, TV brands, and other material that might previously have been regarded as ephemera–play a crucial role in constructing the meaning of popular culture texts.  In particular, Jonathan Gray traced the ways in which DVD extras contribute to the revival of the aura of the text and the rebirth of the author.  Behind-the-scenes interviews on the Pushing Daisies DVD helped to illuminate the ways in which we are trained to see TV shows and movies as crafted by a wide range of creative personnel.

Finally, a panel on “Hollywood’s New Lease on Life” helped to illuminate how the “afterlife” of a film text, to use Barbara Klinger’s phrase, shapes the status of a film text.  As Klinger was careful to illustrate, there is a long history of recirculating films after their initial theatrical release.  Using the example of It’s a Wonderful Life, which became reinvented as a Christmas classic in the 1980s, Klinger showed that film is a “profoundly circulatory medium,” one that depends on and finds meaning in the reiteration of movies in a variety of a formats, a process that may have profound consequences thanks to the intense fascination with 3D exhibition, a point underscored by Kirsten Thompson, who suggested that 3D offers new opportunities to reboot moribund movie franchises.  In all cases, the panelists were attentive to what Jon Lewis called “an expansive film culture,” one that is fueled by the new distribution and exhibition formats.

This work on textual circulation serves as an important area of study, not only in terms of understanding industry practices but also how those practices shape the ways in which meanings are produced.  In particular, these panels point to the incredible material available to scholars engaged in creating a history of of the media present, while also reminding us of the importance of past precedents and potential future directions for media distribution.


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