Is Bryan Fuller cursed? Why some of the best shows on TV can’t stay on the air


Bryan Fuller appears to be an incredibly talented man who just cannot seem to catch a break. The screenwriter and producer’s trend of making critically acclaimed shows that end up cancelled despairingly early seems to be continuing. Much to the chagrin of fans, it was announced last week that the currently airing third season of Hannibal would be the show’s last. With only 39 episodes in total, Hannibal will actually be the longest running series Fuller has created to date. While three seasons is usually nothing to be disappointed in, what is odd is the contrast between the amount of critical praise Fuller’s series receive and how long they last.

Fuller is most well known as the mind behind Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, and most recently Hannibal. Although praise for 2003’s Dead Like Me fell away after Fuller left the project early in season one due to creative conflicts, all of these series have been “gone too soon” critical darlings. Dead Like Me lasted only two seasons despite its series premiere breaking ratings records for network Showtime that would reign supreme until Shameless‘ debut seven years later. Wonderfalls saw only a single season in 2004, and received a very similar treatment by network Fox as cult hit Firefly when they aired the first four episodes out of order, changed the show’s time slot with little advertising, and then finally advertised the fifth episode but never aired it once they decided to cancel the series. Much like Firefly, the show developed a loyal fan following despite network incompetence and is a familiar face on lists of television shows cancelled before their time. Pushing Daisies pumped out 22 episodes between 2007 and 2009, but winning seven Primetime Emmy Awards out of seventeen nominations and being considered one of the most visually compelling series on television wasn’t enough to save the series for a third season. Much of the decline in the show’s viewership for the second season is blamed on the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, which cut the first season short at only nine episodes. However, the Punishing Daisies fandom remains strong and saw the show win Esquire’s “TV Reboot Tournament” earlier this year. Now the axe has come for Hannibal whose ratings slip lower and lower despite universal critical acclaim for what is indisputably the most beautiful yet grotesque series on television.

So why does this keep happening? Why is it that Fuller repeatedly helms incredible series with tragically short life-spans? Part of the equation seems be miserable luck, with events like poor network management and the writer’s strike interfering with the show’s ability to gain an audience. While no such major event has happened to Hannibal, the series did move from a fall premiere to spring for the third season which pitted it up against geek darlings like Game of Thrones and Orphan Black, and therefore may have distracted some of its usual audience. However, it’s more likely that exactly what makes Fuller’s series so great is what’s scaring people away.

Fuller is a creator of unique and dynamic television with incredible concepts and well-executed design. His shows stand out as quirky and profoundly different from anything else on television; he never talks down to his audience and asks his viewers to simply accept the frequent absurdity his universe displays without question. Like Joss Whedon, Fuller says that his series all take place in the same universe and characters frequently make cross-over appearances. It is a universe where there is magic and existence beyond death, and where strange things just happen sometimes. It is this sense of wonder even in the macabre that draw many to his vision and inspire devout fandoms. Unfortunately, it may simply be all too much for the average viewer.

While there may be constant complaint that we are only being shown the same old tropes and characters and reboots rearranged into a slightly new packages every season and that nothing new ever comes across our televisions, those reboots, sequels, and cookie-cutter dramas keep being smash hits. When something unique does come along it’s almost as though audiences are frightened by its nuance and flee in droves. The show is labelled as “too slow,” “too confusing,” or simply “too weird,” despite critics begging audiences to dive right in. So perhaps it is the very thing that make Fuller’s creations great that prevents people from giving them the attention they deserve.

Whatever the reason, television lovers should keep a sharp eye out for whatever project he has next. He’s an inspired creator with an unmatched sense of style and seemingly undying appreciation for his fans. Maybe this time we’ll be able to keep it afloat.

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Genevieve LeBlanc
Genevieve LeBlanc 126 posts

Genevieve LeBlanc is a contributing writer for and lives in snowy Canada.