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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Television's Response to Tragedy: A Case Study "Ceuf" Hannibal

These are just my first thoughts, hoping to develop more

I had an exchange the other day on Twitter about "Isaac and Ishmael", The West Wing episode that responded to the September 11th attacks, just weeks after them. The discussion focused on whether or not the episode still stood up after twelve years, or whether it seemed dated in hindsight. Therefore, this topic was fresh in my mind when NBC's Hannibal pulled last week's episode "Ceuf" due to the Boston Marathon bomb attacks.

However, what is interesting to me is not that they pulled the episode, but what they chose to do instead. Bryan Fuller, the executive producer, decided to pull the episode only in the U.S, and instead "cannibalized" it (his words) to create six web episodes that are available on http://www.nbc.com/hannibal/video/ceuf-part-1/n35825/. Each episode is about three minutes long, and focuses on Hannibal Lecter's story. One can assume that the reason Will Graham doesn't appear much is due to the fact that his storyline was the offending one (children are brainwashed into killing their parents). What I find interesting is how this "cannibalized" episode reads. It is a complete story- which is either incredibly good writing, or excellent editing down from a full episode. I also think it's interesting that Fuller would make the decision to cut this episode and release it online versus simply delay it or skip it, as shows have chosen to do in the past.

In 1999, Buffy the Vampire Slayer chose to delay two episodes: "Earshot" which featured a student with a rifle in a bell tower, and "Graduation", which featured a high body count Sunnydale-style, in the wake of the Columbine shootings.
In 2001, The West Wing premiered "Isaac and Ishmael" which was unique at the time for two reasons- for its timely reaction to 9/11 (in fact the first from fictional media) and for the perspective it offered (it presented that perhaps we were not the always right patriotic image that most US media at the time was pushing).
In 2006, in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, Bones' episode "Player Under Pressure" was delayed over a year because the plot focused on a death on a college campus.
In 2012, Haven delayed one of their last Season 3 episodes a month after the Newtown school shootings.

Each of these television shows stated in one form or another that they were delaying their episodes because it was not appropriate, or tasteful, to air them in light of the recent tragedy. So, why would Fuller choose to not air the episode in the US, but still release it online? Did he feel the story was so important that fans must see it in order to understand the 25 April episode? Was it a dedication to the storytelling? Or is it a combination of smart marketing research and lip service to the tragedy? I'm cynical, so I would argue the last. By releasing the cut episode online, and prefacing it with a personal intro by Bryan Fuller, I believe he is cashing in on fan interest (perhaps morbid interest) in the episode that was banned. Also, it is hard to see (I've yet to be able to see the episode as it aired in the UK, uncut) how an episode featuring kids as killers, would be sensitive, or on topic enough to pull the episode- further pointing to this move as a ploy.

However, ploy or not, this episode offers some interesting tidbits for analysis, both for the unique space it occupies because of it's timeliness, but also as a microcosm of the show itself. The cutting of Will Graham's part of the story offers a closer look at Hannibal. The web episodes are each roughly 3 minutes and change, with six of them, that's around twenty minutes, or half of a normal 42 minute hour drama minus commercials. This math is worth noting, because while the title of the show is Hannibal, at least the first few episodes ("Apéritif", "Amuse-Bouche", and"Potage") have focused strictly mainly on Will, and Hannibal has been a secondary character, although there are hints, that "Ceuf" definitely points to, that Lecter is growing in influence.
I admit to being stumped (having asked not only my French speaking, foodie sister, but also the Twitterverse) as to what "Ceuf" refers to. It is not a foodie word, or a French word. Yet, all the other episodes have French, food related names. Is the title a slant of oeuf (egg)? If so, who is the egg that will soon mature or come into his/her own- is it Lecter or Abigail Hobbs? Given that she seems set up to possibly act as a protege to Lecter, either reading is worth further exploration.

I hope to expand this, so comments welcome on other episodes that were pulled or altered in response to tragedies, as well as any academic writing on this topic would be appreciated.

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