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In 'Clarice,' Why Aren't FBI Agent Starling And Hannibal Lecter Ever Seen Together?

"Clarice," a new series that continues in "The Silence of the Lambs" universe, doesn't include Hannibal Lecter — in fact, it refers to him as "He Who Shall Not Be Named.”

By Gina Tron
Clarice Hannibal Cbs G

“Clarice,” a new CBS series that follows FBI agent Clarice Starling after the events in the 1991 thriller “The Silence of the Lambs,” has a significant presence missing from it: former forensic psychiatrist and serial killer Hannibal Lecter, whose name is not even uttered in the show.

The new show, pitched as a psychological horror series, promises to take a “deep dive into the untold personal story of Starling as she returns to the field in 1993, one year after the events of ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’” according to CBS.

The series features several characters that fans of the Oscar-winning film will recognize. Of course, there's Starling, originally and famously played by Jodie Foster, who is now portrayed by Rebecca Breeds. There’s also Catherine Martin, the last woman kidnapped by the serial killer dubbed “Buffalo Bill.” In the show, she’s now struggling with the traumatic aftermath of her abduction, where she was held captive in a well. She’s isolated herself, with the exception of Precious, Buffalo Bill’s pet Bichon Frise, who she has made her pet after her rescue. Her mother, former Senator Ruth Martin, also plays a prominent role in the series, as a concerned matriarch and career politician who is now attorney general. In the premiere season, it’s actually Martin who enlists Starling for the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Unit. 

While the series features flashbacks to Buffalo Bill, there are neither flashbacks, nor new scenes, featuring Lecter. While he is referenced incredibly sparingly, the show doesn't do so by name. Instead, he’s referred to as an “inmate at the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane” and as someone who “ate his patients.” In fact, he's literally referred to at one point as “He Who Shall Not Be Named.” 

His presence is a noticeable absence, but not entirely shocking. The Lecter and Starling characters — whose chilling psychological quid pro quo scenes in the '90s classic led them to be ranked among the greatest film heroines and villains by the American Film Institute — haven’t been together on any screen since 2001’s “Hannibal.”

This is actually because of a quite complicated legal web involving character rights for the books upon which all of the films and shows in the Starling-Lecter universe are based. Author Thomas Harris wrote four books featuring the characters: “Red Dragon” (1981), “The Silence of the Lambs” (1988), “Hannibal” (1999), and “Hannibal Rising” (2006). 

The producers of “Clarice” are backed by MGM, which only own the rights to the characters and storylines explicitly created for Harris’s book, “The Silence of the Lambs,” Screen Rant reports. That notably means Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill. The producers of the NBC series “Hannibal,” which ran for three seasons from 2013 to 2015, had the rights to characters and storylines created for the other three books — which of course, includes Lecter, who first appeared in a small role as a villain in “Red Dragon.”

The characters from those three other books were owned by Dino de Laurentiis, who produced “The Silence of the Lambs” as well as “Manhunter,” Michael Mann’s 1986 movie based on “Red Dragon.” Those character rights are now owned by his widow, Martha de Laurentiis, according to Screen Rant.

The lauded NBC series “Hannibal” was developed by Bryan Fuller, who wanted to feature Starling in his show, but couldn’t write her into it because the character rights weren't owned by Martha de Laurentiis. Fuller apparently unsuccessfully tried to make an agreement that would allow characters to appear on both shows, Screen Rant reports.

As far as "Clarice" is concerned, not having Lecter is apparently fine, as creator has said he doesn’t want to include the notorious cannibal doctor, anyhow.

“We have no interest in writing about Hannibal anyway; he was done so well by so many that it didn't feel fresh,” Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman told Entertainment Weekly.

Kurtzman added that his show will have “all the Harris characters” that NBC’s “Hannibal” did not include.

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