Q&A: Anthony Zuiker
EmptyProof, if ever any was needed, that dead bodies are big business: CBS' "CSI: New York" is about to hit 100 episodes, and the entire "CSI" franchise is about to strike the 500 bell. No wonder co-creator/executive producer Anthony Zuiker is smiling -- he's managed to corral millions of American viewers into watching autopsies. P. Ryan Baber spoke to him for The Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter: You'd already had success with Las Vegas and Miami iterations of the show. How did the New York edition of "CSI" come about?
Anthony Zuiker: All these (spinoffs) were network ideas. The phone would ring, (CBS president and CEO) Les Moonves would say, "We want to do a 'CSI 2.' Pick a city." Collectively, (executive producer) Mr. (Jerry) Bruckheimer and all of us said "Miami." New York was pretty much the same conversation. We were looking to pick a city that was diverse from the previous two -- Las Vegas is in the desert, Miami is on the water -- and we wanted the ability to do snow forensics.
THR: The show struggled early on. What had to change?
Zuiker: It had been my idea to go darker, more rough and raw. I was a brand-new showrunner, and I was forgetting the biggest rule of television; I was writing for myself instead of for the audience. The turning point in the success of the show was Les Moonves saying, "We're no longer going to live in a subterranean world." Now it's beautiful, multicultural, expansive and there are 8 million people on the island. The second we did that -- turned some lights on and saw the actors' faces -- the audience came back.
THR: Once "CSI: NY" got its sea legs, it forced NBC to relocate "Law & Order" from its long-standing time slot. That must have been a surprise.
Zuiker: You never conceive a television show to be competitive with another show. It's up to the powers-that-be to play strategic network chess and put it in a time slot that would give it the opportunity to be successful. If in turn it ends up knocking somebody off the perch, then you can get a two-for-one.
THR: Show ratings are up for the season. What direction do you see the show going in for the next 100 episodes?
Zuiker: People have seen the snapshots, they've seen the re-creations, they've seen the flashbacks, they know what DNA is, this is nothing new. So we can't replicate what we've done in prior years and expect that to bring us to the promised land. The fine line is, how do we evolve the franchise visually, storytelling-wise, character-wise to where it feels as if it's just as fresh as when it first came out, while at the same time not abandoning all of the stuff that makes the franchise great?
THR: So have you ever considered asking your employees to donate part of their paychecks toward forensics research?
Zuiker: (Laughs.) I've not considered that, but I'm sure it'll come up someday.