Q&A: Anthony Zuiker

The 'CSI' mastermind is diversifying with a 'digi-novel'

A decade after coming up with the idea for "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" while working as a Las Vegas tram driver, Anthony Zuiker is moving beyond the forensic lab. He helped write this summer's "Terminator Salvation" feature, and on Tuesday he launches a multimedia experience that involves elements of a novel, a social community and a motion picture -- all while continuing to oversee the most lucrative TV franchise in history.

The Hollywood Reporter: So what exactly is a digi-novel?

Anthony Zuiker: "Level 26: Dark Origins" is a horror-crime novel written by myself and Duane Swierczynski with motion-picture footage and a social community all wrapped into one experience. When you read the book, every 20 pages you have the option to log onto a Web site called Level26.com, enter a code and watch a three-minute motion picture that continues the narrative from one chapter to another. There's 20 of those inside the book, so it's kind of like getting a movie inside a book.

THR: What inspired you to do a multimedia narrative project?

Zuiker: It really came during the writers strike. People that work in television had the chance for three months to take long walks and begin to unwind out of the day-to-day process of working on television. I believe that there's no such thing as the one-off anymore -- one good TV show or radio show or hit song or a book. I thought, "Why don't we just converge three medias -- publishing, motion pictures and Web site -- and really make it an immersive experience?"

THR: With William Petersen leaving, the original "CSI" has been more ratings-challenged than the other two. What's going to happen to the Lawrence Fishburne character or the show as a whole?

Zuiker: Well, William Petersen is a very tough loss, but the show must go on, so to speak. Obviously, great shows have survived, like "ER" after George Clooney, which went on to be a great success. But I think right now the show will shift to be more Larry Fishburne-centric. His character will really be worked on and he'll just be made a more fabricated part of the story.

THR: How do you interact with the shows at this point?

Zuiker: I've been on the "CSI" franchise for almost a decade. So, I've tiptoed off. I still have a toe in the water. I am developing new shows now, so that's my top priority. I talk to the showrunners almost every day. I read the scripts, I give feedback, but for the most part the showrunners are so autonomous that they keep the shows up and running. On the major decisions, I'm involved but without discrediting all the work of the showrunners and the other producers; they're the ones doing the heavy lifting.

THR: How much do they talk to one another?

Zuiker: They are right now because we're working on a unified story line. There should be some kind of crossover story happening later.

THR: Two of your shows -- "Miami" and "New York" -- will be going up against "The Jay Leno Show" this fall. What will "the Leno effect" be on TV?

Zuiker: Jay Leno is great. Do I love the fact that he's five days a week and five slots have been taken away from television? I understand why NBC would do it, but I don't necessarily agree personally. I think that five creators like myself have five great shows, and now five great slots have been gobbled up by one slot. I'm not so fearful of NBC doing that, I'm more fearful of CBS doing that.

THR: Will you do another "CSI"?

Zuiker: I think we're done. In terms of just doing the same formula but picking a fourth city, I think that wouldn't be the wisest choice. We're always trying to find different ways to kill people every week on our shows, so to have another show battling ways to kill people with the same formula would be irresponsible.

THR: You have a rich first-look deal at CBS. Are you developing things that are as unique in their approach as "Level 26," or is it more traditional television?

Zuiker: Straight-ahead television, no question about it. It doesn't necessarily have a multiplatform play as of right now. Outside of television, we're incredibly complex. We just got off of "Terminator Salvation." People will put me in the "CSI" box, which is fine, because obviously the shows are a hit, but I can write books, make games, I have a speaking career. I directed and wrote all the cyber-bridges on "Level 26" myself. I'm a lot more comfortable behind the camera than I am behind the typewriter. The first thing I did (when directing) was, I sent a letter to Danny Cannon, our director for the pilot of "CSI," and I said, "I apologize to you." I had been so stuck on my own little words. Within an hour of shooting that first day, I said, "Screw the script, make it work."
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