Anthony E. Zuiker is looking ahead at his career. After creating three very successful shows the mastermind behind the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise is moving away from his longtime home at CBS and focusing on new projects at ABC. He’s made science cool. He’s pioneered the digital era of entertainment. And now, nearly eleven years after his first TV show debuted, Zuiker is looking for the next big hit. Zuiker talks about his new journey and more with CSI Files’ Shane Saunders.
CSI Files: 2011 has in many ways been a year of change for you. How are you approaching this next chapter of your career?
Anthony E. Zuiker: Well, we’ve had a dream run at CBS with all the success of CSI, CSI: Miami, and CSI: NY. For the first TV script I wrote to be CSI and turn into this kind of franchise is just an unbelievable blessing. And, after twelve seasons and arguably doing thirty years of television—season twelve, season ten, and season eight—I’m looking at the future for ABC to bring them the next hit and try my creative luck somewhere else. CBS is just so successful with hits it was just time for me to try something else in the second half of my career and ABC seemed to be the most passionate to allow me to do that.
CSI Files: Now, your production company [Dare to Pass] shifted from CBS to ABC. What does this mean for the CSI franchise over at CBS?
Zuiker: Nothing really changes over at CBS. Everybody over there that run the shows are incredibly talented and I think Ted Danson [DB Russell] is an amazing choice. I think he’s going to do a wonderful job over there. So, I’m still involved loosely in the day to day but nothing really changes. The focus is to keep doing great television.
CSI Files: So, hypothetically, say you were to launch another CSI show: would that air on CBS or ABC?
Zuiker: Well, I’m definitely not launching another CSI show.
CSI Files: Okay. Now on that topic, there have been several comments over the past few years about a CSI film. Is this something that you’re pursuing?
Zuiker: No. To my knowledge there’s no plans to do a CSI film in the future. There have been some loose talks about it, but I think the main focus of the franchise is to keep the franchise healthy for all three shows.
CSI Files: Season Eleven marked your return to CSI after working on other projects for the past several seasons. Did it feel like you were back at home, so to speak?
Zuiker: Well yeah, returning to CSI after taking a couple of years to do other things was really refreshing. I think when you step away [and] come back you have a whole new perspective and appreciation for the franchise that was built from scratch by the same people: Carol [Mendelsohn], Ann [Donahue], and Pam [Veasey]. I really had a great time connecting with some of the new writers and some of the crew members; I was welcomed back with open arms. We had a lot of fun launching the first half of the season and also working on “Sqweegel.”
CSI Files: Was it hard juggling show-running duties while also promoting your latest novel Dark Prophecy?
Zuiker: Well, I wasn’t show-running. I was there as an executive producer and to help out with the writing. But yeah, it was a little challenging to be working on CSI full-time and launching a major book. It was a challenge, but it was all doable.
CSI Files: You just mentioned Sqweegel from last season. Are you going to be writing another episode for him this year?
Zuiker: [Long Pause] I’m not sure if that’s going to happen this season in terms of my involvement. I hope the character makes an appearance. I’m not sure I’d make an appearance just because our focus is television for ABC. I think the audience would be excited if Sqweegel made a return.
CSI Files: The original show is airing on a new night and time. How do you think CSI will fare Wednesdays at 10pm?
Zuiker: I think Wednesdays at ten is a great opportunity for us to compete. I think Ted Danson is such an amazing choice for us there and we don’t have the necessary pressure of Thursday, which is a very competitive timeslot. I feel the franchise of CSI… the shows are incredibly strong, still. I think CBS is incredibly smart to move the shows around probably where they can really compete and win.
CSI Files: You just mentioned Ted Danson again. How involved were you with casting him on the show?
Zuiker: Well, we all talked about it. We knew there was a level of interest. He had my endorsement from the very beginning. I think it’s just a smart choice. The one thing about our boss Les Moonves [President and Chief Executive Officer of CBS] is he just knows how to win and just knows how to pick ‘em. And Ted Danson is a TV icon and is really just the perfect fit for where the show is season twelve.
CSI Files: Marg Helgenberger, meanwhile, is leaving. Catherine Willows has been with the show since the very beginning; are you consulting on how to write the character off the show?
Zuiker: Well, I haven’t heard yet. We talked a little bit about her departure but I think that will eventually show itself as we begin to arc out the character. I think it’s too premature to have those discussions as of yet.
CSI Files: Looking back at season eleven was there anything that disappointed you or felt could have been done differently?
Zuiker: No. I think that we approach every season the same way. We call ‘em like we see them and we try to surprise an audience. I felt we had a really great season last season and again season eleven of any show is challenging, especially when you have two other shows competing against it, you know Miami and NY in terms of story lines and murders.
CSI Files: Prior to working on season eleven of CSI did you consider working on NY or Miami?
Zuiker: No. No, it really was CSI. I felt like it was time to get back to the roots and felt like the opportunity to put Sqweegel on CSI was pretty great. It was a forensic-proof killer being chased by a team of experts.
CSI Files: How are you feeling about the direction Miami and NY have taken? Are you happy with the more personal story lines those two seem to have?
Zuiker: Absolutely. I think that Miami and NY have really come up as one of the outstanding TV shows and our audience is at a place where they want to know more about our people. Miami and NY are delivering great story lines.
CSI Files: Speaking of NY, Sela Ward [Jo Danville] filled the void left by Melina Kanakaredes [Stella Bonasera]. What’s your take on Sela’s involvement with the show?
Zuiker: As sad as it was to have Melina go Sela Ward has seamlessly assumed that position. She has been a great breath of fresh air for that show in particular and really brings out the best in Gary Sinise.
CSI Files: Your production company has three new shows in development. Are there any guest stars or recurring actors from the CSI franchise that you’d like to bring over to your new projects?
Zuiker: Oh, it’s too early. We’re still in the development phase; I haven’t even pitched ABC anything yet. So it’s really too early to talk about casting. Again, once everything is gelled and pitched and written, if any role fits a particular former CSI actor it’d make sense. Of course we’ll talk to that particular actor, but it’s really in the early stages of that right now.
CSI Files: Level 26: there’s a new book out later this year, correct?
CSI Files: Are you planning on filming cyber-bridges for this novel as well?
Zuiker: Yeah, we definitely are. We’re doing about seven or eight bridges this season. Joshua Caldwell, he works for our company, he’ll be writing and directing those this season for us. It’ll be the third and last of the installment of the Dark series. That’s been a very interesting experience. We’ve broken some great new ground for the next story and we think fans of Level 26 will enjoy the ending of a great three book series.
CSI Files: My final question for you Anthony is about Mr. CSI, which is also coming out this year. I’m assuming it’s a must read for CSI fans?
Zuiker: I think so. [laughs] I think if you’re curious about the personal journey of an only kid from Las Vegas who had a dream to one day do something extraordinary in entertainment, I think that you’ll enjoy sort of the man behind the idea of CSI. And then really understand that success is built by those around you and that the greatest success isn’t CSI in particular, but me being a father to my children and all the trials and tribulations that go on of becoming a success story and really a metaphor for how something great can happen to someone in the country. It’s not a tell-all, it’s not a gossip book; it really is an inspirational memoir which really documents somebody who came from nothing and did something extraordinary.