Interview: Anthony E. Zuiker


Anthony E. Zuiker‘s reputation as a creative genius has long been established thanks to his work on the most-watched franchise in television history CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, and CSI: New York; and with his new deal at ABC, his résumé is soon to become even more impressive. One of the top innovators in the movement to introduce new platforms for consuming entertainment, Zuiker is hard at work creating groundbreaking projects for his new venture at Google while working concurrently on television development at ABC. The executive producer discusses his upcoming development slate and the future of the CSI franchise with CSI Files’ Shane Saunders.

CSI Files: It’s a new year, new projects. How is 2012 looking so far for Dare to Pass?

Anthony E. Zuiker: It’s looking great. We’re very excited to be at ABC and working on our development for the year, and also Chameleon. We’re off to a great start. I can’t believe that it’s almost February.

CSI Files: What’s in development at ABC that you can talk about?

Zuiker: I’m writing the script for Chameleon. It’s basically an undercover show about a female agent who does different costume changes to take down the bad guy, so I’m writing that as we speak. We have other shows I can’t quite get into for next season that we’re developing. We have a roster of five-to-seven projects for next season that we’re just starting to get into now.

CSI Files: Your memoir Mr. CSI has been out for a couple months. What kind of feedback are you getting?

Zuiker: Pretty good feedback. I think people are happy to read an autostory to kind of get some perspective on a person behind a show. It’s a human rags-to-riches story and a real story that I think people can relate to. I’m very proud of those efforts and I’m very proud of that being left behind for people to read and enjoy. A lot of people ask me, “How do you do what I did?” and I think the great metaphor about the book is one great idea and a little bit of luck can turn into something fantastic. Everybody can have the same opportunity I had.

CSI Files: The way you came into the business is a rather interesting story and you touch on it in the book. Do you think it’s harder to get into the entertainment industry today than it was in 2000? What advice do you have for those trying to break in now?

Zuiker: I don’t think it’s necessarily harder, I just think it’s different. The advice I have for young people or whoever wants to get into the business is it all comes down to the same core principles: talent, perserverance, networking, luck, and opportunity. I think those are the five things that matter whether you’re a producer or a director or a writer. The great thing about being a writer is it’s relatively inexpensive to write a piece of intellectual property that can be shopped around town. Hollywood is a beast that needs to be fed in terms of material and as long as that’s the case, everybody has a ticket to play it.

CSI Files: Your background is in writing, but you also directed the first two installments of the Level 26 series. Are you planning on getting more involved in directing?

Zuiker: Sure. Primarily I’m a writer, so we have a lot of work to do in that area. Eventually, as things open up, I think I’ll direct more. I do enjoy it. But my primary focus right now really is writing.

CSI Files: The final installment of the Level 26 series came out last month. The digi-novel concept was quite a success, but is there anything you would change about the next series?

Zuiker: I think we probably would putforth more efforts to make sure that the app version of the book topped the last one. I believe that Dark Prophecy pretty much is a blueprint for the future of publishing. If we did more books, we would want to progressively make that app better and better. I’m not sure there’s anything we can do much more on the novel side; you try to write the best novel you can and direct the best videos you can. It’s in the app space that things get very interesting. We would focus more on making sure that we kept topping ourselves in the app space.

CSI Files: There isn’t an app for Dark Revelations–are you planning on developing one?

Zuiker: Not at this time. We really put all of our efforts inside Dark Prophecy. If we do embark upon a new venture for the digi-novel, we’ll probably hit the ground running and make one for the book launch.

CSI Files: Your new company BlackBoxTV will be making its way to YouTube later this year. What genres are you looking to tackle?

Zuiker: We’re doing horror, thriller, and Sci-Fi. We’re very excited. As we begin to embark on a new level of storytelling under the Google umbrella and YouTube, they’ll allow us to do more original content as a company and dabble in the interactive space. It’s very exciting and could lead to what the future is in our business.

CSI Files: Is there talent booked for any of the projects that you can reveal?

Zuiker: I’ll tell you we have A-list talent that we’re about to close. We’re definitely going out for top-level talent going forward.

CSI Files: I want to segue a bit over to CSI. How do you think the franchise is doing? Is it looking like one of the series may be in its final season?

Zuiker: I don’t think so, I think the franchise has never been stronger. I feel like all the shows are having banner years. Ted Danson [DB Russell] has done a remarkable job stepping in for CSI and we’re looking forward to Elisabeth Shue [Julie Finlay] going forward. The episode the other night was fantastic and I just feel like to have this kind of staying power in Season Twelve, Ten, and Eight for all three shows is remarkable. This could be, arguably, one of our strongest franchise seasons yet.

CSI Files: Have you discussed doing another project with Marg Helgenberger (Catherine Willows)?

Zuiker: I have not talked to her personally about that. I mean, obviously, she’s someone that we always keep on the tip of our tongues, so if she’s willing to do something else for television, it definitely has my interest.

CSI Files: Were you involved at all with the casting of Elisabeth Shue?

Zuiker: We talked about it. I think that is a phenomenal choice. Elisabeth Shue is a very special actress. I’m a fan, obviously, of Cocktail and Leaving Las Vegas. She’s very selective in what she chooses to do. She’s someone that I think is hard to get for television, but to be able to say ‘yes’ to this franchise and work along Ted Danson is something I’m looking forward to watching. To me there is no better choice than Elisabeth Shue. I just think she’s that type of special actress.

CSI Files: In Season Nine the show went through several transitions as well: William Petersen (Gil Grissom) left, Laurence Fishburne (Ray Langston) and Lauren Lee Smith (Riley Adams) came in; do you think the show will approach the changes more smoothly than it did a few years ago?

Zuiker: Look, the thing is the fabric of a TV show has changed. Sometimes the change is abrupt and sometimes change is slow going, but I think the way things rolled out this year is the appropriate way to roll it out. We introduced Ted Danson and he had about ten-to-fifteen episodes under his belt before we introduced the exit of Marg Helgenberger and the ease of Elisabeth Shue. I think the audience is tolerant of change when they understand why there’s a change. The writers have done a great job of making sure character-wise, it makes sense why characters are exiting and joining the show. As you can see from Ted Danson we’ve never missed a beat, and it’ll be the same way with Elisabeth Shue. Marg Helgenberger can never be replaced or forgotten, and we believe Elisabeth Shue can help evolve the show.

Follow Anthony E. Zuiker on Twitter: @zuiker

Shane Saunders is a freelance writer and reviewer. His work can be seen on EDGE Network and Twitter: @ShaneSSaunders.

Shane Saunders
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