'CSI' creator creates digital hybrid

“CSI” creator Anthony Zuiker has made a seven-figure deal with Dutton to create a series of three suspense-thriller “digital novels.”

Project is a publishing hybrid that broadens traditional book reading into a multiplatform experience that includes filmed components and an interactive social networking site.

At the conclusion of each five chapters, readers will be given codes to log onto a website that will feature two-minute filmed vignettes providing a cinematic bridge to the next five chapters. At the book’s conclusion, readers can join an online community in which they can interact with others and hatch characters and storylines. The best suggestions will be incorporated into future titles, Zuiker said.

“I want to give traditional crime novel readers a more immersive experience,” Zuiker told Daily Variety. The online component “offers publishing a chance to catch up with the YouTube generation that has lost passion for reading.”

Zuiker’s first interactive title, “Sqweegel,” will be published by Dutton in fall 2009. Series revolves around an ex-FBI forensic investigator who retired early after his entire family was murdered. He becomes a rogue forensic detective, taking on cases that are too grim and graphic for “CSI.”

Dutton president and publisher Brian Tart won the deal as seven of the eight publishers pitched made offers, Zuiker said.

Zuiker “is bringing a great deal of creative energy to this project,” Tart said. “Think of it as storytelling 2.0.”

Zuiker came up with the idea when he set out to write a crime novel and realized he had problems with the traditional format.

“I personally don’t have the attention economy to read a 250-page crime novel from start to finish,” he said. “I realized that the way I’d like to consume a novel is to be rewarded every couple of chapters by seeing something visual that enhances the narrative.”

Zuiker will write a 60-page outline for each book, then supervise a novelist who’ll turn it into a 100-chapter book. Zuiker will write and direct 20 “cyber-bridges,” the two-minute video segments that supplement the pages.

The footage “will drive the reader ferociously back to the book,” said Zuiker. “For instance, you’ll watch a live snuff film that figures in the plot, you’ll give the killer your phone number, and he’ll call you back, and you’ll see an analysis of photographic forensic evidence.”

Zuiker said the series will seek to bring advertisers to publishing through product placement in the book and the Web portal.

“I learned from TV and Silicon Valley that advertisers want multiple levels of audience engagement,” Zuiker said.

Zuiker’s budgets for the filmed segments will be too low to hire big stars, but he’ll try to land them anyway. He hopes to turn the series into a feature.

Trident Media Group’s Dan Strone and Brillstein Entertainment Partners made the deal.

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