Variety TV editor Michael Schneider moderated a live chat on April 29 with “CSI” franchise creator Anthony E. Zuiker, who was a panelist at Variety’s recent Entertainment and Technology Summit. For more live chats, check back at Variety.com/varietylive.
Michael Schneider: Thanks, Anthony, for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this! First up, it’s been almost a year since you signed your new deal with CBS TV Studios, launching Dare To Pass Prods. Tell me about the year that was.
Anthony E. Zuiker: CBS is a great home. It was an honor to stay at the network that made me — so to speak. Dare To Pass is our new production company where we are developing new exciting shows for CBS on a “first look” deal. This means we have to pitch CBS first and hopefully they don’t “pass.” We are really focused on doing different, engaging television that is very character driven.
[Comment From Amanda:] Maybe a silly question, but why is it always raining in Las Vegas during “CSI” episodes? My parents are always asking if Vegas is *really* in the desert…
Anthony E. Zuiker: Amanda, awesome question. I think it’s always raining in Las Vegas because we shoot the show in Los Angeles. It’s always raining here. The one thing we always have to watch out for is having a “cover set” to protect our forensics stories. For example, if we need to find specific “pollen” in Central Park and it rains that day, the forensics might not be viable on film. This happened to us in season one of “CSI:NY” and it cost us $300,000 because the shoot was rained out and we had no cover set.
[Comment From Jessica:] Will you ever branch out into other “CSI” series aside from what you have now?
Anthony E. Zuiker: Jessica, I don’t think so. Three is enough — so to speak. There has been some talk about “CSI:4,” but I don’t think it’s going to happen. “CSI: The Movie” could be on the horizon at some point.
[Comment From A:] What’s the best advice you would give someone starting out, that you wish you would have known?
Anthony E. Zuiker: The best advice I could give is to trust your talent and stick with it. Is it a tough business? Yes. Do I feel like quitting? Yes. Do I get depressed? Yes. Even with my success. If you have talent, stay the course, move to California, take the lowest-level job you can and commit yourself for 20 years. Things will happen.
[Comment From Ric:] Hi, Anthony… I’d like to know your thoughts about whether TV networks should embrace the concept of distributing video content over P2P and BitTorrent networks…there’s a company called Hyper MP that can do it and monetize the content at the same time.
Anthony E. Zuiker: Tough one. I am all for distribution of content as long as people are paid for it. I think it we can find a way to get people paid fairly, UCG would get funded and be very, very engaging. Good question.
MichaelSchneider: Check out our story from last July all about Zuiker’s new deal at CBS here.
Anthony E. Zuiker: Thanks, Michael!
[Comment From EJ:] What is the status of your cybercrime show with CBS?
MichaelSchneider: Read more about Anthony’s “Cyber Crimes” project here.
Anthony E. Zuiker: CBS purchased the script, but did not choose to pick it up. I am currently deciding what to do with the script. I will most likely bring it to another network in January or do it for cable. It will definitely get on the air. I think it’s my best writing. CBS, I believe, is a bit top heavy this year in the crime dept., so they didn’t go forward. I’m, of course, disappointed. But that’s how it goes sometimes. I believe “Cyber Crimes” is the most relatable crime show in town. And btw, it’s so scary!
[Comment From Jessica:] What has been the hardest part about branching out into web “shows” now with your book and cyberbridges?
MichaelSchneider: We first wrote about Zuiker’s new line of “digi-novels” in 2008, when he sealed a deal with Dutton. More info here.
Anthony E. Zuiker: The hardest part is keeping the cost down on the different devices. The app for “Level26” on iTunes cost around $30,000. That’s a lot of money. I am putting “Level 26: Dark Origins” and “Dark Prophecy” (launches October 14) on the iPad like the “Alice and Wonderland” app for iPad. It will be pricey, but tailor made for the iPad and most devices. You can pre-order “Dark Prophecy’ on amazon.com right now or go to level26.com for details. Book plug. Sorry. I’m such a nerd.
[Comment From Frederick:] Ok. Here’s a simple one… Why is it so hard to land a screenplay agent?
Anthony E. Zuiker: Fredrick, it just takes tenacity. The town is always looking for good material. Keep it up. Keep shopping it. If it’s good, you will have an agent in no time. Shop while you’re rewriting. Never give up.
[Comment From Kath Murphy:] Hey AZ!! Can you give us LEVEL 26 FANS an update on the latest project? Yeah, I’m a former DEPUTY! :)
Anthony E. Zuiker: Hey, Kath! Yes, we are shooting a one-hour short film for “Dark Prophecy” which is on sale for pre-order now. Book two is going to be about a tarot card killer that’s leaving tarot cards at crime scenes. We are not going to deal with black Sqweegel in the new book. The second book, however, is awesome and we cast some great actors. Also, Dan Buran (Steve Dark) and Michael Ironside are coming back, too! And Sibby!
[Comment From Sid the Kid:] What would you change about the network TV business if you could?
Anthony E. Zuiker: I better watch my answer on this one. Ha ha. The networks should embrace cross-platform storytelling more. Television cannot sustain simply on one hour a week. The brand of a hit show will need to be accessible and continue on story every day on various devices.
MichaelSchneider: Hey Anthony, any talk yet about turning the “Level 26” franchise into a TV series? Would you want to do that?
[Comment From Anouk Dutruit: ] Hi, I was wondering if you are licensing the series to Europe and ex-Soviet Union (all the common independent states)?
Anthony E. Zuiker: Anouk, I think the more people who can watch the show, the better. However, I don’t control that side of the “CSI” biz.
[Comment From Xavier:] There have been a ton of characters in all three ‘CSI’ shows over the years… do you have a particular favorite character or one you identify with best? (Big props to Marg Helgenberger – love her!) :)
Anthony E. Zuiker: Xavier, I don’t really have a favorite, but I am partial to Paul Millander (my serial killer in the first season of CSI).
[Comment From Bob:] By adding spinoffs, how do you know whether or not you’re diluting the franchise?
Anthony E. Zuiker: Bob, we figured if the audience wants more, we give them more. I think we played it perfect. Not too little. Not too much. And truth be told, we didn’t dilute ourselves. Our copycats did. (wink)
[Comment From hugefan:] Mr. Zuiker, huge fan of the series. Thanks for chatting! Question: a lot of successful TV shows are heading to the bigscreen. Do you ever see ‘CSI’ making the leap?
Anthony E. Zuiker: Hugefan, I hope there is a “CSI” movie. It’s up to bigger people than me, though. Perhaps you should write CBS and tell them to do it. I’m on board!
[Comment From sincitysue:] How fast do those Vegas trams go, anyway?
Anthony E. Zuiker: Sincity Sue, 18mph.
[Comment From GiorgiaCSI4ever:] How are you with the work?
Anthony E. Zuiker: I love the work. Without it, I’m a shell. I love the business. It’s so darn hard, but it lets me be an artist. How awesome is America? Where a tram driver can create the biggest TV franchise in history. WOW!
[Comment From Denise:] Hey Z – Are you going to Comic Con again this year? (Another Deputy – BYH!)
Anthony E. Zuiker: BYH, I am not this year. Very expensive. This year we’re putting the money into the project to give you an even better product! See you in a few weeks!
MichaelSchneider: It’s a long way from 1998. Here’s the first time Anthony Zuiker ever appeared on the pages of Variety — about indie pic “The Runner,” written by then “unknown scribe Anthony Zuiker.”
[Comment From Jessica:] Michael had a great question I think got skipped… any talk yet about turning the “Level 26” franchise into a TV series? Would you want to do that?
Anthony E. Zuiker: I’m working on something big right now with Sqweegel for TV. Shh.
[Comment From Guest:] Mr. Zuiker – I love that Jorja Fox came back this season. Are we ever going to find out why she agreed to come back so quickly? Especially after the way she left in Season 8.
Anthony E. Zuiker: All questions re: Sara Sidle will be answered. Stay tuned!
[Comment From Tom Nation:] Is CSI running out of story lines? There are only so many unique murders.
Anthony E. Zuiker: Tom, we’re going to keep killing people in as many ways as possible. In fact, one of our t-shirts had every method of kill on it. We even wrote on the collar. :)
[Comment From EJ:] Are you more of a horror fan or an investigation fan?
Anthony E. Zuiker: EJ, I love them both.
[Comment From Alex:] Do you think it is feasible that a webseries can be made out of and sustain as a high-concept series (like CSI)?
Anthony E. Zuiker: Alex, with the right characters, writing and budget, the web can be the next TV. I think we’re all thinking about this and ownership.
MichaelSchneider: Thanks, everyone, for participating, and thanks Anthony… we look forward to more projects that networks can “Dare to Pass.” (Sorry, that was terrible.) This was fun — we appreciate all the questions and Anthony’s involvement.
Anthony E. Zuiker: My pleasure. Thank you to Variety and the fans. Bye!