J. J. Abrams may be more prolific, Joss Whedon may be more trendy and hip but when it comes to the crunch, there simply isn’t anyone within Hollywood’s massive network television machine that can match Anthony Zuiker for sheer impact.
Back in April 2000, a show Zuiker created about a group of forensic scientists working the graveyard shift in Las Vegas went on air for the first time. Not only was ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’ a runaway success right from the start, rapidly topping the US ratings chart, but it soon went on to become the single most watched dramatic television show in the entire world.
(To put this in context, cult-favourite Buffy the Vampire Slayer topped out at just over 5 million US viewers, the first season of Lost averaged 15 million viewers and the figures went down from there. By season 3, CSI was averaging 25 million per show.)
It would have been a remarkable feat for anyone, but when you factor in that Zuiker had no background in television and that the CSI pilot was the first script he had ever written, it almost seems like a fairy tale. Two spin off shows – CSI Miami and CSI New York – followed but that aside, Zuiker has yet to work his magic on any other show for the small screen.
If anything, creating another hit TV show is no longer enough of a challenge for Zuiker. He wants to change the way we think about entertainment itself and be a pioneer of a new wave of highly immersive, interactive multimedia experiences
‘What you have to understand,’ Zuiker says in a soft by rapid clip in reply to a question about his creation, ‘is that a show like CSI comes along once every 20 years. It’s not something that’s going to happen again for a long time.’
It would be all too easy to assume that, having had three hits in a row, Zuiker simply doesn’t want to risk a miss (as Abrams did with Undercovers and Whedon with Dollhouse) but that’s not the case at all. If anything, creating another hit TV show is no longer enough of a challenge for Zuiker. He wants to change the way we think about entertainment itself and be a pioneer of a new wave of highly immersive, interactive multimedia experiences.
CSI certainly changed the way the world thinks about forensic science, throwing light on the work of a previously little-known sector of the judicial system. If you now know what Luminol does, how to find fingerprints using superglue, that pig skin is closest to human skin and that when it comes to body fluids, anal swabs are ‘money’, you have Zuiker to thank for it.
Although the science is almost always genuine, the show takes enormous liberties with the role the forensic scientists occupy. Real CSI’s never get to interrogate suspect or investigate the crime itself. As the vast majority of CSIs are civilians (as opposed to police officers or FBI special agents) they don’t even get to carry guns.
The good thing about CSI is that it has forced all other cop shows to be more realistic
Despite this, the impact of the show has been quite remarkable. Soon after it began, Scenes of Crimes Officers in the UK and further afield began calling themselves CSI’s, universities began offering courses in forensic and thousands of students enrolled, despite only a handful of jobs being available each year.
Then there is the CSI effect – the fact that juries are now reluctant to convict unless presented with the kind of clear-cut forensic evidence portrayed on CSI and the shows that followed – Silent Witness, Waking the Dead and Cold Case.
‘The good thing about CSI is that it has forced all other cop shows to be more realistic. In some, people didn’t used to even glove up before they went to a crime scene. Now everybody does, because of what we did. On the other hand, the bad is that the show has given some criminals a bit of a head start. They’re more aware of the traces they leave behind.’
‘I’m proud of all three shows. I couldn’t choose a favourite any more than I could pick one of my children over another. I love them all.’
Zuiker’s new project aims to have a similar level of impact, this time raising awareness of the threat of online crime. Cybergeddon is a $6 million, nine-part web exclusive series made in conjunction with Yahoo and internet security company Norton. The show, which had its global launch last month, follows ballsy agent Chloe Jocelyn who is in a race against time to crack a worldwide cybercrime ring run by evil mastermind Gustov Dobreff before he unleashes havoc on a mammoth scale.
Unlike webisodes made for other shows in the past, the background content for Cybergeddon is shot to the same standards as the film itself
‘The whole cybercrime thing, it’s a huge threat. It’s very, very real. There are still a lot of people who don’t realize the importance of changing passwords regularly, of keeping themselves safe online. We want people to watch this and change their behavior as a result.
‘It’s very fast paced. The action doesn’t stop. We’re competing with everything else the web has to offer so it has to be like that. There’s a cliff hanger every ten minutes. There are ‘zips’ – one minute clips that give you background on the characters and draw you back into the story. We also have an app and a game. It’s not just a film, it’s a full multimedia experience. There’s a lot of interactivity, a lot of online companion content. There hasn’t been anything quite like this before.’
Unlike webisodes made for other shows in the past, the background content for Cybergeddon is shot to the same standards as the film itself. This has been made possible because of the fact that the show was designed from the ground up while other shows have simply tacked additional content on as an afterthought.
Zuiker has other, more traditional television shows in development – one involving an FBI profiler, another based around a clever con man – but it’s clear that event-type multimedia experiences delivered online are what he is truly passionate about.
In the not too distant future, when high-quality, web-based, on-demand shows are the norm, we’ll have Anthony Zuiker to thank
‘It’s about operating on a global scale. Launching a film that is instantly available to everyone around the world at the same time. Playing to an audience of 700 million people across 25 countries and 10 languages and then allowing them to take the experience further. When you make television shows, you always try to make them an event, something everyone is talking about and wants to see. If you’re not a sport, that’s what you need to do. And that’s what we’re doing with Cybergeddon. I was also attracted by the ability to be able to get something made and out there much more quickly that you could do with a traditional television show.’
The viewership figures for Cybergeddon which had its premiere around a month ago, have yet to be released but the betting is they are still some way behind Gangnam Style which, at the time of writing, is well on its way to become the most-viewed YouTube video of all time.
But although the show was designed with the web in mind, it doesn’t necessarily have to end there. ‘It would work on television,’ says Zuiker. ‘And it would work in the cinema. That’s something that might happen at some point in the future.
The way we consume information has completely changed. My phone, laptop and tablet never leave my side. I’d be lost without them. Mind you, I have to look at my phone to find out what my number is. I don’t know it off by heart. Television and cinema still have a place but increasingly, people are going to be consuming content online.
And in the not too distant future, when high-quality, web-based, on-demand shows are the norm, we’ll have Anthony Zuiker to thank for that as well.
Anthony E. Zuiker was talking at the launch of Cybergeddon, a new digital blockbuster about the growing threat of cybercrime starring Olivier Martinez and Missy Peregrym. The series comes from Anthony E. Zuiker and his production company Dare to Pass in partnership with market leader Dolphin Digital Studios and online security company Norton by Symantec, which was involved throughout the creative process to lend technical insights. Visit yahoo.co.uk/cybergeddonto watch Cybergeddon and enjoy exclusive on-set photos, behind-the-scenes clips, interviews with the cast and crew, and a social game where fans can join the characters on a mission to fight cybercrime.
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