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'CSI' mastermind melds mediums with new digi-novel

September 04, 2009|Nicholas White

With the future of Hollywood storytelling in flux -- movies, video games and social media are mashing into new shapes -- who knows how stories will be told in five years? Tough to say, but Anthony E. Zuiker, the architect of the massively successful "CSI" television franchise, is taking a stab at that future with "Level 26," a grisly hybrid of crime fiction, motion picture and online social community.

Trademarked as a digi-novel, "Level 26" is both a book that arrives on store shelves Tuesday and a key that unlocks an enhanced companion experience online.

"The goal was to take the traditional crime reader and ask them to consume the book differently with visuals of a high quality," the 41-year-old Zuiker said. "Engage the YouTube generation, which doesn't really read, into the visual novels, so they get the reading experience of this generation."

He added, "The influence really was the writers strike. It was having the time to step out of television and think about what is the next thing. And that's the digi-novel."

Zuiker's "digi-novel" is a 371-page book that gives readers the option every 20 pages to log on to a website and watch a three-minute mini-movie, "bridging" the two together visually.

There are 20 "cyber-bridges," totaling about an hour of original video footage. Bill Duke stars; hip-hop clothing's Marc Ecko and the Suicide Girls' Missy Suicide provide artwork. Zuiker directed them. He also wrote a 60-page outline for the novel, which was written by Duane Swierczynski.

The website comes with a social network and community, which will allow users to create profiles for themselves and interact. It was developed by L.A.-based online production company EQAL, which specialized in the interactive platforms of successful sites lonelygirl15 and Harper's Globe.

"We feel like this digital novel is being written for the Internet. It's written for the Kindle or ITouch," Zuiker said. "It's written for the format."

With a TV empire that includes "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: New York," Zuiker has been all "CSI" all the time for nearly 10 years. He recently agreed on a two-year production deal with CBS to develop new content through his company, Dare to Pass.

Is Zuiker looking for bigger goals?

"Obviously, my top priority is television," he said. "My day-to-day is no longer the 'CSI' franchise, it's more creating new shows for CBS. We are thinking about the next thing. . . . I think every TV show in the next five years will have an adjoining website that has a functionality and narrative that jumps off the broadcast."

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