‘CSI’ Backlot Talk

Feb 27, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Greg Baumann: Hello everyone. Welcome to TelevisionWeek’s Backlot talk feature, and we’re happy to have the inaugural interview with Anthony Zuiker, who is the creator of the “CSI” franchise that appears on CBS. Anthony, welcome and thank you for joining us.
Anthony Zuiker: Thank you very much.
Mr. Baumann: We’re going to talk about the episode that aired last night [on CSI: NY], which is “The Ride-In.” Some of the chat boards this morning were giving it very high ratings, higher than average. What do you think was the most compelling part of the show?
Mr. Zuiker: Well, what’s interesting is the executive producer, Peter Lenkov, came into my office a couple of months ago with this article about this gentleman who actually built an ark by hand to sail out of the world and save himself, and he really believed in the confines of building this ark that that was going to happen. And he (Lenkov) was just fascinated by it. I right away approved that, and when Peter began to write the script, he began to really just go deeper and deeper into the storyline and suddenly it became about this gentleman who wanted to save the world. What was so fascinating about this whole episode was if you walked down to the set, you would think that we were shooting something out of the book. We had giraffes and chickens and the handlers for that were actually down on set and the construction built a real-size ark, about the size of half of a block.
Mr. Baumann: It was really impressive on the screen, I have to say.
Mr. Zuiker: It was unbelievable. I’m sure on film it looked even more intense, but to walk up and see this ark: how they bent the wood and it just looked so authentic, it was magical. And I believe that we are in times of people who, you know, viewership and our audience really wants deeper meaning in some of these shows and I believe they found that niche in “The Ride-In.”
Mr. Baumann: There’s also human story arc story going on with Stella right now; she was exposed to HIV in the prior episode, “Heart of Glass.” Who came up with that storyline and is developing it?
Mr. Zuiker: Well Pam Veasey, who’s my partner in crime and executive producer for this show, had the idea to really have an HIV arc for Stella. What’s interesting about CBS is every year, twice a year, they have what’s called an HIV breakfast where the Kaiser Foundation invites all of the executive producers and producers from all the CBS shows to come down to really hear the Kaiser Foundation’s point of view on HIV, have some guest speakers and encourage entertainment to go ahead and feature this storyline in their episodes, really raise awareness of HIV. And we’ve been trying to do this for the “CSI” franchise for at least four or five years and it was not until this year that we finally figured out a way to this not only for one episode, but for actually four episodes. So what I did was create a blog called “Story for Stella,” which is on knowhivaids.org. If you go on there, you’re actually encouraged to blog the Stella storyline as to where you think it’s going. And the first night we tried this on the Kaiser Foundation Web site, it had well over a thousand blogs. I told the Kaiser Foundation, “Let’s make sure if we’re going to do this, let’s have people approach it from a story standpoint first, and then if they’re curious about the subject matter, then they can go ahead and surf the Web and ask themselves questions.” What I didn’t want to do was scare the viewer to death to where they would never get tested and they would never go to a Web site. So we respectfully lured them into the blog to be thinking about the story, and then if they want to surf the site they can. And it’s been hugely successful for us.
Mr. Baumann: Just for our listeners and readers, that’s knowhivaids.org, that’s a k-n-o-w. So you said that’s a four-episode story arc?
Mr. Zuiker: It is. We’ll be airing the next two or three episodes coming up that we’ll really finish that arc, and at the end of the arc we’ll actually have a huge twist, full of life. I can’t tell you if it’s going to have a happy or a sad ending, but it’s definitely got people’s attention; and hats off to CBS for really enabling us to tackle that kind of subject matter because it’s very sensitive. We are in times where people do want to be entertained, so we have to watch some of the dark subject matter. I think that the writing team here has really taken a point of view that is educational and entertaining and it has weight and it’s serious to where we’re not offending anybody, we’re not stereotyping anybody, but we’re actually getting through to the masses and if one person watches our show and goes on that site and decides to be tested, I think we’ve done our job; and we have a very powerful voice here in entertainment for television and utilizing it for public good is a great service.
Mr. Baumann: So where is “CSI: NY” in the production cycle right now?
Mr. Zuiker: Well right now we’re pretty much shooting Episode 19, 20. We’ve just received the script for 322, we do 24 episodes a year, so we’re near the tail end; we have about two more episodes to write and shoot. We’ll wrap out for the season, we’ll finish in the end of April and we’ll come back in the top of June. I myself am sort of half here; I’m really full-time focused right now on the pilot for LL Cool J for CBS. So I’m trying to juggle both and having three shows in the Top 15 and trying to get a fourth one on the air is very nerve-wracking.
Mr. Baumann: These are the right kind of problems to have, Anthony.
Mr. Zuiker: They call them high-class problems, but I’ll take them.
Mr. Baumann: Well look, we’re going to wrap it up today, but we will ball you back and talk next week, and we are very thankful for your time, and we look forward to talking again soon.
Mr. Zuiker: Great. Thanks very much.
Mr. Baumann: Thanks Anthony.
Mr. Zuiker: Take care.


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