‘CSI’ creator Anthony Zuiker takes ‘Level 26′ to Comic-Con

July 20, 2009 | 8:16 p.m.
Level 26

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 success, 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 a book sold on store shelves (where it will arrive on Sept. 8) that is also a key that unlocks an enhanced companion experience online. The whole bundle will be showcased Saturday at Comic-Con International.

“The goal was to take the traditional crime reader and ask them to consume the book differently with visuals of a high quality,” the 40-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. With 20 “cyber-bridges” — all directed by Zuiker — adding visual components, about an hour of original video footage accompanies the book. Bill Duke stars; hip-hop clothing’s Mark Ecko and the Suicide Girls’ Missy Suicide provide artwork.

The website comes with a social network and community, which will allow users to create profiles for themselves and interact. It is being 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 excitedly of his book as he walked down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills on a Thursday morning, looking for a place to write. “It’s written for the format.”

Zuiker’s mega-successful TV career with “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “CSI: Miami,” and “CSI: New York”  earns any of his ventures an extra degree of credibility. With few career side projects, 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 growing tired of “CSI” and 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.”

– Nicholas White

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Photo credit: “The Hunter” artwork courtesy of IDW Publishing.

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