Zuiker, Anthony E.
Anthony E. Zuiker
Born August 17, 1968, in Blue Island, IL; married; wife's name, Jennifer; children: two sons. Education: University of Nevada Las Vegas, B.S. (philosophy) and B.A. (communications), 1991. Hobbies and other interests: Playing pinball.
Home— Las Vegas, NV. Agent— Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212-1825.
Writer and television producer. Coproducer, The Runner, 1999; executive producer for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, 2000—, CSI Miami, 2002—, and CSI: NY, 2004—, for CBS TV. Dean Witter, Las Vegas NV, former wire operator; Merrill Lynch, Las Vegas, NV, former stockbroker; Mirage Casino, Las Vegas, NV, former tram operator, bellman, and in-house advertising writer.
People's Choice Award, Best TV Drama, 2002, 2003, 2004; Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series, 2002, 2003, 2004; Television Producer of the Year Award nomination in Episodic, PGA Golden Laurel Awards, 2003, 2004; Silver Nitrate Award, Las Vegas Film Critics Society, 2004; Television Showmanship Award (with Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donahue), 2005. University of Nevada Las Vegas, honorary doctorate, and named Alumnus of the Year, 2003.
The Runner (screenplay), First Look Pictures 1999.
(And creator) CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (television series), Columbia Broadcasting System, beginning 2000.
The Lords of Dogtown (screenplay), Fox 2000, 2001.
(And co-creator) CSI: Miami (television series), Columbia Broadcast System, beginning 2002.
(And co-creator) CSI: NY (television series), Columbia Broadcast System, beginning 2004.
Contributor to screenplays, including The Harlem Globetrotters Story, and Wanna-Be, Warner Bros./Outlaw Productions, 2003.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was adapted as a comic-book series of the same name, IDW Publishers, 2003—, and for video games.
Work in Progress
Screen adaptation of Hell's Angels, by Sonny Barger.
When Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in early November of 2004, a producer at CBS News felt the news was momentous enough to briefly interrupt the regular nightly programming. That producer, however, was wrong. He lost his job over the incident, for he had interrupted the last five minutes of the newest spin-off series of CBS's hottest franchise, CSI: NY. The three-program series, the brainchild of Anthony E. Zuiker, a former bellman at the Mirage casino in Las Vegas, had by 2004 become the bellwether for CBS television, catapulting the network into the top of the network ratings. The lost final five minutes of CSI: NY so enraged fans that they flooded the television network's telephone lines with protests; the show was repeated in its entirety later in the week.
A mark of the success of a television show is such fan loyalty. The original show in the franchise, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which follows a fictional Las Vegas forensics team on their investigations, was still drawing thirty million viewers weekly in its fifth season in 2004. It had spun off a second series in 2002, CSI: Miami, and a third in 2004, CSI: NY, and was credited with leading to a four-hundred-percent rise in enrollment in college forensics and crime-detection classes. The ripple effect of the three series has gone farther than the classroom, however, as reported by Time magazine contributor Amy Leonard Goehner. "CSI, because of its popularity and fecundity, is the most dramatic new influence on a justice system that has always been affected by books, movies, and TV," Goehner noted. Juries across the country are beginning to demand more forensic evidence at trials, and even criminals are picking up pointers from the shows to cover their tracks. Zuiker, executive producer and writer on all three series, and until 1999 earning just above minimum wage at a Las Vegas casino, is still amazed at the success of his show, which has gained fans not only in North America but also in Europe. As he told Ray Richmond of the Hollywood Reporter, "there has been a global impact that really blows me away."
Las Vegas Near-Native
Born in Illinois, Zuiker, an only child, was raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, where his parents worked in the casinos. Lonely and bored as a child, he created hundreds of board games using casino dice on subjects from hockey to salt-water fishing. "I thought I'd eventually become a big toy creator," he admitted to Alan Waldman in an interview for the Writers Guild of America Web site. "But when I went to Mattel and spoke to development and research guys there, they gave me a cold shoulder." Zuiker excelled at speech in high school, winning competitions and awards. Soon he was putting his oral skills to work on paper, composing letters for people at the various casinos and hotels in Las Vegas, then moving on to write billboard copy while still in high school.
Graduating, Zuiker went to five different colleges on speech scholarships until he finally came back home to attend University of Nevada Las Vegas, earning his degree in 1991. Fresh out of college, he went to work as a stockbroker, until the ripple effects of a brokerage scandal cost him his job. A stint of unemployment followed, and then Zuiker turned to the major employer of Las Vegas, the casinos. He took a job at the MGM Mirage casino as a night tram operator, where he encountered all sorts of people in all sorts of condition. From this he moved on to bellman, and he was just beginning training at the Mirage's in-house advertising department when luck entered his life.
The Cinderella Effect
Throughout college, Zuiker had been active in speech and forensics—debate and extemporaneous speaking—competitions. He wrote much of his own material for such contests, and when a former classmate, Dustin Abraham, an aspiring actor, asked to use some of Zuiker's materials for auditions, Zuiker agreed, thinking little more of it. Fresh on the job in the Mirage's advertising department, however, Zuiker received an urgent phone call from Abraham, who had been auditioning for the William Morris Agency in Hollywood. The agent there was so impressed with the monologue Abraham was using that he wanted to know if the anonymous author had a screenplay to show him. Zuiker, who had no screenwriting experience and no dreams of becoming a writer, left his job at the Mirage, bought several how-to books on screenwriting, and the result was The Runner, which sold in 1997 for $35,000. This success convinced Zuiker and his wife that there might be a different way to make a living.
Zuiker's first screenplay was sold to an independent producer, who later turned down a major studio offer for production. The cast included stars such as John Goodman, Courtney Cox, and Joe Mantegna, and a story line about a compulsive gambler in debt to an infamous Las Vegas gangster who must now act as the crime boss's runner, placing bets for everybody but himself. The movie did not do well in theaters and went almost immediately to video. However, it did serve to open other doors for Zuiker in Los Angeles, where he and his wife moved for a few years.
Zuiker kept busy with script-doctoring assignments and rewrites on movies such as The Harlem Globe-trotters Story and Wanna-Be, as well as with penning his own script for the skateboarding movie The Lords of Dogtown. This writing in turn led to further connections. One of the people who read Zuiker's work on the Harlem Globetrotters rewrite was film producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who at the time was looking for a concept to launch his production company into television. Zuiker, a master at pitch from his days in speech, knew how to present a story idea. And the idea he gave Bruckheimer was one his wife inspired. One of her favorite shows on television at the time was the Discovery Channel's The New Detectives, in which crime scene experts explained how they solved real crimes. There had been no such crime scene shows on television since Quincy, M.E., about a crime-fighting coroner, which was broadcast from 1976 to 1983. Meeting with Bruckheimer, Zuiker laid out the framework of a show about such crime scene detectives, to be set in Las Vegas, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was born. Zuiker then had to produce a script. He first researched the topic, spending time with the Las Vegas crime scene unit and riding along with detectives on actual cases. His choice of Las Vegas was influenced by his insider's knowledge of the city, plus the fact that so many million tourists pass through the town every year, providing the possibility for a rich assortment of crimes to be solved. Zuiker's first teleplay was used for the pilot. Less than overwhelmed, executives at the major networks passed on the idea, all but CBS, who picked up the series as their last show for the 2000/01 season, putting it into the difficult Friday night slot.
Creating a Franchise
Zuiker and a team of writers and producers, including Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donahue, set about creating the formula for CSI. At the center was the team itself, led by a senior detective with plenty of back story. Gill Grisson, played by William Peterson, is the reluctant team leader, with his female counterpart and sometimes foil, Catherine Willows, played by Marg Helgenberger. Together with the rest of the crime scene unit, they take on crimes in which the corpse is the only witness. Instead of guns, they use microscopes, and this technological side of things appealed to a viewing public that not many years previously had been captivated by the trial of O. J. Simpson, who was accused of murdering his wife. If CBS had little faith in their last acquired show, they were soon pleasantly surprised. The show placed seventh in the Nielsen ratings in its first few weeks, and built a speedy reputation that attracted viewers.
Reviewing the first season of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in the New Statesman, Andrew Billen noted that "it is to the directors' credit that, in their hands, replacing human drama with the drama of science works." Billen also observed that "there are sparks of originality and flair in the mise en scene." Part of such originality, and what has become a trademark shot of the show, is a special-effects forensics view reconstructed from models of how the victim might have been killed, such as a bullet piercing tissue in slow motion and highly magnified. Variety contributor Laura Fries also praised the first season, describing it as a "painstakingly detailed and sometimes stomach-turning look at the minutiae of evidence that the crack squad of the Las Vegas Criminalistics Dept. uses to track down bad guys." Fries also felt the show was "buoyed by a talented cast."
Zuiker's formula proved to be a winning one. By its second season, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation had become the top-rated television series and also helped elevate CBS to the top network ratings that same year. So popular was it, that a second show was developed for the 2002 season. As its name, CSI: Miami, implies, this spin-off is set in Florida and features another crime scene unit headed by Horatio Cane, played by David Caruso. Initially critics felt that the second series might not fare well, as it took basically the same premise of the original and simply changed cities. With other successful franchises, such as Law & Order, programs within the same family have different perspectives and production qualities. However, CSI: Miami proved as successful as its parent program, becoming the top-rated new series in 2002/03. In 2004 a third spawn appeared, CSI: NY, starring screen actor Gary Sinise as Marc Taylor, an investigator who lost his wife on September 11, 2001. Again critics felt that CBS and Zuiker might be saturating their market too much, but viewers responded. While the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was attracting approximately forty million viewers for its one-hundredth episode in 2004, its sister series were also doing well on other nights of the week. The shows have been nominated for Emmy Awards and compete head to head in the same time slots as other high-profile programs on other networks.
If you enjoy the works of Anthony E. Zuiker
If you enjoy the works of Anthony E. Zuiker, you may also want to check out the following television series:
Law & Order, NBC, 1990—.
Homicide: Life on the Street, NBC, 1993-1999.
The Wire, HBO, 2002—.
Zuiker, who signed a further three-year contract with CBS in 2003 for the "high-seven-figure to low-eight-figure range," according to Cynthia Littleton and Nellie Andreeva in Hollywood Reporter, has continued to devote full time to the three programs, paying special attention to the newest product, CSI: NY. With such success, Zuiker has not lost his enthusiasm or his sense of how fortunate he is. "I hope to leave my mark by creating a body of work that people respect and enjoy," Zuiker told Erik Knutsen in a profile for M Life Online. "With CSI we've broken new ground in television. My dream is to inspire others to re-break that ground and move the medium forward. I want everyone to know no matter
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what your day job is, never give up on a dream. I'm living proof it can happen."
Biographical and Critical Sources
America's Intelligence Wire, July 7, 2003, Dayn Kagin and Leion Harris, interview with Zuiker; November 15, 2004, "CBS TV Network Fires Producer Who Broke into 'CSI: NY' for Report on Arafat Death."
Daily Variety, November 19, 2004, Dave McNary, "'CSI' Creators Win TV Kudos," p. 13.
Entertainment Weekly, September 10, 2004, Gillian Flynn, review of CSI: NY, p. 58.
Europe Intelligence Wire, December 31, 2004, Nigel Burton, "More Murders for the CSI Team."
Hollywood Reporter, November 19, 2001, Cynthia Littleton and Nellie Andreeva, review of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, p. 10; September 23, 2002, Barry Garron, review of CIS: Miami, p. 18; June 5, 2003, Cynthia Littleton and Nellie Andreeva, "'CSI"s Zuiker Inks Deal with CBS, Alliance," p. 1; November 18, 2004, Ray Richmond, "Scene of the Crime," p. S1, and "The Minds behind the Bodies," p. S4; November 19, 2004, Andrew Wallenstein, "Spike TV Closes in on 'CSI: NY,'" p. 3.
New Statesman, June 18, 2001, Andrew Billen "Cops without Frontiers," p. 47.
Newsweek, September 30, 2002, Marc Peyser, "Miami Heat," p. 61.
New Yorker, June 2, 2002, Tad Friend, "TV Crime-dusters."
People, October 18, 2004, Terry Kelleher, review of CSI: NY, p. 37.
Time, November 8, 2004, Amy Leonard Goehner, Lina Lofaro, and Kate Novack, "Where CSI Meets Real Law and Order," p. 69.
Variety, October 2, 2000, Laura Fries, review of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, p. 33; September 30, 2002, Michael Speier, review of CSI: Miami, p. 33; September 27, 2004, Michael Speier, review of CSI: NY, p. 87.
CBS Web site,http://www.cbs.com/ (January 27, 2005), "CSI."
Entertainment News Online,http://www.entertainment-news.org/ (January 27, 2005), Brian Lowry, "Pondering the Unsolved Mystery of 'CSI.'"
Hollywood Reporter Online,http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/ (November 18, 2004), Ray Richmond, "To Live and Die in Las Vegas."
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (January 25, 2005), "Anthony E. Zuiker."
Las Vegas Review-Journal Online, http://www.lvrkjcom/ October 5, 2000), Carol Cling, "Television—Creative Career."
M Lifestyle Online,http://www.mlifestyle.com/ (January 31, 2005), Erik Knutsen, "Anthony Zuiker, Creator of CSI."
New York Metro Online,http://www.newyorkmetro.com/ (January 27, 2005), Jonathan Hayes, "Exquisite Corpses."
PopMatters.com,http://www.popmatters.com/ (September 30, 2002), "The Trouble with the Obvious."
ScreenTalk Online,http://www.screentalk.biz/ (January 27, 2005), Lisa D. Carroll, "Anthony Zuiker: Doing His Homework on 'CSI.'"
TVTome.com,http://www.tvtome.com/ (January 27, 2005), "Anthony E. Zuiker."
USAToday Online,http://www.usatoday.com/ (September 15, 2004), Bill Keveny, "Crime Pays for 'CSI' Franchise."
Winnipeg Sun Online,http://www.canoe.ca/NewsStand/WinnipegSun/ (March 10, 2004), Bill Brioux, "Anthony Zuiker . . . Crime Scene Impresario."
Writers Guild of America Web site,http://www.wga.org/ (January 25, 2005), Alan Waldman, "An Interview with Anthony Zuiker."*