BWW Interviews: Anthony E. Zuiker and Cris Abrego Talk New ABC Series WHODUNNIT?, Premiering Tonight
It was amazing how quickly they all turned on each other.
CA: Oh, exactly, right?
What do you think is going to surprise people about the show? You've talked a little bit about people taking unexpected turns, but what is unique about this reality competition?
AZ: I think people are going to be blown away at the cinematic quality of watching this show because it feels and looks like a drama. There are shots in this that feel like they should be out of a motion picture. And the storytelling is so unbelievable. The storytelling and being this cinematic in the genre is not something that's really commonplace and we've really reinvented that and blown this thing up. The second thing is the level of fun you have as you play along with the crimes, is the best part about it. You think about what's great programming for the summer, it's really a show like this.
CA: I was going to say, I think you're going to be surprised at how entertaining it is and how easy it is to watch. This is what I do for a living and I watch a lot of television, but when I watch the WHODUNNIT? episodes, when they're over, I can't believe they're over. They're so easy to digest and they're so much fun to watch and the play-along factor is cool. I think people will be surprised by that.
WHODUNNIT? premieres Sunday, June 23 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
What do a former NFL cheerleader, a bounty hunter, a nurse and a flight attendant all have in common? They're all putting their investigative skills to the test along with nine other guests in the new murder mystery competition, "Whodunnit?," premiering SUNDAY, JUNE 23 (9:00-10:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.
"Whodunnit?" is an interactive series that puts 13 amateur slueths' investigative skills to the test in a riveting mystery reality competition. Players will use a variety of crime scene investigation techniques to meticulously uncover evidence in a series of puzzling murders and to ultimately reveal who among them is the killer. Some players will form alliances in the competition, while others will choose to go it alone in their quest for the grand prize of $250,000. The contestants will be guests on a glamorous estate called Rue Manor with a steward, Butler Giles (Gildart Jackson), and each week must solve a new crime in order to advance in the game. Failure to solve the crime will lead to a player's demise, until only three are left. In the final episode, one player will unmask the killer and take home the $250,000 prize.
British actor Gildart Jackson hosts "Whodunnit?," playing Rue Manor's resident steward, Butler Giles. Jackson has appeared in various television series, including "Charmed" (Gideon) and ABC's "General Hospital" (Simon Prentiss.) He recently starred in the critically acclaimed feature film "YOU," opposite Brenda Strong and Allison Mack, directed by his wife, Melora Hardin (NBC's "The Office.")
ANTHONY E. ZUIKER, executive producer
Anthony E. Zuiker is one of the most creative and multifaceted individuals working in Hollywood today. He is the creator of television's hugely successful "CSI" franchise, and his production company, Dare to Pass, has a three-year first-look deal with ABC Studios to develop new scripted series in partnership with Brillstein Entertainment Partners. Zuiker serves as executive producer of "Wonderland," a new drama pilot currently in production for NBC. "Whodunnit?" represents his first foray into reality television.
Zuiker is also a pioneer in bridging the gap between Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Most recently he created and execute-produced "Cybergeddon," a groundbreaking digital blockbuster which launched globally first on Yahoo! in September of 2012 in 25 different countries and 10 different languages. "Cybergeddon" brought to life the growing threat of cybercrime and engaged Yahoo!'s worldwide audience through immersive storytelling, social media and gaming experience. Dare to Pass is also introducing new horror, thriller and sci-fi online programming for BlackBoxTV, a YouTube premium channel, in partnership with director Tony E. Valenzuela and Collective Digital Studio. Both "Cybergeddon" and BlackBoxTV received a total of six nominations from the 2013 Streamy Awards, including Best Branded Entertainment Series for "Cybergeddon."
Cross-platform storytelling has been a major theme in Zuiker's career. He pioneered the "digi-novel" genre as author of the Level 26 series, published by Dutton/Penguin Group. The first digi-novel in the crime series, Level 26: Dark Origins, debuted in September 2009 and was a New York Times Bestseller. The book's killer, Sqweegel, was the first digi-novel character to TV cross over when he appeared in an episode of "CSI." Zuiker is also the author of MR. CSI: How a Vegas Dreamer Made a Killing in Hollywood, One Body at a Time, published by Harper Collins.
CRIS ABREGO, executive producer
A true innovator in an ever-changing medium, Cris Abrego has established himself as a leading voice in the foundation of reality television, as well as its future. Having honed his skills at every level of production prior to heading up his own company, 51 Pictures, in 2003, Abrego's subsequent combination of hands-on technical savvy, fearless creative risk and unforgettable storytelling has resulted in a string of groundbreaking television series that have forever changed the American entertainment landscape.
Abrego's launching of "The Surreal Life" in 2003 did more than propel a new word - celebreality -- into the popular vernacular. It created an equally new genre that Abrego found himself at the forefront of, with hit after hit to show for it. "The Surreal Life" became the cornerstone launching VH1's Celebreality Block, carving out a niche for comedic reality-programming that Abrego was more than up to the task to meet in an unprecedented string of hit franchises: "Strange Love" (with Flavor Flav & Brigette Nielsen), "My Fair Brady" (3 seasons with Chris Knight & Adrianne Curry), "Flavor of Love" (3 seasons with Flavor Flav), "Celebrity Paranormal Project," "Surreal Life Fame Games," "I Love New York" (2 seasons), "Flavor of Love Girls' Charm School" (with Mo'nique), "Rock of Love" (3 seasons with Bret Michaels), "America's Most Smartest Model" (with Ben Stein and Mary Alice Stephenson), "Rock of Love Girls' Charm School" (with Sharon Osbourne), "I Love Money" (2 seasons), "New York Goes to Hollywood," "Real Chance of Love" (2 seasons), "Charm School 3" (with Ricki Lake), "For the Love of Ray J" (2 seasons), "Daisy of Love," "New York Goes to Work," "Frank the Entertainer in A Basement Affair" and "Brandy and Ray J: A Family Business." Many of these series set multiple basic cable ratings records and represent a sustained run of consistent popularity and success. In addition, Abrego also executive-produced "From G's to Gents" (2 seasons) on MTV, "Gotti's Way" (2 seasons with Irv Gotti) and "Glam God" (with Vivica A. Fox), both for VH1, as well as "Bret Michaels: Life as I Know It" and "Mario Lopez: Saved by the Baby." "Lala's Full Court Life" is starting its 4th season, and "TI and Tiny's: Family Hustle" is in production on its 3rd season.
Continued success in one field led to breakthroughs in others, as Abrego went on to create and produce programming for a wide range of networks, from E!'s "Scouted" and CBS' "Same Name" to CMT's "Top Secret Recipe" and "Redneck Island." A one-time producing partner with Joel Silver on NBC's "Next Action Star," Abrego again finds himself coupled with a scripted celebrity producer on "Whodunnit?," "CSI" creator Anthony Zuiker. "Does Someone Have to Go?!" represents Abrego's first partnership with FOX.
Prior to forming his own company, Abrego traveled the world under Bunim-Murray's banner, ensuring MTV's hit "Road Rules" had its most successful seasons via on-location production in Mexico, New Zealand, Paris, Fiji and Australia. He was a supervising producer on MTV's "Fear," a coordinating producer on ABC's hit "Making the Band," and created "Cannonball Run" for USA, "Surf Girls" for MTV and "The Hitchhiker Chronicles" for FX. He is a graduate of California State University Fullerton with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and of the American Association of Producers. Abrego has earned a reputation among peers and programmers alike as a producer who can create, develop and, most importantly, execute original content across a broad spectrum of reality programming.