If anyone knows how to launch a game of “Whodunnit?” it’s Anthony E. Zuiker.
The writer-producer who created one of the world’s top television franchises with “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” likes viewer involvement, as he proved last fall with his direct-to-Internet series “Cybergeddon,” which starred Missy Peregrym (“Rookie Blue”). He displays it again as a mentor of ABC’s murder-mystery-themed competition “Whodunnit?” premiering Sunday, June 23.
“It is a game of survival, and you’re trying not to get ‘killed,’ ” Zuiker tells Zap2it of the premise that ultimately will leave three players to vie for $250,000. “I think some of the genius of it is the fear the contestants have of ‘dying’ in the episodes, which translates into the fear they have of getting kicked out of the game.”
The project was originated by reality show producing veteran Cris Abrego (“Rock of Love With Bret Michaels”) before Zuiker was brought on board by ABC programming chief Paul Lee, but Zuiker’s stamp also is on it … extending to a series of related books, the first of which (“Whodunnit: Murder in Mystery Manor”) was released before the show’s debut.
“I think people who like the crime dramas they see on television all have the fantasy to be a detective,” Zuiker reasons, “to sit there and say, ‘I bet I can do that,’ so we’ve made sure this show is very ‘roll your sleeves up’ tonally. It’s based on using your own deductive logic, based on the evidence that’s left behind.”
“Whodunnit?” has only one actor in its cast: Gildart Jackson, filling a classic mystery role as the manservant in the mansion where the game unfolds. Everyone else is an everyday person, and Zuiker knew whom he was looking for.
“We wanted to make sure we had a ‘CSI’ fan, which was obvious. And we wanted a detective, a cop and a bounty hunter. I think Paul Lee made the right call by saying, ‘Let’s not use celebrities,’ so we also have a soccer mom and a lawyer and a former beauty pageant queen. And it’s great when the soccer mom uses more logic than the cop because he’s overthinking things.”