Anthony Zuiker and Sinclair Broadcast Group have struck an unusual deal that calls for the “CSI” creator to work with the station group giant on crafting original content, some drawn from Sinclair’s wealth of local news archives.
The plan is to sell shows in syndication to other stations as well as to assemble docu series pulled from the archives of its 185 TV stations that can be licensed to outside buyers. Zuiker will also consult with Sinclair’s news directors and journalists on amping up the storytelling qualities of local news reports, particularly on big national stories.
Zuiker was recruited for the job by Scott Ehrlich, who joined the Baltimore-based TV station giant in May as chief innovation officer.
“This is another post-COVID example of a paradigm shift in how content creators are going to get things on the air,” Zuiker told Variety.
Sinclair’s motivation for giving Zuiker a budget to incubate ideas is to address its desperate need for fresh daytime, afternoon and early evening shows. The major studios have pulled back from producing for traditional first-run syndication amid the focus on building global direct-to-consumer platforms. But that has left hundreds of TV stations around the country desperate to fill hours with something other than more reruns.
“We’ve got a pipeline problem,” he says. “Talk shows and game shows have been on our air as long as we’ve existed. But we’re not getting them anymore from our old suppliers.”
Zuiker is about to go to pilot on a talk show and a game show. He’s also actively hunting for documentary opportunities.
Zuiker first connected with Sinclair executives at the 2019 NATPE conference in Miami. He was approached to create a digital multicast network to add to its portfolio of themed channels such as STIRR (which highlights local newscasts), Charge (action-adventure titles), Grit (westerns), Comet (sci-fi) and TBD (viral video clips). But Zuiker’s ambition grew as he realized the wealth of material Sinclair had but wasn’t harnessing.
Zuiker points to a tragedy that cuts close to home for him as a Las Vegas native. By now Sinclair’s two TV stations in the city have hours of material on the 2017 country music shooting rampage that left 58 dead and nearly 500 wounded. The basis of a strong docu-series on the tragedy and its aftermath is there for the taking. Zuiker’s role is to help Sinclair’s local and regional producers bring those projects to life with a stronger storytelling vision than that of the breaking news reports in the moment.
Zuiker was impressed by Sinclair’s reach and its ability to be close to almost any breaking news story anywhere in the country on short notice.
“Once something breaks out locally, we have reporters and journalists that can jump on every story,” Zuiker said. “That gives us an incredible advantage in (delivering) authentic, localized storytelling.”
Zuiker plans to stay on the West Coast and continue to pursue other TV and film opportunities even as he takes on duties at Sinclair. This season, among his activity has been to write the script for the Oct. 20 edition of “CSI: Vegas,” the fourth spinoff series of the mothership “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” that bowed in the fall of 2000.
The Sinclair partnership is a good fit for what he wants to do at this stage of his career. Zuiker hit big early on with “CSI” as his first created-by credit. He blended the look of docu-reality forensic detective shows with a procedural storytelling engine about crime scene investigation workers.
“Now I find myself rather than running around town trying to convince a network or studio to back my idea, I finally have a family of financiers to get behind me and add value and get my ideas on the air immediately,” Zuiker said. “It’s something I can’t pass up at this age.”
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