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What fresh hell is this? (Part 14): The “digi-novel”

September 7, 2009

level26For years it’s been obvious that interactive entertainment will be a major art form of the near future–maybe the dominant one. But do we have to be led into it by a hack like Anthony Zuiker? Sigh. Here goes:

The creator of “CSI,” the TV show that turned forensic science into science fantasy, is set to launch something called “a digi-novel,” combining book, film, website and, of course, social networking, reports

Beginning Tuesday (Sept. 8), you can buy a novel titled Level 26, written by crime scribe Duane Swierczynski (The Blonde, 2007), that invites you to visit a website, every 20 pages or so. There you watch a three-minute film clip (called a “cyber-bridge”) related to the novel. Readers can discuss and even contribute to the story.

For a preview, and the usual slick Hollywood promotional goodies, like an interview with the veteran character actor Michael Ironside, visit

Swierczynski is just a hired gun. Level 26 was conceived and plotted by Zuicker during the screen writers strike of 2007-08, inspired by his conviction that attention spans are getting shorter.

“Every TV show in the next five, 10 years will have a comprehensive microsite or website that continue the experience beyond the one-hour television to keep engaging viewers 24/7,” Zuicker said. “Just watching television for one specific hour a week … that’s not going to be a sustainable model going forward.”

“I wanted to bring all the best in publishing, in a motion picture, in a website and converge all three into one experience,” he said.

Please don’t do us any favors, Anthony. Anyone who’s watched one of Zuicker’s cookie-cutter shows–“CSI;” “CSI: Miami;” “CSI: NY”–knows he has nothing but contempt for his audience: Broad-stroke drama enacted by stock characters across simple story arcs. Pablum. His shows make “Bones” or “The Closer” look like Hitchcock, and “The Shield” or the “Wire” look like, I don’t know, Dickens or Dostoevsky. They’ve also made Zuicker obscenely rich and, sadly, powerful.

The site betrays the poverty of Zuiker’s imagination, especially the film-clip teaser. For one thing, this is a serial killer story — and really, is there a tireder, more cliche-ridden genre in TV, movies and crime fiction? The clip, with overwrought turns by familiar TV actors, looks like nothing so much as outtakes from “Profiler,” the mid-’90s serial killer drama starring Ally Walker.

And the killer — get this, it’s a good one — the killer is a mime in a white leather bondage suit. A mime. I guess once he’s caught, they’ll hold him in an invisible box.

Don’t these people know the written word is perfect and entire and in no need of visual elaboration?! But that’s me, a reader.

Still, I’m not such a Luddite as to think cross-media experimentation or interactive entertainment, made possible by digital technology, is necessarily a bad thing. Creative artists are bound to be attracted to new media and technology for fresh ways to tell stories.

If Level 29 is what shoves the door open to that future, the best we can hope is that more inventive talents take up the challenge. Are you listening, David Simon, Shawn Ryan, David Chase, Joss Whedon, Alan Ball, Peter Jackson?!?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. colleenl1 permalink
    September 7, 2009 10:41 am

    Nice article Chauncey. Agree with your sentiment too.

  2. Steve G permalink
    September 7, 2009 12:44 pm

    Say it ain’t so…the whole concept makes my head spin…

  3. Candice permalink
    September 8, 2009 9:16 pm

    Could be interesting.

  4. Lizz permalink
    September 21, 2009 1:10 pm

    Interesting article–I had not realized this was happening but I suppose it was only a matter of time. I agree, leave more up to the reader’s imagination. It’s bad enough that half the movies produced these days are poor versions of some novel…

    My favorite line, “I guess once he’s caught, they’ll hold him in an invisible box.” Hilarious.

    Thanks for keeping me informed.

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