‘CSI’ Killer Sqweegel Doubles as Pitchman for Book, Web Film

Anthony E. Zuiker
Creator and executive producer of the CSI television shows Anthony E. Zuiker. Photographer: Ethan Miller/Getty Images for EMS Exhibits

Anthony Zuiker, creator of the “CSI” police shows on CBS, is using the Oct. 14 episode of the flagship series in a unusual bid to promote his new crime novel and a Web movie with same villain.

CBS, the most-watched network, approved Zuiker’s plan to write a “CSI” episode with the serial killer Sqweegel from his book “Dark Prophecy,” the author said in an interview near the set. The episode features Ann-Margret as a wealthy Las Vegas woman with a past that the villain uses against her.

Zuiker, 42, decided to promote the book on the show when his first crime novel, “Level 26: Dark Origins,” didn’t sell as he’d hoped. U.S. book sales declined 1.8 percent last year to $23.9 billion, the Association of American Publishers said in April, with adult paperbacks shrinking 5.2 percent.

“If I can just get 1 percent of the 15 million people who watch ‘CSI’ to buy this book I’ll have a bestseller on my hands,” said Zuiker, who calls the plan a “cyber-bridge” linking publishing, film and social networking.

“Dark Prophecy,” which will also be available on the iPad, is the second under a $2.1 million, three-book deal with Penguin Group Inc.’s Dutton unit, he said. The sum paid for co-author Duane Swierczynski and the cost of the movie, which was shot on CBS’s “CSI: New York” set in Studio City, California.

“We’ve seen characters move from TV show to TV show,” said Jeff Gomez, chief executive officer of Starlight Runner Entertainment, a N.Y.-based marketing company that specializes in migrating characters and stories from one medium to another. “But to move a character from a book to TV is really a significant way to extend a story line, and it comes from the book industry, which could use the help.”

Nielsen Ratings

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” has the ninth-largest prime-time audience through two weeks of the new TV season, according to Nielsen Co. data, with an average of 14.1 million viewers a night.

CBS Corp. approved the use of the book’s character “to create what the executives here say is a very good and very creepy episode of ‘CSI,’” said Chris Ender, a spokesman for the New York-based network.

In addition to selling “Dark Prophecy” as a novel, Zuiker plans to market it as an e-book for Apple Inc.’s iPad, with Web links to the 52 minute-long film’s 11 segments. The book goes on sale the same day the “CSI” episode airs.

Standing Out

The movie and e-book will be available for the iPad at $12.99. Individual Webisode prices haven’t been set. It also will be free in segments at Level 26’s YouTube channel, he said.

“There are so many social networks today that you need something to stand out, and this clearly has the ability to do that, even if it is pretty creepy,” said Josh Bernoff, co-author of “Empowered,” a book about social networks. “But you need the kind of money that someone like a TV producer can bring to this.”

Starlight Runner’s Gomez, who counts Coca-Cola Co. and Mattel Inc. among his company’s clients, called Zuiker’s website “a little bland” and said such cross-marketing isn’t simple.

“To move someone from the book to a website or an online movie takes a lot of thought to make it appear seamless,” Gomez said.