Commentary

CSI Creator Brings Murder Mysteries to Twitter

Anthony E. Zuiker, creator of the ubiquitous “CSI” franchise, has been busy plotting more murders -- but not for TV. Having built a devoted Twitter following for his reality murder mystery series “Whodunnit?” on ABC, the mystery master started organizing online competitions, inviting fans to solve fictional “murders” on Twitter for points and prizes.

In the competitions, dubbed #Twitdunnit, Zuiker would lay out a murder scenario for fans, always involving himself as the unhappy victim, along with clues and crime scene pictures for the fan-detectives to consider. Participants could submit their solutions to the mysteries via direct message, and the winner would get a prize in the form of swag from the show or a Skype chat with Zuiker himself. The grand prize for the top-scorer after a nine-episode run was spending a day with Zuiker on the set.

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According to Zuiker each “episode” of his Twitter murder mysteries took about seven hours to, um, execute, including 40 to 50 interactions with Zuiker dispensing hints and murder mystery must-haves like piercing screams, shadowy figures, and the like. At the end of the season, in addition to congratulating the winners Zuiker called up the runners-up to thank them for playing.

The improvised social media game turned out to be a hit: over the course of the first “season” of #Twitdunnit, Zuiker’s Twitter following grew from around 2,000 to over 18,000. Fittingly, Zuiker is now mobilizing his much-expanded Twitter following to lobby for a second season of “Whodunnit?,” although the show’s fate remains up in the air.

Regardless of whether the TV show returns, Zuiker said #Twitdunnit was rewarding in its own right, both as a way of interacting with fans and building an online community, and also as a means of testing the boundaries of the murder mystery genre: “I was curious to see if you could translate murder mysteries to Twitter, without the sexy video shoots and all that.” The fans seem to think so.

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