It’s a modern-day version of “Ten Little Indians” when 13 people are invited to posh a Beverly Hills mansion called Rue Manor, overseen by Butler Giles — a role given just the right touch by British actor Gildart Jackson — and then are murdered off one by one.
No, it is not a new procedural drama, but rather a whole new genre of TV — reality fiction — when “Whodunnit?” kills off its first victim when it premieres on Sunday, June 23 on ABC.
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Each of the players will be required to use their investigative skills in the murder mystery competition and uncover evidence that will ultimately reveal the identity of the killer among them. The contestant who proves himself to be the most clueless at the end of every game will be the next to die a horrific death.
The contestant still alive in Episode 9’s finale will win $250,000 for uncovering the identity of the murderer.
“Whodunnit?” is the brainchild of Anthony Zuiker, who created the “CSI” franchise, and came up with the idea to combine a fictionalized murder with a reality competition as a new generation of TV.
xfinityTV caught up with Zuiker at a screening for the new series to get the scoop on what we have to look forward to. Here are five things to know about “Whodunnit?”:
No. 1: How were the 13 contestants selected? Did they have to be “CSI” fans? A nationwide search was held and from the thousands of submissions, it was narrowed down to the final 13. The applicants did not have to be “CSI” fans — although there is one — but Zuiker was looking for a variety of people from all walks of life.
“We wanted to make sure they have some special skills in terms of some crime solving, like a lawyer, or police, or that kind of thing, but there are also everyday people,” he says. “We wanted to make sure that the audience could see themselves in the characters, to the point that they can play along when they watch it.”
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No. 2: How did they make sure the clues provided helped the players solve the murders? There were only four people in the writers room — Zuiker, Liz Devine and Trey Calloway, both who worked on “CSI” and “CSI: NY,” and Travis Oberlander — so while the staff was small, there was a lot of experience with crime solving in the room.
“The mandate was we would have these big, huge crimes that could kick some butt in the promo department,” Zuiker says. “The contrast was to make sure the evidence was simple to where you could roll up your sleeves, find it and begin to put together the logic of the howdunnit! We don’t use fancy CSI machines to solve it. We want to make sure the people at home have the same ability with their eyes and instincts to solve the crime while watching the show.”
No. 3: How did you make sure to keep the integrity of the show? Most TV shows have to shoot scenes more than once to get them right, but on “Whodunnit?” not everyone in the cast was present as clues were revealed. So to keep the game competitive, very few retakes were done to keep it real.
“Standards and Practices was on the set the entire time and they were super strict because [the contestants] were playing for money, so it was rare that we would pick something up or redo something,” Zuiker explains. “For the most part, what you see is what you get. This is a very hands-off producer-type show… Things that happened organically, happened organically. “
That said, there is one murder — we promised not to reveal the grisly details — that had the cast so freaked out, it was four in the morning, that despite being told not to run away so their reactions could be filmed, they all ran away. The murder wasn’t re-shot, but some of the reactions were.
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No. 4: Was anyone reluctant to die when their time came? The answer to that is a resounding “no.” In fact, some of the players were actually ready to go because playing the game was more stressful than they had imagined. Others were game because they enjoyed being in on the mystery and had fun getting made up to look like a dead body. Of course, they were bummed about not winning the $250,000.
“I am so in love with this cast,” Zuiker says. “They are so delightful. Such awesome sports. I root for all of them because they are all total sweethearts and they brought it. They are all emotionally invested in it. They are blindfolded, they are living in close quarters and can’t talk to each other for days. This was a 29-day shoot. It was emotionally taxing but they all came through.”
No. 5: Where is the mansion? The mansion had to be big enough to house the entire cast, plus a morgue, with some extra features thrown in for the murders to be creative. So move over “The Bachelor” mansion, “Whodunnit?’s” Rue Manor is a step above!
“We wanted to pump color into it and give it a great Agatha Christie look of tomorrow,” Zuiker says. “It had to have sprawling grounds and a pool. This was a $37 million mansion in Benedict Canyon that we rented out. There were ravens flying around all the time and it was overcast. It really set the mood. It didn’t feel old fogey-ish but wasn’t so futuristic that you couldn’t buy into it. It felt modern and fun.”
“Whodunnit?” premieres Sunday, June 23 at 9/8c on ABC.