"Whodunnit?" is not your granddad's game of "Clue," nor is it a fusty version of an
It may also be the first of its kind in a new subgenre that Zuiker called "reality fiction," which puts its participants into made-up crime scenarios and captures their in-the-moment reactions.
The nine-episode series, launching June 23 on
Unlike the gizmo-heavy "CSI," the participants on "Whodunnit?" will have to use their powers of perception and maybe a magnifying glass to parse clues and point fingers.
"It's a roll-up-your-sleeves game," said Zuiker, who's partnering with reality-show maven Cris Abrego ("The Surreal Life," "Next Action Star") to produce "Whodunnit?" "It relies on common sense, wit and mettle."
A proper British butler named Giles, played by actor Gildart Jackson, will help propel the action by delivering information and clues at Rue Manor. The crimes themselves, unlike the knife-in-the-back of old mystery books, will be "big and promotable," involving explosions and fires, but won't push the envelope with cable-TV levels of blood and gore, Zuiker said.
Zuiker's experience on the "CSI" franchise taught him that TV viewers love to play armchair sleuth, whether they see themselves as Ted Danson or
"These are everyday people being put to the test," Zuiker said. "For those fans who want to live vicariously in solving murders, there's a shorter distance between them and this cast."
Since crime procedurals are all the rage in scripted TV, with Zuiker at the forefront of that trend, he's not sure why few producers have tried to adapt the format into reality series. (Fox's eight-episode "Murder in Small Town X" is one of the only examples.) He thinks "Whodunnit?" may be premiering at a good time, though, with most network dramas in repeats for the warm-weather months.
Not into gunshot residue, hair fibers and homicide? There's an array of reality programming, both new and returning, headed for the small screen this summer that features at-home cooks, globe-trotting adventurers, improvisational comedians, would-be superstars and back-stabbing housemates.
Perhaps one of the broadest-based reality shows on network TV, "America's Got Talent" fulfills that "sense of wonder and discovery" that audiences crave, said Robert Galinsky, founder of the New York Reality TV School, which trains reality TV hopefuls to be camera ready.
"These talent shows will never go away because they're part of the American dream," Galinsky said. "They're the symbol of, 'Work hard, take a chance, and you can make it.'"
A sweet-treat talent show that centers on skilled amateur cooks premieres May 29 on
There's an adventure and exotic-locale trend brewing across network and cable. "Get Out Alive with
"The Hunt," a similarly themed wilderness competition show coming to the
And for the ultimate in deprivation, Discovery Channel will air "Naked and Afraid," which dumps pairs of strangers in the buff into harsh environments like the Serengeti plains and the Borneo rain forest for 21 days. The series, which debuts June 23, is a follow-up of sorts to the channel's spring show, "Naked Castaway."
It wouldn't be summer without subterfuge, with CBS' perennial hit, "
Another reliable audience pleaser, ABC's
Escapism and uplift will be part of the reality offerings, too, with NBC's "Hollywood Game Night" based on cocktail parties at actor-producer Sean Hayes' house. The series, with host Jane Lynch, starts July 11 and will allow a few regular Joes to play pop culture-based games with A-listers like Amy Poehler,
"It'll be fun to watch celebrities not in rehab," Galinsky said. "And since these parties were actually happening organically, this show's less likely to be a cliché of reality TV."
Classic sketch show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" gets a revival on the CW, debuting July 16, with actress-comedian
On opposite ends of the cultural spectrum, two powerhouse cable reality shows,
Series like these have taken the place of sitcoms and over-the-top melodramas for many viewers, Galinsky said.
"They're not so far from what we used to watch, like 'I Dream of Jeannie' or '