Gary Sinise, <EM>CSI: NY</EM> Gary Sinise, CSI: NY
CSI mastermind Anthony Zuiker wants to take over the world. Not the TV world — with three ratings-hot procedurals, he pretty much already has. We're talking about the virtual on­line world known as Second Life. The computer-generated alternate universe, where millions of players have signed up to chat, shop and even simulate mar­riage and sex, is at the heart of tonight's CSI: NY

(10 pm/ET, CBS) mystery.

Lab geek and Sec­ond Life devotee Adam Ross (A.J. Buckley) realizes that an oddly attired corpse is a dead ringer for a vir­tual character — aka an avatar — named Venus. When he discovers that despite the death of her look-alike, the avatar still exists on the site, the question be­comes: Is the real-life person who's controlling Venus online the real-life killer?

With Ross' help, Det. Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) creates his own avatar and heads into Second Life to investigate. "I think this may be the first time a televi­sion show has interacted so specifically with the Internet," Sinise says. "The vir­tual world of this episode is really fun, entertaining and cutting-edge. Anthony Zuiker always seems to have his finger on the pulse of what's coming next."

CSI: NY isn't the only show to tap into the online phenomenon. Second Life also makes an appearance on The Office this week, and under a fictional name it figured in a recent Law & Order: SVU. But Zuiker has grander plans. "This will be the biggest cross-platform play in television," he boasts. "As you're watching the show, you can register online to be part of the CSI: NY virtual lab, which will be open for business [after the episode]."

The ambitious project got under way when Zuiker met with the Electric Sheep Company, which builds Second Life's virtual worlds. "It was our task to make the CSI: NY script come to life in Second Life," says ESC executive Val­erie Williamson, "from building custom virtual sets and avatars to creating spe­cial effects and movement."

Zuiker is happy with the episode, but it's the after-show gaming element that really revs him up. He's hoping the fans will support an ongoing CSI: NY pres­ence in Second Life. "Cross-platform­ing is the future of television — which is television, mobile, online and gaming — and we are starting to experiment with that," he says. "To ask 16 million people to watch the show and then participate in the virtual world and make that a liv­ing, sustaining entity is very exciting."

Fans of the show will be able to choose an avatar on CBS.com, download the application and then go in-world and play games and solve mysteries. But for Second Life newbies, Williamson assures, everything is designed to be "easy to use, fun and rewarding."

Among the games is "Murder by Zuiker," where visitors will be greeted by the CSI creator's avatar. "I will give you a virtual crime scene and you can walk around it and then blog what you think happened there," Zuiker says. "I'll post my answers at the end of the month, along with the 10 best entries."

For those who want more action, in another game players can become CSIs and find clues, interview suspects and process evidence as they try to solve this week's mystery, which ends in a cliff-hanger that will continue in Febru­ary. (No one will be able to solve the crime before the February show airs.)

What happens then? Zuiker says if all goes well, he'll have "a Grammy-caliber artist, both on the February show and hosting a live concert in Sec­ond Life after the show ends. It'll be the first time in history that ever happened. We're shooting for the sky."

CSI:NY boss Anthony Zuiker talks more about this week's episode in this video clip.

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