CBS' new slasher mystery series simultaneously uses TV and the Internet

CBS wants viewers to know that it’s come a long way since Murder, She Wrote. To promote its new murder-mystery series Harper’s Island (premiering Thursday, April 9, at 10 p.m.) — in which the members of a wedding party are picked off by a serial killer Ten Little Indians-style — the network has armed itself with a decidedly unstodgy weapon: the Internet. In an elaborate campaign leading up to the TV series’ debut, CBS has launched, a companion site that features vlogs by young local reporter Robin (Melanie Merkosky) as she uncovers info about the murders and mysterious videos posted by the slasher. That online component, producers hope, could lure fresh blood to the notoriously gray network. ”The typical CBS viewer is…the polite word is ‘older,”’ says Island executive producer Jeffrey Bell. ”But [] might be a way to get the people who are younger to watch as well.”

TV shows, however, have had a pretty horrible time harnessing the power of the Web in seasons past. Series that should have natural crossover appeal such as Lost and Heroes have posted online games and supplementary webisodes, but they haven’t created sensations beyond their hardcore fans. And last year NBC plucked Internet series quarterlife for prime-time treatment — but canceled it after one dismally rated airing, proving a rabid online following doesn’t make a hit.

But Harper’s producers remain confident that their site won’t fall victim to fickle Internet fate. They hired Web production company EQAL — the masterminds behind the viral success lonelygirl15 — and conceived the TV and Web shows in tandem. Props and characters will make their way back and forth between the two. The TV characters will maintain profiles and blogs on the website so viewers can talk directly to them (and maybe even see some electronic cries for help). ”If you look at the way kids consume entertainment,” says EQAL cofounder Miles Beckett, ”they take it, they remix it, they edit it, they repost it. They want to feel like they’re part of their entertainment.” And in one last pitch to lure young viewers, Harper’s coexec producer Dan Shotz jokes that the show has a lot in common with megahit American Idol…except ”when you get voted off here, it’s a little bloodier.”

Who’s Who on Harper’s Island

The Bride
Rich Trish Wellington (Katie Cassidy) loves her fiancé, but is shaken when a mysterious ex shows up.

The Groom
Henry (Christopher Gorham) used to tend the Wellingtons’ boat; now he’s marrying their daughter.

The Patriarch?
Thomas (Richard Burgi) is throwing the wedding of Trish’s dreams — and secretly sabotaging it.

The Best Pal
Henry’s childhood ?friend Abby (Elaine Cassidy) hasn’t been home since her mom was murdered there.

The Wacky Uncle?
Marty (Harry Hamlin) likes to party, ogle girls who are half his age — and pack heat.

The Bombshell?
Wild Chloe (Cameron Richardson) has a wild streak, a boyfriend fumbling to pop the question, and Uncle Marty’s eye.