Since the 1970s John Barnett has brought a host of uniquely Kiwi stories to local and international screens, from Fred Dagg and Footrot Flats, to Whale Rider, Sione's Wedding and Outrageous Fortune. As boss of production company South Pacific Pictures since 1993, Barnett has been a driving force behind some of our landmark television dramas and feature films.
It took a while because not everybody could see that it was going to have a wide appeal — some people told me it would be very limited but I never had any doubt. Barnett on Sione’s Wedding
This first episode of NZ's most popular and critically acclaimed drama series revolves around Wolf West being sentenced to four years in prison — and his wife, Cheryl, deciding it's time for her and her children to get out of the "family business". The local Police and Wolf are dubious; but, even this early in proceedings, it would be foolish to underestimate Cheryl. Whether she can take her daughters (ditzy wannabe-model Pascalle and the cunning Loretta) and sons (yin and yang twins Van and Jethro) with her is another matter altogether. And so begins a dynasty.
In 1986 Footrot Flats: The Dog's (Tail) Tale and its theme song ‘Slice of Heaven’ were huge hits in New Zealand and Australia. The movie starred the characters from Murray Ball's beloved Footrot Flats comic strip; it was NZ's first — and to date only — animated feature. Kiwiana questions touted the film: Will Wal become an All Black? Will Cooch recover his stolen stag? Will the Dog win your hearts and funny bones? And punters answered at the box office. This John Toon-shot trailer (above) doubled as a promo for the Dave Dobbyn-Herbs song to smartly leverage both.
Set at the East Coast town of Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the tale of a young Māori girl, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward. Directed and written by Niki Caro, the film is based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider. Coupling a specific sense of place and culture with a universal coming-of-age story, Whale Rider met with sizeable success worldwide, winning audience choice awards at Sundance and Toronto.
More than just a sequel to Once Were Warriors, this film is about the redemption of Jake the Muss. It picks up the story after Jake has turned his back on his family (his wife has left him to escape the violence) and is up to his usual tricks in McClutchy's Bar. One day, as he downs his latest opponent, he's unaware that his son has died in a gang fight. Scripted by Alan Duff, directed by Ian Mune, the film was the 2nd-highest-earning NZ film of the 1990s, (eclipsed only by Warriors). It scooped the categories at the 1999 NZ Film & TV Awards.
Sione's Wedding is feel-good feature comedy about four 30-something guys who must each find a girlfriend before their best friend Sione's wedding — or be left out in the cold. Through the efforts of these bumbling blokes to get the girl(s) Sione's Wedding brought to life the colour and humour of New Zealand's urban Samoan community in Auckland, the largest Polynesian city in the world. A breakthrough PI-Kiwi film, Sione's broke box office records when it opened in cinemas throughout New Zealand in March 2006. Actor Oscar Kightley co-wrote with James Griffin.
This feature film follows Māori medicine woman Paraiti (Whirimako Black) on a rare Auckland visit from her Urewera home. She meets a Māori servant (Rachel House) and is drawn into helping a wealthy Pākehā woman (Outrageous Fortune’s Antonia Prebble) with a scandalaous and life-threatening secret. The tale of culture clash and deception in settler New Zealand is directed by Mexican filmmaker Dana Rotberg (Otlia Rauda), who adapted the story from the Witi Ihimaera novella, Medicine Woman. Producer John Barnett was also behind the adaptation of Ihimaera’s Whale Rider.
This is the opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television: from an opening night puppet show in Auckland in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ on Air, Sky and Māori Television) and interviews key players. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within a story.
This fresh, unhurried film is drawn from a substantial interview with renowned writer Janet Frame by Michael Noonan; filmed largely at at Frame’s then-home on Whangaparoa Peninsula. It was part of the Three New Zealanders series made to commemorate the 1975 International Year of Women — an early John Barnett production. The rare footage of Frame — here aged 50 — presents a confident writer in her prime, and negates any stereotypes about Frame's inarticulacy or shyness. Note: the segments from the programme dramatising some of Frame’s work are not included here.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an eponymous inner city Auckland hospital. A South Pacific Pictures production, the iconic show is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the staff, family and patients. Screening five days a week on TV2 it is New Zealand’s longest running drama. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture, most famously, "you're not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!". This 2007 promo, set to the theme song, collects together highlights from the first 15 years of the show.
Billy Williams (Cliff Curtis) is enthusiastic and likable, but a bit hopeless. When the driving force behind the Waimatua School 75th Jubilee is killed in an accident, Billy takes over - determined to prove himself. Meanwhile, the arrival of ex-international rugby player Max Seddon (Kevin Smith) forces his wife Pauline (Theresa Healey) to question the choices she has made in her life. This affectionate comedy about small-town NZ life was the first feature directed by actor Michael Hurst, most well-known for his role on the TV series Hercules.
In the five years since Sione's Wedding, the Duckrocker quartet have experienced marriage, children, Australians and the good lord. Then their minister reunites them on a quest to find Bolo (Dave Fane) — once their driver and conscience, now MIA. The sequel to the break-through PI-Kiwi hit reunites the original cast, and adds in a dodgy minister (Kirk Torrance) and a new director (Outrageous Fortune's Simon Bennett). On the burden of following Wedding, Stuff.co.nz reviewer Steve Kilgallon adjudged: "seen on its own merits, it [Sione's 2] proves worth the wait".
This feature is a dramatized reconstruction of actual events surrounding a notorious miscarriage of justice. Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was jailed for the murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe but later exonerated. Directed by John Laing, produced by John Barnett and starring well-known English actor David Hemmings (Blowup, Barbarella), the docudrama leveraged the immense public interest in the case (Thomas was pardoned when the film was in pre-production). It became NZ's most successful commercial film until Goodbye Pork Pie.
Aucklander Emily Chu (award-winner Michelle Ang) is a young ‘banana’ (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) hoping to conceal a cross-cultural tryst from her prudish Chinese parents in this romantic dramedy. Director Roseanne Liang’s feature debut draws on her autobiographical ‘video diary’ Banana in a Nutshell, which screened at the 2005 International Film Festival. In the audience was producer John Barnett, who immediately offered to fund an adaptation. On its March 2010 release My Wedding gained several five star reviews and strong box office.
Three New Zealanders was a documentary series that looked at the lives of three of NZ's most celebrated writers: Sylvia-Ashton Warner, Janet Frame and Dame Ngaio Marsh. Produced by Endeavour Films (John Barnett), the final chapter of this three-part series centres on internationally acclaimed crime-writer and Shakespearean director Dame Ngaio Marsh. It contains an interview with Marsh in her later years, interspersed with comments from former students and friends, and re-enactments from her novels (with the Blerta crew as players, and John Bach as Hamlet!).
Visionary educationalist and novelist Sylvia Ashton-Warner is interviewed by leading educationalist of the day, Jack Shallcrass, in this documentary about her life and work. From her home in Tauranga the film explores her educational philosophies (“organic teaching” and her “drive to diffuse the impulse to kill”) and her “divided life” between woman and artist, as she plays piano and interacts with children. It is the only interview she ever made for television, and was the first of the Three New Zealanders documentaries made to mark International Women's Year.
Mataku was a bilingual series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori mystique. Described as a Māori Twilight Zone, Mataku was produced by Māori writers, directors and actors, and was a strong international and domestic success. Each episode was introduced Rod Serling-style by actor Temuera Morrison. This excerpt from the first episode, which screened on TV3, portrays two young sisters (Nora and Naera) who are playing in the forest when events take a tragic turn; mysterious putapaiarehe (fairies) are implicated and haunt a troubled grown-up Nora.
Craig Potton — renowned photographer and conservationist — is New Zealand coastal tour guide in this five part South Pacific Pictures’ series. In this excerpt from the opening episode Potton gets choppered in by his mate, legendary pilot Richard ‘Hannibal’ Hayes, to explore the edges of the Fiordland wilderness. The duo camp on Hayes’ ex-navy vessel moored in Breaksea Sound; and retrace Captain Cook’s star-gazing route in Dusky Sound (where Cook brewed the first beer in NZ). Then Potton frames the epic limestone landscape of Chalky Inlet through his camera lens.
Footrot Flats, the 1986 adaptation of Murray Ball's beloved comic strip, was a huge hit in New Zealand and Australia. Born from a John Barnett PR idea, the movie’s trailer doubled as a promo for the Dave Dobbyn-Herbs theme song: one leveraging the other. Filmed by cinematographer John (Rain) Toon at Wellington's Marmalade Studios, the trailer screened before Crocodile Dundee in Aussie cinemas and helped the song to four weeks atop the charts there; back home ‘Slice of Heaven’ was 1986 Song of the Year, and reached "unofficial New Zealand National Anthem” status.
Wild Man is the missing link between early 70s musical legends Blerta, and the burgeoning of Blerta trumpeter Geoff Murphy as a man whose directing talents knew few bounds. The Blerta ensemble relocated to the mud-soaked West Coast to create this tale of pioneer con men and silent movie style pratfalls. Bruno Lawrence and Ian Watkin arrange a fight - and bets - in each town they arrive in, while Bruno channels his inner wild man from under a leopard skin. Wild Man was released in cinemas alongside John Clarke and Geoff Murphy’s Dagg Day Afternoon.
Set during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. This first episode include some SFX jumping sheep; John Bach as a blonde, grunting villain, and a youthful Elizabeth McRae. It was NZ telly's first children's serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.
In this award-winning episode of the Rivers series, photographer Craig Potton visits Canterbury’s Rangitata River. The great braided river is home to the rare wrybill, and the landscape has provided inspiration for Samuel Butler (utopian satire Erewhon) and Peter Jackson (Mount Sunday is Edoras in Lord of the Rings). It’s been shaped by glaciers, the nor’wester, irrigation and farming. In this excerpt Potton and climbing mates try to reach the fabled Garden of Eden ice plateau and the river’s “pure heart”; a mission Potton and friend Robbie Burton failed to complete 30 years before.
Christchurch property developer Dave Henderson experienced bankruptcy, accusations of fraud, and 25 plus tax audits. This Kafkaesque comedy is based on his best-selling book about a five-year battle with the tax department, over a $924,000 bill. Kiwi/Scot actor Erik Thomson returned from Australia to play Henderson, while a near-unrecognisable Michael Hurst cameos as MP Rodney Hide. Lumiere reviewer Simon Sweetman praised the “superb” casting, and Thomson’s playful performance. The film is adapted and directed by screen vet Jonothan Cullinane.
This children's post-apocalyptic fantasy series follows a circus troupe on their quest to save the city of Solis. Conceived by Margaret Mahy and developed by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, the award-winning series was produced by South Pacific Pictures. A young Rose McIver (future Tinker Bell in US TV show Once Upon a Time) led the cast, acting with a caravan of Kiwi veterans. Māori elements mixed with rural West Auckland sets in the ‘solar punk’ rendering of the future. Here, Garland (McIver) faces tragedy but meets two boys (and a baby) with magical powers.
Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, popular one hour drama series Jackson's Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank and Ben. Frank is the town policeman with a big secret; and golden boy Ben is a big city lawyer who has returned to town after their father's death. In this excerpt from the first episode of the South Pacific Pictures production, returning son Ben faces gossiping locals, simmering family tensions over the will (who will get the pub?) and an impending fishing tournament.
Lawless saw Kevin Smith in one of his biggest roles: as undercover cop turned private investigator John Lawless. The character's career arc was told across three tele-movies. In this self-titled debut, Lawless struggles with divided loyalties while working for a dodgy drug lord (Joel Tobeck). Next thing, a robbery leaves Lawless framed by the good guys. This stylish Kiwi take on American crime shows won good reviews and a stash of awards, including gongs for Tobeck, co-star Angela Dotchin, director Chris Martin-Jones and best drama programme.
City Life screened from 1996 to 1998 and made a direct appeal to New Zealand's Gen X apartment-dwelling demographic. Following the lives of a tight-knit group of friends, and featuring racy shots of Auckland's K-Road and nightlife set to contemporary NZ pop music, City Life was NZ's answer to Melrose Place. In this excerpt from the first episode, the friends are thrown into conflict when one of their own (played by Kevin Smith) decides to marry outside the circle. Complications ensue when Smith shares a brief, but notorious, screen kiss with Charles Mesure.
In director Garth Maxwell’s 1993 gothic horror twins Jack and Dora (US actor Alexis Arquette and Kiwi Sarah Smuts-Kennedy) are separated while young; their adult reunion sees them battling with the trauma of their past while being pursued by Jack’s sadistic step sisters. Replete with ESP, and a steam-driven hypnosis machine, Maxwell makes an exuberant and surreal contribution to the cinema of unease. New York Times’ Stephen Holden lauded the heady head-spinner as “a superior genre film” with a “feverish intensity that recalls scenes from Hitchcock and De Palma.”
The second Lawless tele-movie sees ex-cop John Lawless (Kevin Smith) drinking too much while working as a bouncer in a downmarket bar. Then former crime-solving partner Jodie Keen (Angela Dotchin) enlists his help, to investigate the case of an incarcerated American (C. Thomas Howell) who may have been framed. Someone is attacking hitchhikers, and the creepy finale sees Jodie using herself as bait, before getting trapped in a barn with a murderer. Evening Post reviewer Sarah Daniell found "the whole shebang was executed with wit and style".
Double Booking was a one-off comedy about a bloke, Brett (Kevin Smith), reluctantly celebrating his stag night, and a woman, Jane (Theresa Healey) who is less than happy at her hen's party. When the titular double booking happens their paths collide. Brett and Jane are star-struck at the Ocean Moon restaurant; wedding days are threatened and much ado occurs. The cast is a virtual Gloss reunion. It was made as a comedy pilot for TVNZ. A series didn't ensue, but it won James Griffin a Best Comedy Script gong at the 1999 NZ Film and TV Awards.
TVNZ’s arts programme Kaleidoscope visits production of John Laing’s film based on David Yallop’s book about “New Zealand’s greatest and most controversial murder” — the 1969 killings of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe at Pukekawa, and the subsequent conviction and eventual pardon of their neighbour Arthur Allan Thomas. A primer on film production as much as the film itself, there are visits to two locations and interviewees include producer John Barnett, director Laing, first AD Murray Newey and the recently freed Thomas who observes a courtroom sequence.
Produced by John Laing and featuring a star-studded cast (Sara Wiseman, Tim Balme, et al), South Pacific Pictures' 'seachange' series Mercy Peak hit just the right note with its down-home sincerity and quirky-but-complex characters. In this excerpt from the first episode Dr Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman) discovers the cheating ways of her partner (a deliciously oily Simon Prast) and decides it's time to get out. On her way to finding her bliss in the tiny town of Bassett she has an inauspicious beginning: a minor collision with the town's iconic pig.
Go Girls starts from a twist, a beach, and a promise. The twist is that this femme-dominated tale is narrated by a male (Jay Ryan). The promise involves four friends having a drink on the beach, and agreeing to make a major life-change within a year. Amy (Anna Hutchison) wants to be rich; whacky bartender and singer Britta (Alix Bushnell) seeks fame; straight-talking Cody (Bronwyn Turei) wants a husband. And Kevin would be happy to get Amy. The intentionally "optimistic, kind" hit show stretched to five seasons, the final season introducing a new cast of 20-something dreamers.
Being Eve was a popular and self-aware comedy-drama for teens. It launched the TV career of actor Fleur Saville, who played 15-year-old amateur teen anthropologist Eve. In this excerpt from episode 10 of series one, Eve grapples with the day-to-day stuff of negotiating relationships (now that Matt is her boyfriend, does she really have to sit next to him in every class?); various friends and family members expose their relationship-challenging racial prejudices. Being Eve won best drama at the 2002 NZ TV Awards and fostered young directing and producing talent.
Nothing Trivial was a popular dramedy that kept score on the lives and loves of five friends in their 30s and 40s who compete in a weekly suburban pub quiz. In this first 10 minutes of the first episode, the Sex on a Stick team — played by Shane Cortese, Tandi Wright, Nicole Whippy, Debbie Newby-Ward and Blair Strang — gathers at The Beagle to wrestle with John Wayne Bobbit trivia and the travails of nearing middle age. Created by writers Rachel Lang and Gavin Stawhan (Go Girls, Mercy Peak), the South Pacific Pictures show ran for three seasons on TV ONE.
Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. It follows the events of a far-north resort and casino; a number of well-known actors made up the cast of earthy locals, wealth foreigners and city weekenders, including Ilona Rodgers, Don Selwyn, Andy Anderson and Katie Wolfe. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic. In this episode the swarthy Cosic cooks up an illegal smuggling scheme to diversify a farm's income stream.
Jonathan Brough’s insightful documentary on the making of Whale Rider travels from East Coast town Whangara, where the mythical whale rider Paikea landed - to Hollywood. This excerpt concentrates on the movie’s vital special effects component: nine whales, brought to the screen through a combination of life-sized models and digital effects. The largest model measured 65 feet in length. Star Keisha Castle-Hughes reflects on filming the challenging whale-riding scenes.
In the first 10 minutes of this TV3 comedy, Axl (Emmett Skilton) has a close shave outside the bottle store on the eve of his 21st birthday, but that’s nothing compared to the meteors, earthquake and a blood red Mission Bay that follow. By episode end Axl learns that he and his Kiwi bloke older brothers are also … Norse gods. From Outrageous Fortune creators James Griffin and Rachel Lang, the light-hearted lad fantasy saga gained a loyal following and — in a rare example of an NZ TV export to the US — the three series screened on the SyFy channel from July 2014.
In this 2013 murder mystery from writers Rachel Lang and James Griffin (Outrageous Fortune, Almighty Johnsons), Outrageous stars Antonia Prebble and Siobhan Marshall are cast east to Auckland's CBD as a sleuthing odd couple. This opening 10 minutes of the TV3 series begins with a body floating in the Viaduct. Then temp Jane March (Prebble) finds more drama than stationary in her first day at a law firm: her predecessor — Rose — is dead rather than on holiday, and she meets Rose’s brassy best mate Linda (Marshall) when she barges in to collect Rose’s possessions.
Mitch (Keith Aberdein) moves to Tongariro National Park to help wrangle wild horses threatening ecology and traffic. He meets Sara, who shares an obsession for a fabled silver horse. They clash with rangers and deer recovery guns-for-hire (Bruno Lawrence is the black-clad villain) determined to eradicate the horses, and a showdown on the Desert Plateau ensues. In the notoriously fraught production a stable of Kiwi acting legends perform a melange of western and freedom-on-the-range genre turns (with the conservationists oddly set up as the bad guys).
Being Eve was a popular and self-aware comedy-drama for teens. It launched the career of actor Fleur Saville, who played 15-year-old amateur teen anthropologist Eve. This excerpt from episode 22 of the second series sees angst and ambition collide as Eve dreams of Hollywood success via a school Shakespeare production. Shakespeare himself makes a cameo (as Eve's muse), as she struggles with her original vision for the classic, but will she be upstaged by Sam? Being Eve won best drama at the 2002 NZ TV Awards and fostered young directing and producing talent.
This report for TVNZ’s flagship 1980s arts show was made to tie in with Nicholas Reid’s book about the renaissance in NZ cinema that began with Sleeping Dogs in 1977. Reid and a who’s who of filmmakers discuss many of more than 50 films made in the previous decade (with Bruno Lawrence ever present) — and ponder the uniqueness (or otherwise) of NZ film. The industry’s fondness for rural and small town settings, and forceful (often conflicted) male leads is explored; and more neglected areas — Māori film making and more of a voice for women — are traversed.
A rare and early case of a Kiwi play being adapted for the big screen, Middle Age Spread asks whether adultery is inevitable (or whether the adulterers will inevitably be found out). Grant Tilly stars as a philandering teacher fearing a future of stress, decay and marital dissatisfaction. Roger Hall's acclaimed middle-aged comedy was adapted in the first flush of the Kiwi film renaissance, and marks the feature debut of many talents: director John Reid, cinematographer Alun Bollinger, writer Keith Aberdein, editor Mike Horton, and composer Stephen McCurdy.
Screening as Goodbye Pork Pie packed cinemas and gave hope that Kiwi films were here to stay, this 1981 TV documentary attempts to combine history lesson with some crystal ball gazing on what might lie ahead for the newly reborn film industry. Host Ian Johnstone wonders if three local movies per year might be a "fairly ambitious" target; producer John Barnett argues for the upside of overseas filmmakers shooting downunder. Also interviewed: Pork Pie director Geoff Murphy, early Film Commission chairman head Bill Sheat, and John O'Shea.
In the last of a trilogy of tele-movies, private investigators John Lawless (Kevin Smith) and Jodie Keane (Shortland Street's Angela Dotchin) seek the truth behind an apparent suicide. Their client is visiting mystery woman Lana Vitale (a strong performance by American Jennifer Rubin) who wants to know why her husband is dead. For Lawless, the trial soon leads to romance, intrigue, plus a shady nightclub/ porn operator (singer Frankie Stevens). This Kiwi take on American crime shows includes an appearance by Snakeskin actor Dean O'Gorman.
In this children's sci-fi caper, an all-singing all-dancing gang of cronies led by 'evil Eva' holds Auckland to ransom for $5,000,000. As in Under the Mountain Auckland's volcanoes play a starring role, with Eva threatening to drop a nuclear bomb into the crater of Rangitoto. Who will save the city? A trio of intrepid kids and their DIY anti-gravity machine are on the case. Writers Ian Mune and Keith Aberdein give director Roger Donaldson (and a bevy of industry talent) plenty of goofy 70s fun to play with. Donaldson would shortly helm the acclaimed Smash Palace.
Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, Jackson’s Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank (the town cop) and Ben Jackson (a big smoke lawyer). Returning with his family, golden boy Ben has controversially inherited the local pub from his recently deceased father. Produced by South Pacific Pictures, the one hour popular drama screened for two seasons. Writer James Griffin and director Niki Caro worked on the show, alongside much of the talent who would later create Mercy Peak and Outrageous Fortune.
Set amidst the 'friendly' 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Alongside the young heroes the series featured John Bach as a grunting villain, a youthful Elizabeth McRae, and SFX jumping sheep. It was NZ telly’s first children’s serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.
This quirky, upbeat comedy-drama looked at teen life through the eyes of 15-year-old Eve (Fleur Saville). Something of an amateur teen anthropologist, Eve questions everything in her world, musing on life to the camera and in voiceover. The series' fresh, self-aware style appealed directly to media-savvy teenagers. The TV3 series launched Saville's TV career, fostered young directing and producing talent, won many awards (including Best Drama Series at the 2002 NZ TV Awards) and sold to over 40 territories, screening in the US on Nickelodeon.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
This three-part documentary series was made to mark International Women's Year in 1975; it provides rare and precious interview footage with three of New Zealand's most celebrated writers; Sylvia-Ashton Warner, Janet Frame and Dame Ngaio Marsh; who each reflect on their life and philosophy. In the case of Ashton-Warner and Marsh, these documentaries were filmed in the last decade of their lives. Three New Zealanders was produced by John Barnett for Endeavour Films.
After her husband is jailed, matriarch Cheryl West (Robyn Malcolm) decides the time has come to set her family on the straight and narrow. But can the Wests change old habits? So begins the six-series long saga of the Westie dynasty. Hugely popular at home (beloved by public, critics and awards-nights alike), and imitated overseas, Outrageous Fortune has been a flag-bearer for TV3 and contemporary NZ telly drama; the series proved — in all its grow-your-own glory — that genre TV in NZ could be so much more than overseas stories pasted to a local setting.
With its mix of quirky characters, lush scenery, and medical drama, Mercy Peak proved to be a winning formula. Produced by John Laing for South Pacific Pictures, and starring a host of NZ acting talent (Tim Balme, Jeffrey Thomas, Renato Bartolomei, et al), Mercy Peak follows the highs and lows of Dr Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman), who leaves the big city after discovering her partner’s infidelity. Taking up her new role at the hospital in the tiny town of Bassett, Nicky soon learns that life is full of complexities no matter the population.
Created by Outrageous Fortune’s James Griffin and Rachel Lang, this South Pacific Pictures-produced TV3 dramedy is about a family of Norse gods who wash up in 21st Century New Zealand. Emmett Skilton stars as Axl aka Odin, who must restore his brothers' lapsed superpowers and find his wife Frigg ("no pressure, then"). But he is thwarted by Norse goddesses and Māori deities. The combo of fantastical plot and droll Kiwi bloke banter won loyal fans, who successfully campaigned for a third (and final) season. Johnsons screened on the SyFy channel in the US in 2014.
Described as a "Māori Twilight Zone", Mataku was a series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori experience with the "unexplained". Two South Pacific Pictures-produced series screened on TV3; a later series screened on TV One in 2005. Each episode was introduced by Temuera Morrison Rod Serling-style. The bi-lingual series was a strong international and domestic success; producer Carey Carter: "Our people are very spiritual ... and here we are ... turning it into stories so that the rest of the world can get a glimpse of that aspect of our culture."
City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.