Writer Rachel Lang has helped create a host of New Zealand television dramas, including Outrageous Fortune, the iconic saga of a West Auckland family trying to go straight. Her CV includes the long-running Go Girls, small town dramas Jackson's Wharf and Mercy Peak, plus The Almighty Johnsons, This is Not My Life and The Blue Rose (with most of the shows produced under the South Pacific Pictures stable). Read the full biography
I thought the next time I do something I’m going to make it so that no one will be able to ignore it. I wanted big things to happen. Rachel Lang on Outrageous Fortune, Listener, 20 December 2006.
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.
Iconic serial drama Shortland Street is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the staff, family and patients of the eponymous hospital. This 1994 cliffhanger episode, written by Rachel Lang, features the wedding between receptionist Kirsty and muffin man Lionel. But will hunky Stuart be able to deny his love for Kirsty? Countless familiar characters appear; and three actors who have since launched Hollywood careers — Temuera Morrison, Martin Henderson, and Marton Csokas — as Dr Ropata, Stuart Neilson, and Leonard Dodds respectively.
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.
Created by Fiona Samuel, The Marching Girls follows a Taita social marching team who decide to have a crack at the North Island champs. In the first episode of this feminist-Flashdance-in-formation 80s classic, young whippersnapper Leonie tries to modernize the girls' routine by getting them to march to the heavy metal tunes of Ironlung ("they're really big in Australia!"). This proves too much for Mahara who's got enough on her plate with her new role as hesitant union spokesperson for her fellow workers down at the factory.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This children's post-apocalyptic fantasy series follows a circus troupe, Maddigan's Fantasia on their quest to save the world's only remaining city, Solis. The show was created by children's writer Margaret Mahy, developed for television by writers Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang for South Pacific Pictures, who produced the 13 x 30min series for TV3. Award-winning and successfully exported, it marked a debut lead performance from Rose McIver (future Tinker Bell in US TV show Once Upon a Time) acting with Michael Hurst, Peter Daube, Tim Balme and Danielle Cormack.
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.
Nothing Trivial was a dramedy that kept score on the lives and loves of five friends in a pub quiz team called Sex on a Stick. The cast of City Lifers shifted to the suburbs and nearing middle age was led by Shane Cortese, Tandi Wright, Nicole Whippy, Debbie Newby-Ward and Blair Strang. Created by Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan, (the veteran writers behind Go Girls, Maddigan’s Quest, and Mercy Peak) the popular South Pacific Pictures production screened for three seasons on TV ONE. A fan-driven campaign saw NZ On Air fund a tele-movie to wrap up the series.
This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.
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.
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 hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week, and in 2012 the show celebrated its 20th anniversary making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture, most famously, “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!”.
In this 13 episode series by veteran TV scriptwriters Rachel Lang and James Griffin (creators of Outrageous Fortune, The Almighty Johnsons) Outrageous stars Antonia Prebble and Siobhan Marshall are cast east into Auckland's CBD, where they team up to solve a murder. Along the way the odd couple (office temp and victim's best friend) unite to unravel dubious goings-on in the post-crash Auckland financial world, and team up the people working behind the scenes against the corruption. The 2013 series was produced by Chris Bailey for South Pacific Pictures.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was NZ's first urban cop show and first true genre police drama. Devised by Graham Tetley, it portrayed a unit policing Wellington's inner city under the guidance of Inspector Brian "Sharkie" Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, it was firmly in the mould of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first of three series was the last in-house production for TVNZ's drama department. The other two were made independently by The Gibson Group.
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.
Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan created Go Girls out of a desire for an upbeat show about "people who liked each other". Audiences liked the characters too: the show ran five seasons, after introducing us to a group of 20-something friends, each aiming to make a major life-change in the next year. Over five series various romantic adventures ensued, and the core cast of Anna Hutchison, Alix Bushnell, Bronwyn Turei, Jay Ryan and Matt Whelan were joined by others — before finally departing altogether, with one final season revolving around a new cast of wanna bes.
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.
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.