Rachel Lang has done stints in each of the many jobs that go into writing for television - including scriptwriting, story editing, storylining and creating the ideas for programmes. She has also been on the other side of the screen, both as a film reviewer and journalist for longtime film industry magazine Onfilm.
In 1992, she started work as a storyliner on new daily serial Shortland Street. She became the show’s first New Zealand story editor and was on the ‘table of pain’ until 1994. She remained as an executive producer until 2000, and wrote numerous scripts for the show.
Working with long time collaborator, writer Gavin Strawhan, Rachel Lang created successful small town dramas Jackson's Wharf (1999-2000) and Mercy Peak (2001 - 2003). Aimed at younger viewers and set in a coastal town, Jackson's Wharf centres around the rivalry between a local policeman and his city slicker brother. The one-hour drama screened for two seasons.
Lang and Strawhan followed it with Mercy Peak, a drama whose strong ensemble cast includes Craig Parker, Jeffrey Thomas, and Alison Bruce. The show centres on a doctor (Sara Wiseman) who moves to a small town medical practice. NZ Herald reviewer Fiona Rae would praise the show's characters, arguing "they're fully realized, complicated people with histories and flaws and problems and successes". A ratings success, Mercy Peak's three-season total of 60 episodes places it among the country's longest running drama series.
Lang has a longtime association with South Pacific Pictures, including two years in the mid 90s as the company's Head of Development, co-creator of Lawless (a trio of tele-movies starring the late Kevin Smith) and script editing on high gloss drama Marlin Bay.
Lang's biggest success to date has been Outrageous Fortune. The show began life in 2005 partly because she saw comedy potential in the Van der Velters, the white trash family Lang had created for Mercy Peak. (Actor Antony Starr would play a similar role on both series). She had also been mulling over the question of why more mothers weren't engaging in crime, when the median income for New Zealand women was so low.
The idea of Outrageous Fortune was one of six proposed to South Pacific Pictures by the longtime writing team of Lang and James Griffin. Asked what she did differently with Outrageous Fortune, compared to the other TV shows and characters she has been involved with in the past, Lang replied "nothing". "If there was a secret formula to success, it would be bottled; everyone would be using it; and I'd be retired." For the fifth season of the show, Lang worked as both a storyliner, a script editor, and found time to co-write some episodes.
Earlier, working from an idea by children's writer Margaret Mahy, Lang and Gavin Strawhan were series writers for the award winning fantasy series Maddigan's Quest (2005). The show is based around a circus troupe travelling through a post-apocalyptic future.
The Lang/Strawhan team created ambitious drama This is Not My Life (working with Jason Daniel), which debuted in July 2010. The series is based on a man (Charles Mesure) who wakes up one day and does not recognise his name, his wife or his children. This is Not My Life is set in a future New Zealand where information is controlled electronically, allowing Lang and Strawhan to satirise modern society and illusions of freedom.
Lang also worked with Strawhan on 2011 hit Nothing Trivial - based on five friends who form a pub quiz team - and, with show originator Maxine Fleming, on Go Girls, the successful romantic comedy about three young women who decide to be rich, married and famous in just one year. Sydney Morning Herald critic Michael Idato praised the show's writing and humour. Go Girls' fourth series went into production in late 2011, and the concept has sold to a number of overseas territories, including America.
Meanwhile Lang joined another creative partner in crime - James Griffin - to create offbeat comedy drama The Almighty Johnsons, which debuted on television in February 2011. The series centres around four Kiwi brothers with God-like powers. A second series is in production.
In another life Rachel Lang appeared on-screen as an actor, in the first New Zealand drama series to put female characters front and centre: Fiona Samuel's 1987 marching team drama The Marching Girls.
'Rachel Lang - Head Writer' (Profile). South Pacific Pictures website. Accessed 14 November 2011
Trisha Dunleavy, Ourselves in Primetime - A History of New Zealand Television Drama (Auckland University Press, 2005)
Michael Idato, 'Friday TV: The story of Playboy' (Review of Go Girls) - Sydney Morning Herald, 24 September 2009
Fiona Rae, 'Powerpoint: Thank heavens for Mercy at its peak' (Review of Mercy Peak) - NZ Herald, 2 May 2002