Best of the 90s

Best of the 90s

End of History  

The end of history. The 1990s. 

I remember the moment when people stopped saying, "That's so 80s", and started saying, "That's so 90s."  

"That's so noughties"? It just sounds wrong doesn't it, so I guess the 90s are the end of history. It's the last era that we can be nostalgic about. From here on in it's just going to be a mish mash. The 90s were different. The Internet was something only scientists used and phones were not clever, let alone smart. Carbs were still ok before or after 5pm and sugar was sweet as. Drinking and driving was just starting to go out of fashion as was smoking ... weirder still there was something called "The Broadcasting Fee".

This collection captures this glorious and misunderstood decade. Some say we were forged as a nation in the killing fields of the world wars, but for me it all came together on our TVs and in our cinemas in the 1990s.

Has there been a more important or visceral New Zealand movie than Once Were Warriors? I think not. It stands proud and somewhat alone all these years later as a masterpiece of writing, acting, direction — how about that soundtrack? The opening shot still manages to trick me even though I know it's coming. You get to see that, as well as other memorable scenes as director Lee Tamahori and other key crew and cast give a behind the scenes tour in this short feature

The 90s marked some important landmarks on the small screen too. And while they may have weighed a tonne back then there were no 50inch slimline LEDs. The 26 inch was still the average. 

Some say the moment we really became a nation was when Shortland Street was born in 1992. Thankfully TV2 and NZ On Air conspired to give us our very own version of Coronation Street or Neighbours. It worked. 

The first ever episode is presented here and it always rewards another viewing. Dr Ropata makes his entrance, that famous line is uttered, and Dr Warner perves at ladies in lycra. Future international stars, Martin Henderson and Danielle Cormack, are also in fresh-faced attendance. 

Much has been written about the famous "O is for awesome" moment on Wheel of Fortune (1992). No surprise that David Tua is more of a pugilist than a linguist, but as he claims, he never actually said "O for Awesome." He said "O for Olsen" as in Olsen Filipaina, the league legend who was the son of a Samoan boxer.

Still, David did ask for 'P' when it came time to pick a vowel, so he's not entirely exonerated. Oh that's right 'P' wasn't a thing back then, it was still just a consonant. Here's something else to ponder. The top prize on offer that night was a Ford Telstar TX25I, then valued at $36,000. Today a quick search reveals that you can pick one up on Trade Me for as little as $1, while the hottest auction is only up to $450.  

Like Once Were Warriors, Jane Campion's award winning The Piano (1994) also mined New Zealand for all it was worth; it left an indelible mark with her portrayal of rugged West Coast beaches and sopping wet native bush. Sure it was a costume drama of colonial times, but it was no less visceral than Warriors; Sam Neill and an axe saw to that. It also afforded the first NZ acting Oscar to a youthful Anna Paquin — another moment etched in the Kiwi grey matter as much as that image of a piano on a beach.  

The 90s was also the decade that marked a turning point in the career of Peter Jackson, then still to become a Sir and a gazillionaire. Heavenly Creatures (1994) was a surprise to those of us brought up on Bad Taste, Braindead and Meet the Feebles. Based on the real life 1954 Parker/Hulme matricide this thing was serious, but more importantly, it was seriously good. Oscar nominations followed and its stars, Kate Winslet and Kiwi Melanie Lynskey, were off to Hollywood, while director Jackson went on to build Wellywood and become a Knight of the Realm. One look at the trailer and you'll be wanting to see it again, if you haven't already. 

Is there a more 90s show than Ice TV? I think not. The affable three-way of Nathan Rarere, Jon Bridges and Petra Bagust dominated youth TV with a mix of comedy, celebrity and general good natured shenanigans. Its genius was that it was a satisfying mix that could appeal to a goody-two-shoes or a stoner.

Where are they now you ask? Petra was until recently the host of breakfast TV, Nathan has become a star of sports radio and John produces the hit show 7 Days. The 'best of' episode shown here includes a classic encounter between Meatloaf and Petra in which you can briefly spot the show's producer, Jude Anaru. There's also a brilliantly absurd satire of 20/20 called 20 All

For even younger kids the king of the 90s was Gunn, Jason Gunn. His Son of a Gunn Show may have caused a generation to spell "gun" incorrectly but it was fun to watch. I was already a grown up when this screened but I was still drawn to the madness of Jason and his puppet mate Thingee. Watching these clips back reminds me of just how good Gunn is in front of camera and a group of kids. His impersonations are also good, especially his Paul Holmes or was it Frank Spencer?

Kiwis have a tendency to fancy that we were the first in all manner of things from flying planes (Richard Pearse) to baking pavlova, but did you know that we can probably lay claim to the invention of shows like Idol and X Factor? True story: they all trace their DNA to an NZ show called Popstars. Watch some if you don't believe me, and relive the magic provided by TrueBliss, the girl band who started it all. 

Also at the arse end of the decade, there was a show called Havoc. I was there the day that Mikey Havoc started his seat of the pants show. The guests that first night were singer Darcy Clay, legendary newsman Bill Ralston and actress Angela Bloomfield. Back then Havoc was a nightly show on MTV, which was run out of TVNZ. I'm not sure how that happened but it was great while it lasted.

It began as a nightly half-hour mash-up of music videos, guests and strange features, like "Fun With Meat". Mikey already had a profile as a rock singer thanks to his band Push Push but this was the beginning of his TV stardom. It's fair to say that the people making it, including myself, didn't really know what we were doing. Of course that was part of the charm. Luckily the whole thing hinged on the many talents of Mikey.

It was also the show that launched the career of Jeremy 'Newsboy' Wells, who like Havoc started out on student radio (BFM). The first ever episode, which is part of this collection, is a fitting way to see out the decade. The wheels were coming off as we came near to the end of history. But you'll see the beginnings of the many future Havoc and Newsboy shows here, and also an obsession with archive footage that became the basis for The Unauthorised History of New Zealand. Look closely and you'll also see a youthful Hugh Sundae and Oliver Driver ogling a topless dancer.  

Sadly musician Darcy Clay is no longer with us though his song 'Jesus I Was Evil', also launched in 1997, has become a bone-fide classic. Song of the 90s? I reckon. 

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"He must be on something"  

For far too long the 90s have lived in the shadows of the 80s. The 80s with its big hair, big hats and big shoulder pads — and that was just the blokes!

Well I'm here to tell you that on screen the 90s were in fact BIG, BOLD and LOUD — much like the sweatshirts I wore on The Son of A Gunn Show — but more on that later. 

Let's stick with fashion though — because if you really want to experience the colour and creativity we kept in our wardrobes in this delicious decade — look no further than Popstars.

Stop right there, thank you very much Spice Girls. In a world first, cameras went searching for our very own girl band. And so our journey down the rocky road of 'Reality TV' began: watching people reach for their dreams and then zooming in for the tight shot when they fall just short. 

But we loved it and TrueBliss went straight to the top of the charts. The next thing you know, Australia, UK and America are all rushing to make their own versions. And 20 rockstar supernova years later ... Simon Cowell is still living off our idea!

On 25 May, 1992 our weeknights changed forever when Marjorie Neilson picked up the telephone at reception, smiled and said 'Shortland Street Accident and Emergency Centre'. And what an action packed first episode. Dr Warner got hot in the sauna — and it wasn't because of the steam (was it Suzy Aiken?!). Dr Ropata was sternly reminded that he was not in Guatemala now. And Stuart (teenaged son of Marge) admits to fathering a child!

Twenty-one years on it's amazing to think of how many wonderful NZ actors have walked the corridors as doctors, nurses, consultants, receptionists, cafe owners, jealous boyfriends, stalkers, arsonists and serial killers.

To all the cast and crew, past and present: thank you. And congratulations for surviving all the weddings, funerals, earthquakes, fires, car crashes, plane crashes, kidnappings, stabbings, shootings and cliff falls.

For drama of a different kind ... I'd like a 'G' for Game Show please Lana. 

Game shows didn't get much bigger in the 90s than the mighty Wheel of Fortune. Lana Coc-Kroft made turning letters an art form and Phillip Leishman was truly the host with the most. Years later Simon Barnett would host the show. And years later in times of desperation they even asked me to give it a crack. 

I know Simon would agree with me when I say that no one came close to Phil's slick style of presenting. He made everyone on set, cast, crew, contestants and the people watching at home feel like he was only ever talking to them. A wonderful man who is so sadly missed.

It was the show that provided David Tua with a moment that he'd probably rather forget. 'What would you like?' asked Phil. To which David replied (all together now) "I'll have an O for Awesome". Well that's what we thought he said. Last year I heard David say he was misquoted. What David says he said was 'O for Olson'. As in Olson Filipaina, the rugby league legend. 

Having watched it back many times now I must say he may just be telling the truth, and I promise I'm not just saying that because he could rearrange my face! Have a look here and decide for yourself.

For me personally the 90s were really BIG. Having (apparently) proved myself on shows like After School and After 2 I was given my own afternoon show: The Son of a Gunn Show. Me, Thingee, Mum Gunn, a slide, a red couch and a live studio audience.

Looking back at my many manic ways now I do understand why a few people thought 'He must be on something'. But I can reassure you that it was just youthful endless energy that — four kids later — doesn't appear to be quite so readily available.

Running the show as executive producer was the gorgeous Janine Morrell. She's still running the show that is my life, as my beautiful wife. Thank you TVNZ. By the way, I also took a stapler and several hundred pens when I left.

I do get asked a lot about the famous 'Thingee losing his eye' incident. People often recollect how they were home watching us in the afternoon when Thingee's eye suddenly danced out of its socket. He tried to cover it with his hand but too late we'd seen too much. Meanwhile I managed to soldier on as if nothing had gone wrong — what a pro! 

Well that's not what happened at all. The show was actually pre-recorded and we stopped as soon as we realised Thingee's eye had gone AWOL and reshot the whole link.

Months later I got a call from TVNZ saying they were putting together a bloopers show. They wanted to know if we had any bloopers. I put forward the eye popping incident and the rest is history.

I was a part of NZ television in what can only be described as 'the glory days'. I was surrounded by many incredibly talented broadcasters who taught me so much and made me look so much better than I really was. I'm a very lucky man.

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