Established in 1989, NZ On Air has funded many of the television shows featured on NZ On Screen. Compiled to mark the 25th anniversary in 2015, this collection features a range of TV content funded in the agency's first year. With one representative from each genre, there’s the self-titled Billy T James sitcom, Richard Driver documentary Hokonui Todd and kids puppet show Bidibidi. Tainui Stephens' classic Māori Battalion documentary represents Māori programming, while long-running TVNZ series Tagata Pasifika tags ‘minority interests’.
By 1990, Billy T James, NZ’s most loved comedian, was recovering from a heart transplant - and trying his hand as a sitcom actor. His career was based on one liners and stand-up gags - but this Billy T James Show was a series of 26 half hour family based comedies with a clear debt to The Cosby Show. Billy was cast as a radio DJ with an Australian wife (Ilona Rodgers) and two daughters - but the trademark giggle was absent, the humour was gentler and the series never captured the public imagination. It was to be his last TV series — Billy T James died in 1991.
Māori Battalion - March To Victory tells the story of the New Zealand Army's (28th) Māori Battalion, which fought in campaigns during World War ll. Director and writer Tainui Stephens sets out in the feature-length documentary to tell the stories of five men who served with the unit, and also "capture how they felt about it". Narration by actor George Henare, remembrances, visits to historic sites, archival footage, and graphic stills create a respectful and stirring screen testament to the men who fought in the Battalion. Stephens writes about the film in the backgrounder.
Like the eponymous native plant this children's puppet programme stuck to the socks of many kiwis of a certain vintage. Produced in Dunedin by TVNZ's Natural History Unit (now NHNZ), Bidibidi followed the adventures of a sheep on a South Island station for two series. Adapted from the children's book by Gavin Bishop, the show interspersed puppet scenes and musical numbers with actual wildlife footage. This first episode sees Bidibidi chasing a rainbow with advice from Stella the kea; includes beautifully shot images of a menagerie of native birds.
Hokonui Todd is a portrait of African statesman Sir Garfield Todd (1908 - 2002). Todd was an outspoken supporter of black right to self determination in Rhodesia (which became Zimbabwe in 1980, after a bloody civil war). Here Todd and wife Gracie reflect on their lives: from their "egalitarian" New Zealand upbringing; their arrival in Rhodesia as missionary farmers; Todd's time as Prime Minister; being imprisoned by Ian Smith's racist white regime (along with daughter Judith); to emerging as a "conscience of the country" burdened with postcolonial troubles.
Tagata Pasifika is a magazine-style show with items and interviews focusing on Pacific Island communities in Aotearoa. Debuting on 4 April 1987, it features coverage of Pacific Island cultural events like the Pasifika festival, plus longer documentaries. It is the only show focusing on PIs on mainstream New Zealand television. After TVNZ announced that its Māori Maori and Pacific shows would no longer be made in-house, Tagata Pasifika veterans Stephen Stehlin, Ngaire Fuata and John Utanga took over production in 2015 through their company SunPix. Website TP+ launched in 2018.