Daughter of a Samoan mother and a pākehā father, Dana Youngman counts herself thankful to have grown up experiencing two very different cultures. After spending her first ten years in the Auckland suburb of Avondale, the family relocated to Dannevirke in the lower North Island.
For someone in a small town, television provided a valuable window on the world. “I watched anything and everything,” says Youngman. “Programmes like Tagata Pasifika
were really important, because we were one of only two Polynesian families in Dannevirke.”
At high school Youngman caught the TV bug, on a documentary-making course. In her final year, she was tutored in filmmaking by Bruno Lawrence
and veteran soundman Chris Verberg: “Both utterly inspiring men — it was working with these industry legends that really gave me the confidence to seek out a career in TV.”
While studying TV directing and production at Unitec, Youngman got a month’s work experience at TVNZ’s Lifestyle department. There she had her first encounter with the long-running Maggie’s Garden Show
. “Mostly it was filing and sorting tapes, and a lot of cleaning and dusting. One of the staff on The Great Kiwi Video Show
took pity on me and found out about a job making coffee in the green room for Good Morning
advertorials, one day a week. That became my first paid job — my title was ‘hostess’. Thankfully the job only lasted four months. But it provided the first step to working as a production assistant.”
PA, Production Co-ordinator, Production Manager, Associate Producer, Director, Producer — starting with a two year stint on Good Morning, Youngman slowly worked her way up the ladder, getting a grounding in how programmes are put together. Programmes like Maggie’s Garden Show and Youngman's original concept Ground Rules required the production team to make engaging television out of inanimate objects: food, gardens, homes. “That takes a lot more skill than people realise. After making programmes like that, live entertainment and constructed reality felt like a breeze.”
In 2004 Denis Harvey
offered her the job as Head of TVNZ’s Lifestyle unit. Youngman took over from the “legendary” Simone McNaught, who had built the department up from a handful of shows to more than 16. The unit (later known as the Production Unit) handled all of TVNZ’s in house productions aside from news, sport and Māori programmes: everything from Country Calendar
to Dancing with the Stars
In 2005 Youngman was invited to create the format for a new look home and garden series. Her pitch did the trick; soon she’d left her old job leading 100 staff in order to produce (and sometimes direct) New Zealand House and Garden. The show’s portraits of aspirational homes both here and overseas won solid ratings, though high production costs meant only one series was made.
In 2007 Youngman was a producer, director and writer on the first, Prime TV version of talent show New Zealand’s Got Talent. Thanks to the liveliness of hosts Andrew Mulligan and Jason Reeves, “I have never laughed so much on a job”. Realising it was a big gig, South Pacific Pictures paired Youngman with veteran Richard Hansen. Both had recently had babies, which added up to crazy hours and inevitable moments of sleep deprivation.
Around 2008 multi-national company FremantleMedia invited Youngman and chef Annabel Langbein to pitch a new cooking show. Together with “brilliant” director Michelle Bracey, they created a ten-minute pilot. After a few months silence Youngman was invited to an Auckland hotel to face questions from two visiting Fremantle executives, before getting the green light.
The thirteen-part Annabel Langbein: The Free Range Cook would go on to screen in 80 countries; the accompanying cookbook has sold over 100,000 copies. Youngman left after the first series. She had other shows to brainstorm, including The Art of the Architect, which she created with TVNZ executive Tina McLaren and “the late great Sue Donald" (producer of TV3’s Missing Pieces). It was another original concept, which exceeded expectations with excellent ratings and international distribution.
In 2013 Youngman helped create TVOne lifestyle series Whānau Living
, which she described as “a combination of almost every show I’ve ever made — but on a tiny budget, so it punches well above its weight.” Hosted by Stacey Daniels Morrison
and featuring 30 per cent te reo, the show won a solid audience via five-day-a-week screenings.