Former TVNZ head of production Denis Harvey is best known for helping make sailing more accessible to a wide international audience. Harvey first got involved with the America's Cup in 1990, after many years directing and producing for TVNZ. By 2000 he had become TVNZ's head of both production and sport, overseeing multiple departments and negotiating rights for a range of sports. Though he left TVNZ in 2004, Harvey continues to lend his expertise on producing sports coverage to local and international broadcasters, through companies Leading Edge (of which he is managing director) and Mediadvice.
Born in Oamaru but raised in Auckland, Harvey got his first taste of television as a competitor on 60s children's quiz series The We Three Show. From high school he headed to Wellington, to start as a production trainee at Government filmmakers the National Film Unit. Though Harvey's long sports career wasn't due to kick off for another 15 years, he quickly got an early taste of the logistical complexities of putting sports on screen: when the NFU made an ambitious feature film on the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, he worked on it as a production manager.
Harvey joined state television in 1975, and was soon directing and producing a wide range of factual shows. Later, in Christchurch he established a science unit and produced successful show Science Express, which scored three Feltex Award nominations for best information programme.
While in Christchurch, Harvey also began producing items for TVNZ's flagship arts show Kaleidoscope. By 1986 he had moved back to Wellington and was the show's sole producer. Attempts to incorporate various rounds up of arts events into the show only made him aware that Kaleidoscope should stick to its knitting, and concentrate on more in-depth items.
The following year Harvey was given a new position as arts-co-ordinator. As he told journalists in September 1987, the job saw him acting as a central clearing point, channelling information about arts events to regional news, the light entertainment department or Kaleidoscope.
A four-month Commonwealth bursary in 1989 to study arts and documentary programmes overseas marked an unexpected change of tack for his career. By the time he returned, the Arts Unit he headed had been disbanded. Instead he moved into sports, and began producing coverage of soccer, Olympics and netball; the latter sport had until that point been given only cursory coverage by local state television.
He also produced two award winners featuring legendary Kiwis: four-parter Hillary A View from the Top, which was awarded best factual series in the 1998 NZ Television Awards, and No Latitude for Error, a documentary about a recordbreaking circumnavigation by sailors Peter Blake and Robin Knox-Johnston.
Yachts were to become a growing part of Harvey's life. Long interested in sailing, in 1992 he found himself in San Diego, helping lead the team which provided 167 hours of coverage for NZ TV; in 1995 Harvey returned to the States when Team New Zealand won the cup for the first time. Harvey's rise up the totem pole of sports television timed in with major changes in how sailing was put on screen — he became TVNZ's head of sport in 1997, and added head of production to the title in 2000.
Fellow Kiwi Andrew Hawthorn, another key figure in international yachting coverage, says that Harvey understood the importance of “using cutting edge technology as a tool in the coverage, not just a gimmick” — and that this led to major breakthroughs in the way sailing was covered on screen.
The first — perhaps most important — advance was a real-time graphics package which allowed viewers to 'see' previously invisible elements like wind and tidal currents, and gain a clearer idea how they affected the race. First seen during the 1992 cup and developed by Ian Taylor's Animation Research Limited, the graphics really proved their worth during the 1995 Cup. When the cup came to Auckland four years later, the New Zealand team provided race footage which was broadcast around the world, aided by further innovations involving sending sound and pictures over long distances.
Harvey, Hawthorn and TVNZ veteran Steve Coates won an NZ Televison Award for Best Sports Programme for their 2000 America's Cup coverage. Hawthorn argues that the success of their work led the International Olympic committee to invite Harvey to oversee sailing coverage during the 1996 Olympic Games (then later in 2000, 2004 and 2016).
Harvey left TVNZ at the end of 2004, but, as Hawthorn confirms, the international sailing world continues to call on Harvey for “top line coverage of sporting events”. Harvey did a year running daily operations at Prime Television, then set up company Leading Edge Communications (not to be confused with the telecommunications company of the same name).
Between Leading Edge and international consultancy company Mediadvice, Harvey has continued to both advise on and produce a broad range of programmes, much of it involving live events, Olympic and otherwise — from Asian and Israeli versions of The Amazing Race, to the Louis Vuitton Trophy Series. In 2013 he headed production on the America's Cup. Nominated in multiple categories, he would be one of six (alongside fellow Kiwi Ian Taylor) to share a Sports Emmy award rewarding new developments in technology, thanks to a special mobile app that allowed fans to follow and comment on the races. Harvey had previously been part of another Emmy win, this time for graphics technology which helped make races easier to follow on television.
After the 2013 cup, Harvey began working with Attitude Pictures on 50 hours of live streamed coverage of the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympic Games.
Infofind – Radio New Zealand Library
Philip Wakefield, 'Yet more changes for Kaleidoscope' - The Evening Post, 22 August 1986
'New role in arts for producer' (Interview) – Christchurch Star, 8 September 1987
'Accent on art' (Interview) – Auckland Star, 8 September 1987
'America's Cup Goes Mobile with Kiwi App' Animation Research website. Loaded 17 September 2013. Accessed 7 July 2014