Ernie Leonard spent time as a soldier, a railways clerk and public relations officer. His first television job was as an actor on Pukemanu, and he became a household name co-presenting wrestling show On the Mat. In 1986 Leonard became the first head of TVNZ's Māori Programmes Department. When he retired, a search of the TVNZ Archives database yielded 38,000 references to him or programmes he'd been associated with.

... there is a grass roots society in New Zealand that needs to retain its art, culture and tradition. It very strongly needs identity — and television is the right medium to help achieve that. There are maraes all over New Zealand, but television is the Te Marae o Te Motu — the marae of the land. It is Nga Iwi Katoa — the marae of the people. Ernie Leonard on becoming head of TVNZ's Māori Department

50 Years of New Zealand Television: 7 - Taonga TV

2010, Subject - Television

This edition in Prime’s television history series surveys Māori programming. Director Tainui Stephens pairs societal change (urbanisation, protest, cultural resurgence) with an increasing Māori presence in front of and behind the camera. Interviews with broadcasters are intercut with Māori screen content. The episode charts an evolution from Māori as exotic extras, via pioneering documentaries, drama and current affairs, to being an intrinsic part of Aotearoa’s screen landscape, with te reo used on national news, and Māori telling their own stories on Māori Television.

Marae

1992 - present, Presenter - Television

Launched in 1992, Marae is the longest running Māori current affairs programme. It aims to keep its audience in touch with the issues — political or otherwise — that affect Māori, and explain kauapa Māori from a Māori perspective. The Marae Digipoll is seen as a respected barometer of matters Māori. Marae was relaunched briefly in October 2010 as Marae Investigates, presented by Scotty Morrison and Jodi Ihaka Marae (and later Miriama Kamo) . Screening on TV One, Marae is presented half in english and half in te reoi. It is now made by company Pango Productions.

Waitangi Day Coverage (TVNZ)

1990, Executive Producer - Television

Māori Battalion - March to Victory

1990, Executive Producer - Television

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.

Waka Huia - First Episode

1988, Field Director - Television

A 'waka huia' is traditionally a treasure box to hold the revered huia feather. Waka Huia the TV series records and preserves Māori culture and customs. The long-running series also covers social and political concerns of the day, taking a snapshot of Māori history. Waka Huia is seen as a taonga for future generations and is presented completely in te reo Māori. This first episode is about the language and its survival, and features groundbreaking TV interviews with Sir James Henare and Dame Mira Szaszy.

Koha - Māori Musicians

1986, Producer, Director - Television

The artists profiled in this edition of the TVNZ Māori show share a heritage and the vicissitudes of life as professional musicians, but their fields and approaches to making music differ markedly. Entertainer Bunny Walters is rebuilding a career that became derailed after initial success with his hit 'Brandy'. Opera singer Richard Haeata is looking to make his way in a largely Pākehā world which he finds alienating in its individuality. And singer-songwriter Mahinārangi Tocker celebrates her gender and Māori identity but has little use for the music industry.

Koha - Te Māori Guard, New York

1985, Producer - Television

Regular Māori programmes started on TVNZ in 1980 with Koha, a weekly, 30 minute programme broadcast in English. It was the first regular Māori programme shown in primetime. This episode gets two unique perspectives on the milestone Te Māori exhibition of Māori art. It interviews "American tangata whenua": noted Iroquois artist Peter Jemison, and John Kaaho (Tuhoe), security guard for the exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Te Māori toured the United States in 1984 and opened up a world of Māori taonga to international audiences.

Koha - Te Māori, a Cloak of Words

1984, Producer - Television

This episode of Koha episode looks at the milestone Te Māori exhibition of Māori art. The exhibition toured the United States in 1984, opened up a world of Māori taonga to international audiences, and returned home to applause and swelling Māori pride. The episode features the powhiri at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, with future Māori Party co-leader Pita Sharples leading a kapa haka performance.  Koha - a weekly, 30 minute programme broadcast in English - was the first regular Māori programme shown in primetime, and provided a window into te ao Māori.  

Koha - Whina Cooper (part one)

1983, Producer - Television

The early life of Dame Whina Cooper, one of the most influential Māori leaders of the 20th century, is explored in the first episode of this two-part TVNZ profile. The inspirational leader of the 1975 Māori land march was born in Hokianga in 1897. She recalls her first protest at age 18, working with her people to improve their land (spurring them on with a whistle given to her by Sir Apirana Ngata) and becoming a pig breeder (with aid from Princess Te Puea). She also reminisces about a Tuhoe leader who gave new meaning to the idea of fiery oratory.

Koha - Whina Cooper (part two)

1983, Producer - Television

Dame Whina Cooper was one of the most influential Māori leaders of the 20th century. She spent most of her life fighting for land rights; and, in this episode from a two-part TVNZ profile, she explains the importance of the land to her people. The former Panguru storekeeper first came to national attention in 1951 when she established the Māori Women’s Welfare League. At age 80, she was back in the spotlight leading the Māori land march; her fire and determination are very much in evidence in a heated address to then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. 

See Here - Taura Eruera

1983, Producer - Television

In this short programme made for Māori and Pacific Islanders, onetime Ngā Tamatoa activist Taura Eruera is interviewed about his new venture: a music school in Auckland. Samoan-Kiwi presenter Ramona Papali'i (Pacific Viewpoint) talks to Eruera about his School of Creative Musicianship. Eruera is looking for a good attitude in prospective students, and he invites interested people to call his home phone number, which he gives out on national television. See Here ran for six years before it was replaced by Tagata Pasifika.

Hudson and Halls - Episode Seven (1982)

1982, Director - Television

They came, they battered, they bickered. Peter Hudson and David Halls were as famous for their on-screen spats as they were for their recipes. The couple ("Are we gay? Well, we're certainly merry") turned cooking into comedy. Coming soon after winning 1981 Feltex Entertainer of the Year, these excerpts show viewers how to make crepes with cream chicken and vegetable filling. There's microwaves, roasted nuts and dollops of innuendo. Guests are English jazz clarinetist Acker Bilk, and Irish poet and TV personality Pam Ayres, who performs some ribald rhymes.

On the Mat - 17 March 1981

1981, Producer - Television

This episode of the legendary professional wrestling series screened in March 1981. Barry Holland and the late Steve Rickard host (Ernie Leonard has moved behind the scenes into a producer role). Rickard welcomes locals and viewers from Kenya, Hong Kong and Malaysia. On the Mat mainstay Mark Lewin features prominently, appearing in tag action before reminiscing about a fiery battle with King Curtis in Japan. Things don't improve as he's attacked by the Voodoo-crazed Big Mullumba. The main event sees local star Johnny Garcia and Samoan Joe battling it out.

Koha

1980 - 1989, Director, Producer - Television

Regular Māori programmes started on Television New Zealand in 1980 with Koha, a weekly, 30 minute programme broadcast in English. It explored everything from social problems, tribal history, natural history, about weaponry, to the preparation of food, canoe history, carvings and their meanings, language and how it changed through time. It was a window into te ao Māori for Pākekā, and provided a link to urban Māori estranged from their culture. It was the first regular Māori programme to be shown in prime time. 

On the Mat - 29 July 1980

1980, Presenter - Television

This episode of the legendary pro-wrestling show screened on 29 July 1980. Ernie Leonard and Steve Rickard compere the action at Canterbury Court Stadium. In the first match up Aussie grappler Larry O'Day teams up with local Merv Fortune to take on Kid Hardie and young Ricky Rickard. An excerpt features Brute Miller and Sweet William (later famous as The Bushwackers) against Lu Leota and Samoan Joe; while Jack Claybourne and Ron Miller round out the bill. Billy T James makes an appearance and comments on the authenticity of the in-the-ring proceedings.

The Club Show - 12 May 1979

1979, Presenter - Television

Sports broadcasters turned entertainers Glyn Tucker and Ernie Leonard invite viewers to 'Walk Right In' in this ill-fated variety show. There are performances from singers including Bridgette Allen and Glyn Tucker himself; and belly dancing from the Elektra Dancers. It’s FA Cup Night, so Glyn interviews the manager of English football team Norwich City (with dimly lit footage of them playing a local selection) and Ernie has a rather odd chat with aviator Fred Ladd (who insists on answering in rhyming couplets). Equally curious is ‘The Silver Shot’ ...

Hudson and Halls

1982, Director - Television

They came, they battered, they bickered. Peter Hudson and David Halls were as famous for their on-screen spats as they were for their recipes. The couple ("are we gay - well we're certainly merry") turned cooking into comedy. Their self-titled show ran for a decade on New Zealand TV and it attracted a cult following when they moved the show to the UK. The duo won Entertainer of the Year at the 1981 Feltex Awards. Microwaves, little roasted nuts and great dollops of innuendo: the sometimes fusty genre of TV culinary demonstration would never be the same.

Graphline

1972, Reporter - Television

Section 7

1972, Actor - Television

Section 7 was New Zealand’s first urban TV drama series and followed soon after Pukemanu (which was set in a logging town). Taking its name from the Criminal Justice Act section which placed offenders on probation, it focussed on a Probation Service office and addressed issues of the day including new migrants, ship girls and domestic violence. Expatriate Ewen Solon returned from England to take the lead role in a series very much based on British dramas of the time. More popular with critics than the public, Section 7 was limited to 11 half-hour episodes.

Pukemanu

1971 - 1972, As: Charlie Rata - Television

Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) followed the goings-on of a North Island timber town. The series was conceived by former forester Julian Dickon (who quit the series and was replaced by Listener critic Hamish Keith as writer). Producing two seasons of six episodes was a key step in industry professionalisation, and many of the cast became stars (Ginette McDonald, Ian Mune). It offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; and reviews praised its Swannie-clad authenticity.

Living in New Zealand - 1970 Search for Stars

1970, Reporter - Television

Promoter Joe Brown’s Search for Stars was a popular nationwide talent quest, broadcast on radio by Selwyn Toogood. This 1970 report from Living in New Zealand sees future TV executive Ernie Leonard interviewing entrants, during rehearsals at Rotorua’s Summer Carnival (including a young Tom Sharplin). Then it’s the 12 January grand final at the city's Sportsdome. Second place getter is 16-year-old Bunny Walters (who would go on to television fame, and score hits with 'Brandy' and 'Take the Money and Run'). Tui Fox won first prize: $2,000, and a recording contract with Brown.

On Camera

1967 - 1974, Reporter - Television

NZBC series On Camera was an afternoon magazine show. It screened separately on each of the regional channels, but shared items and interviews. Subjects ranged from Rolf Harris and Alfred Hitchcock to VSA and ballet, and topics “of particular appeal to women”. Presenters included Julie Cunningham (Christchurch), Irvine Lindsay (Wellington) and Sonia King (Auckland), with Max Cryer reporting from Hollywood. Future head of TVNZ Māori programming Ernie Leonard (reporter) got early experience on the show, and future Quiet Earth composer John Charles was a director.

Don't Let it Get You

1966, Performer - Film

“The big ALL FUN show for the whole family to enjoy!” said the ads for this musical comedy, which was one of only two Kiwi features made in the 1960s. Moving from Sydney to a Rotorua music festival, it follows the romance between a lively drummer (Gary Wallace) and Judy (Carmen Duncan), and the hurdles they face to stay true. That's only an excuse for a melange of madcap musical fun. Made by John O’Shea for Pacific Films, the movie featured performers Howard Morrison (who sings in this excerpt), Lew Pryme and Kiri Te Kanawa, plus distinctive graphics by artist Pat Hanly.