Actor Jane Thomas John co-starred in the Roger Donaldson-directed After the Depression, part of pioneering anthology series Winners and Losers. She went on to roles in dramas Close to Home and Radio Waves, and did a stint on Shortland Street. She has also acted in and produced dozens of commercials. Thomas John runs public speaking consultancy Now You’re Talking.
I remember sneaking a little mascara on one day, but of course Roger [Donaldson] spotted it and checked my face in future before we left base in the morning. A good learning curve – focus on character! Jane Thomas John on playing a poverty-stricken mother in 1976 drama After the Depression
Teen actors Nikki Si'ulepa and Toby Fisher won acclaim in Ian Mune's fourth feature as director. Si'ulepa plays a Samoan street kid who meets a well-off white teen, when both are facing mortality in a hospital ward. The co-production between NZ and Canada (where it debuted on cable TV) won over critics in both nations. "Si'ulepa dominates the camera and the action with a natural authority", raved Metro. Moon scooped the gongs at the 1996 TV Guide Awards (including for originating screenwriter Richard Lymposs); and won notice at Berlin and Giffoni film festivals.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.
Shot on location in Wellington, often after dark, Inside Straight helped usher in a new era of Kiwi TV dramas, far from the rural backblocks. This Minder-esque portrait of Wellington’s underworld was inspired by writer Keith Aberdein’s experiences as a taxi-driver and all night cafe worker. Phillip Gordon (soon to win fame as a conman in Came a Hot Friday) stars as the former fisherman, learning the ways of the city from veteran taxi driver Roy Billing. A solid but unspectacular rater over 10 episodes, the show was scuttled by the launch of trucker’s tale Roche.
Radio Waves charted the “lives and loves” of a commercial Auckland radio station in the age of Bee Gees and flares. Grant Bridger (‘Win Savage’) and Andy Anderson played DJs with Alan Dale as station manager; it was Dale’s screen debut, before fame in Australia (Neighbours) and the US (24, Ugly Betty). Devised by Graeme Farmer, Waves was an effort by SPTV to best TV One’s flagship soap Close to Home. While producer Tom Finlayson’s first drama was short-lived, its metro Auckland context — peopled with upbeat urban strivers — signaled a changing NZ on screen.
Radio Waves revolves around an Auckland commercial radio station. In this episode, drive-time DJ Win Savage (Grant Bridger) annoys an advertiser and doesn't seem to care. Andy Anderson is a hippy ‘jock’, Alan Dale plays urbane station manager Jack in his screen debut (before finding fame on Australia's Neighbours), and the many women on staff put up with their share of stick from all that male ego. Waves was short-lived — The Bee Gees and flares weren’t enough for viewers to shut the farm gate — but its urban strivers signaled a changing face for NZ on screen.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977 nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac (who had initially only agreed to make the show on the condition they would get to make The Governor). The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen, and the output demands were foundational in developing industry talent.