Julie Christie, DNZM, is one of New Zealand's most successful television producers. She built her company, Touchdown Productions, into the country's leading producer of entertainment television and exporter of programme formats. In 2006 she sold Touchdown to global company Eyeworks in a multi-million dollar deal; she stayed on as managing director until 2012.
You need to develop a good story, keep the viewer engaged, promise more twists and turns to come... The main thing I [have] learned was to go with my gut instinct - whatever the genre! Julie Christie
As a bitter civil war tears apart the lives of his students, an isolated English school teacher in Bougainville (House star Hugh Laurie) finds a unique way to create hope; 14-year-old Matilda (Xzannjah Matsi) is enthralled by his Charles Dickens-infused disaster survival lessons. The life during wartime tale was directed by Kiwi Andrew Adamson (Shrek), and adapted from the 2006 Booker Prize short-listed novel by Lloyd Jones. Adamson spent time in Papua New Guinea, as the teen son of missionary parents. Laurie and Matsi won best actor gongs at the 2013 Moa Awards.
In September 1893 New Zealand became the first country to grant all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. This fly on the wall docudrama reimagines this major achievement, following Kate Sheppard (played by Sara Wiseman) throughout the final push of her campaign. The 70-minute TV movie follows the template set by director Peter Burger and writer Gavin Strawhan in their 2011 docudrama on the Treaty of Waitangi, with key characters directly addressing their 21st century audience. At the 2012 NZ TV awards, Wiseman won for Best Performance by an Actress.
This docudrama follows an imaginary news reporter who travels back in time to cover the days leading up to the Treaty of Waitangi’s signing on 6 February 1840. Dropping the usual solemnity surrounding Aotearoa’s founding document, it uses humour and asides to camera to evoke the chaos and motives behind the treaty. Written by Gavin Strawhan, with input from novelist Witi Ihimaera, What Really Happened screened on TVNZ for Waitangi Day 2011. Its nominations at the Aotearoa TV Awards included Best Drama, director (Peter Burger) and actor Jarod Rawiri (who played Hōne Heke).
A tale of infuriating fathers and very fast go-karts, The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell marks Robyn Malcolm’s first leading role on film. Malcolm plays Gail, long-suffering wife to the charming, ambitious Gazza Snell. Obsessed with go-karting, Gazza has banked heavily on the hope his sons’ racing talents will result in motorsport glory. But Gail is unconvinced. Australian talent William McInnes (Unfinished Sky, SeaChange) plays Gazza; the script is by Insiders Guide to Happiness award-winners David Brechin-Smith and Brendan Donovan (who also directs).
In this six part TV One series, suburban Mum Jodie (Jodie Dorday) accidentially kills her ex-rock singer husband Brian (Shane Cortese) and is convinced by her friends to bury the body. The comedy drama was devised by Maxine Fleming and Gavin Strawhan, and produced for Eyeworks Touchdown by screen legends Julie Christie and Robin Scholes (Once Were Warriors). Scholes was onboard to develop drama at the production company renowned for its popular factual television. It was the first NZ TV drama to use high definition cameras. A planned sequel was never made.
In this first episode of the six part comedy drama, a suburban Mum (Jodie Dorday from movie Via Satellite) reaches the end of her tether with her washed-up rock singer husband Brian (Shane Cortese), and he comes to the end of his life — atop a broken bong. After her three closest friends convince her she’ll face a murder rap, Jodie makes a fateful decision to dispose of the body. The show marked a move into drama for reality TV supremos Eyeworks Touchdown. "Think Sex and the City meets Desperate Housewives in an Outrageous Fortune kind of way." wrote Listener critic Diana Wichtel.
Paul Henry surprises bungy jumping entrepreneur Alan John Hackett at Auckland Airport with the immortal words, "This is your life". The many guests in this 70-min. special include childhood go-kart friends, bungying celebs and police boat chief Lloyd McIntosh, who recalls the day he witnessed Hackett leaping off Auckland Harbour Bridge as "a highlight from his career". Hackett later stole up, and leapt off, the Eiffel Tower (less Man on a Wire, more man with rubber rope). Adds his mother Margaret: "I'm buggered if I consider him famous. He's just AJ."
The concept for this 2005 Touchdown reality show involved sending a bevy of Kiwi beauties to outback Australia, so they can compete to become "the ultimate Kiwi chick" (and win a $100,000 prize). In this second episode the girls discover that the week’s immunity winner (the 'Boomerang Babe') will have to pick a trio of contestants, so the local townsfolk can vote which one to eliminate. The girls must help host Vadim Dale (reality romance show Outback Jack) brand a calf, where things get bloody; spend a night in the outback alone; and negotiate a hay bale challenge.
In these excerpts pulled from ten consecutive episodes of Miss Popularity, Outback Jack star Vadim Dale despatches ten long-haired, image-conscious young Kiwis to the Aussie outback town of Burra. There they compete to become "the ultimate Kiwi chick" by doing odd jobs, outdoor challenges, snake encounters, and bake-offs for the local market day. Contestants included film students, a firefighter, a future Playboy model, and flight attendant Jessie Gurunathan. Locals voted one contestant off each week. Gurunathan finally claimed the $100,000 prize on the hit Touchdown show.
Five strangers give up their freedom to live in the confines of an apartment together in this 2004 reality series. It’s not all for nought though — $40,000 is up for grabs. Alliances are formed and newfound friendships quickly betrayed, as the contestants try to keep things civil with their inescapable roommates. The contestants in this first episode are builder Riki, project officer Marcella, business developer Brett, and students CC and “nice guy” Arron. Retracting walls leading to the quiz area and food delivered in a perspex box remind contestants they are totally trapped.
Flipping reality television on its head, this 2004 show saw Hawkes Bay vineyard worker Sam Chambers competing on a reality series, unaware he was the only real thing on it. The Kiwi take on American cable TV hit The Joe Schmo Show was produced by Touchdown Productions. Writers and cast (some of whom had never acted before) had to adapt to unexpected alliances and events, while Mark Ferguson revelled in the role of smarmy host, crossing lines of acceptable behaviour with some of the contestants. When the ruse was finally revealed, Chambers got $50,000 in prize money.
This TV2 take on The Truman Show sees Hawkes Bay vineyard worker Sam participating in a reality show where – unknown to him – all his housemates are fakes. In this first episode Sam’s flatmates play to the archetypes of reality TV, as host Mark Ferguson sets them ridiculous challenges (eg water bomb wet t-shirt reading). The Spinoff 's Alex Casey called it “a one off, never to be repeated format, and crikey it was good, bad TV.” The cast were only let into the show's secrets after winning their parts. Sarah Thomson ('rich bitch' Tiffany) was later an undercover cop on Shortland Street.
The concept for this 2004 reality series involved 10 bachelors trying to succeed on the Auckland dating scene, while overcoming specially set challenges. Hosted by model Nicky Watson, and produced by Touchdown supremo Julie Christie, this first episode sees Watson pick the 10 (from 15 who began) who will move into the bachelor pad. It introduces the lewd lines, lingerie and phallic fruit that saw The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive describe the show as "an affront to humanity – but man, was it ever fun to watch". Caution: the content from the ‘lads' mag’ era is PC free.
This Touchdown reality series puts a Kiwi family in the shoes of a family of 1852 English immigrants to Canterbury. The challenge for the Huttons is to see if they have the 'pioneer spirit' and can live with colonial clothing, housing and food for 10 weeks. From a gentler, non-competitive era of reality TV, this first episode sees the Owaka family of six (including baby Neil) experience six days of life on a settler ship – seasickness, food rations, restrictive clothing and bedding and chamber pots – while relaying their personal reflections to the camera.
This Touchdown series profiles the working lives of rangers who work for the Department of Conservation and Ministry of Fisheries, whose office is "the great New Zealand outdoors". This opening episode meets three rangers looking after threatened taonga: Al Hutt is a sea shepherd to Akaroa's Hector's dolphins; lizard hunter Keri Neilson rescues a chevron skink on Great Barrier Island; and Steve Sawyer defends dotterel nests from cats, hedgehogs, stoats and boy racers on the Wherowhero Lagoon beach (near Gisborne). The series screened on TV One in early 2002.
The concept behind this game show is that contenders can't hide their nerves. They're wired up to a heart-rate monitor and given a "redline rate" that is 70% above their resting heart rate. If their heartrate goes over the line the contestant starts losing money and can't answer questions until their heart slows down again. Hosted by ex-rugby and league player Matthew Ridge, The Chair was a big-budget, big-event format that was made first in New Zealand and proved a significant export success for Touchdown (now Warner Bros.) selling to 29 territories.
In the first all celebrity version of Touchdown reality TV hit Treasure Island, 14 marooned contestants must provide food, water, fire, and shelter for themselves on a Fijian island, as they compete to find treasure and avoid elimination. Presented by Pieta Keating — who was runner-up on the original Treasure Island — the "household names" include Olympians and All Blacks (Frank Bunce), model Nicky Watson, actors and TV tradesman John Cocks. Hunger and cheating suspicions soon exacerbate tensions between the teams.
"Kevin has a strict daily routine, part of which is about to be taken away — throwing his life into turmoil." The Kevin in question is Solid Gold FM DJ Kevin Black, and the essential part of his everyday routine being removed is … sleep. This second episode of the 2001 Touchdown reality series — in which varied participants deal with deprivation — sees ’Blackie' slowly but surely disintegrating over 70 sleepless hours. Despite caffeine, gym and jigsaws, his performance at memory game Simon suffers, he faces hallucinations, and the delirious results are heard over the airwaves.
In the first episode of this reality series, groundwork is done to allow a 21st century family to live for 10 weeks as their forbears did in 1900. The right house has been found — but the largely unmodernised Grey Lynn worker's cottage still needs an army of workers and consultants to muck in and turn it into a fully functioning home of the era. Meanwhile, the family search has produced the Feyens from Palmerston North. They appear ready for the challenge but the realities of different standards of housework, hygiene, and clothing are slowly dawning.
Presented by Jayne Kiely, this series catches up with couples from earlier reality series Weddings (1999), to see what married life has delivered. This episode revisits Barbara and Stu, who decided he wanted to cross-dress for the wedding; Christian couple Michael and Fiona, who believed in abstinence until marriage; and Chris and Jackie (whose mother was terminally ill). Affairs, death, the weight of reality TV stardom and nightclub ownership all provide challenges to true love. The original Weddings series (also presented by Kiely) followed couples on their journey to the altar.
In September 2000 New Zealand's greatest athlete was surprised with the 'Big Red Book'. Paul Holmes reunites Snell with figures in his life, from the Rome 800m silver and bronze medallists, to Opunake locals, and influential coach Arthur Lydiard. The tribute to his peerless career includes footage of Olympic triumphs and world records, and revelation of a performance enhancing drug: Fanta. Snell expresses pride in his academic achievement, where — despite a faltering start at Mt Albert Grammar — he is now director of the Human Performance Lab, University of Texas.
Host Paul Holmes looks back on the life of “the Colin Meads of cricket” — the big hearted, Excalibur-wielding Lance Cairns; although the celebration is just as often of his enthusiastic fondness for the game’s social side. A cavalcade of cricket stars (Chappell, Botham, Lillee, Marsh, Hadlee, Coney, Chatfield, Crowe and son Chris) reminisce — with the remarkable sixes in his innings at Melbourne in 1983 coming in for special attention. Cairns’ profound deafness and the death of his daughter in a level crossing accident provide a more serious note.
Film director Roger Donaldson and motor racing legend Steve Millen both began making their mark in New Zealand, before making the move to California. The first Coming Home episode sees them at work in the USA, and visiting old haunts in Aotearoa. Donaldson shoots the effects-heavy Dante's Peak and prepares $100 million thriller Thirteen Days, while Millen hits the race track, in-between running his custom car parts company. Later he returns to the farm near Auckland, where his need for speed began on the family tractor. Donaldson heads to Auckland and Queenstown.
Host Paul Holmes puts the life of opera star Dame Malvina Major in the spotlight and discovers her origins in a large Waikato family whose first love was country music. Guests include John Rowles and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (a fellow pupil of their often terrifying teacher, “the tiny force behind the biggest voices”, Dame Sister Mary Leo). Major’s triumphs are revisited, as is her decision to give up her international career to farm with her husband in Taranaki. A good sport throughout, she even manages a yodel for a ukulele-led family sing-along.
Paul Holmes presents this episode of the show which honours and embarrasses famous people: this time the star is singer Rob Guest. The episode was made in 1998, at the height of Guest's career in Australasian musical theatre. It features excerpts from Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, and appearances by musical colleagues, friends and family. Guest is good-humoured throughout; he gives a gracious speech and performs an impromptu song after the closing credits. Rob Guest passed away after suffering a stroke in October 2008.
Onetime All Blacks Marc Ellis and Matthew Ridge cemented their on screen partnership with late 90s show Fresh-up in the Deep End. The Touchdown series saw the pair taking their lovable, duelling larrakin personas to a variety of locations: they did time in the armed services, the circus, flash restaurant Petit Lyon, and as butler and chauffeur to model Rachel Hunter. They also launched their own political party, did the Coast to Coast, and tried a variety of dance moves. Fresh-up in the Deep End ran for two seasons.
Treasure Island was an early local example of a reality show staple — contestants endured the great outdoors, and each other. Over nine seasons the series went through multiple variations, including a Couples at War season, and another featuring favourites from the past. During the 2004 season of Celebrity Treasure Island, contestant Lana Coc-Kroft was airlifted from Fiji, after she cut her foot on coral and got a life-threatening blood-poisoning disease. On 2002's Treasure Island: Extreme, Barrie Rice — an ex SAS soldier — dealt with being eliminated by hiding in the jungle.
All Black great Grant Fox is given the big red book in this award-winning episode of This is Your Life. The first five-eighth’s record points tally and marshalling of stars like John Kirwan made the playmaker a key cog in the 1987 Rugby World Cup-winning All Blacks and champion Auckland teams. His distinctive goal-kicking ritual became as reassuring as a metronome for fans. The diminutive Auckland Grammar old boy meets family and teammates, discusses discipline and his single All Blacks try, and gets busted by coach John Hart. Fox would become an All Blacks selector.
This fast-paced trip through Bruno Lawrence’s first 50 years combines interviews, clips from his many film and TV roles, and priceless material from the vaults (early acting parts, Edmund Hillary presenting Bruno with a Feltex). Bruno talks about favourite roles, the challenges of breaking into the US after hit Smash Palace, and the music-based film he long hoped to direct. LA Times critic Sheila Benson raves about both Bruno and Sam Neill. The Bruno interviews conducted for this doco would later win an extended airing in biographical doco Numero Bruno.
This episode from the first season of the show celebrating Kiwi heroes pays tribute to the exemplar: Sir Edmund Hillary. The greatest "damned good adventures" of Sir Ed's career (up to then) are bagged: his first peak (Mt Ollivier — reclimbed with son Peter here), trans-Antarctic by tractor, up the Ganges by jet-boat, school and hospital building in Nepal; and of course Everest, whose ascent is recreated with commentary from Hillary. Graeme Dingle provides reflection and presenter Neil Roberts has the last word: "[Sir Ed:] our own bold, bloody-minded magic Kiwi".
Indie production house Communicado made their name with a stable of television shows that celebrated Kiwi culture. After the success of late-80s show That’s Fairly Interesting, the company began work on Magic Kiwis, a show devoted to heroes of popular culture. Mostly the cavalcade of Kiwi celebs were stars of entertainment (Howard Morrison, Split Enz) and sports (Susan Devoy, John Walker), with the odd politician thrown in. Over three series, the half hour shows combined classic clips and interview footage, all tied together in trademark upbeat style.
Based on the 1950s US show of the same name, This Is Your Life has been honouring and embarrassing famous New Zealanders since 1984. Past recipients of the Big Red Book have included Sir Howard Morrison, Davina Whitehouse, John Walker and many others. Bob Parker was the original presenter of the show (later hosts were Paul Holmes and Paul Henry). Before lives and careers are celebrated there's a moment of mild excruciation as viewers wait for the presenter to suprise the soon-to-be-anointed subject with the famous words: "This is your life''.