Michael Keir-Morrissey's stage CV ranges widely. On screen, starting with the policeman on 1972's An Awful Silence, he has played his share of authority figures. But it hasn't all been kings and cops: on Gloss, he was ex-husband of magazine baron Maxine Redfern; in Came a Hot Friday, he was "desperate drunk" Morrie Shapelski; and on Shortland Street (in one of two roles to date) Keir-Morrissey played a murderous surgeon.
Being an actor is great therapy. It gives me the chance to celebrate the Hitler within me, as well as the lover, the victim, the intelligent reasoner and the prejudiced idiot, and to garner an understanding of lives formed differently from my own. Michael Keir-Morrissey
Over four seasons, Street Legal’s slick Kiwi take on urban crime and law genres racked up a stack of award nominations - including a 2003 NZ TV Award for best drama series. Although initially wary that the Auckland setting might alienate viewers, writer Greg McGee chose a Samoan lawyer (Jay Laga’aia) as his main character, to exploit the show’s inner-city Ponsonby setting (where cafe society bumps into Pacific Island immigrant culture). Other key characters included Silesi’s lawyer ex-girlfriend Joni, and her new partner Kees, an overstressed sergeant.
A Twist in the Tale was one of a series of kidult shows launched by The Tribe creator Raymond Thompson, after he relocated to New Zealand. The anthology series spins from a storyteller (Star Trek's William Shatner) introducing a story (often fantastical) to a group of children, some of whom appear in the tales. The show featured early appearances by many young Kiwi thespians, including Antonia Prebble, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Dwayne Cameron and Michelle Ang. Although the writing team were British, some of the directors and most of the crew were New Zealanders.
City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.
Bruce Graham, wife Lynn and son Mark are in the funeral business, serving the people in the Waikato town of Tūākau at their darkest times. This episode of First Hand takes place in the aftermath of local man Athel Parsons' death, from collecting his body to his funeral and cremation. Athel lived alone but was from a large family. He contributed to his town through his love of sports, in particular indoor bowls. As Bruce organises Athel's farewell we learn about both men's lives, and how the most common of events can affect a small community.
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.
This is the first of a two-part "money and greed" morality tale set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' of property deals and horse racing. Working class lass Tammy (Annie Whittle) and art consultant Joanna (Miranda Harcourt, fresh from Gloss) are an unlikely duo who inherit a racehorse and a greasy spoon cafe (instant coffee rather than cappuccino). Brit import James Faulkner plays a shady developer whose scheme is blocked by the duo. Murder, underhand unitary plans, yuppie love and old gambling debts complicate life for Tammy and Joanna.
Set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' world of property deals and horse racing, the second part of this 1989 mini-series sees the brassy odd couple Tammy (Annie Whittle) and Joanna (Miranda Harcourt) in deep water. The working class battler and the art consultant have done up their inherited greasy spoon, but they're the "only fly in the ointment" of the 'Vision 2000' scheme of a nefarious developer (Brit import James Faulkner). Girl power meets utopian unitary planning as the duo find bones in the basement, and get too close to the secrets of Huntercorp HQ.
This two-part mini-series is set in an 80s 'New Auckland' world of mirror glass and murderous corporate conspiracy. British actor James Faulkner (latterly Bridget Jones' Uncle Geoffrey) plays a shady developer with a smash and burn approach to urban planning. Blocking his utopian waterfront scheme is a cafe. The inheritors of the greasy spoon — and a racehorse — are a duo of feisty femmes: working class Tammy (Annie Whittle), and art consultant Joanna (Miranda Harcourt). The Shadow Trader marked an early producing credit for Finola Dwyer (An Education).
By the time of Gloss’s second season the sharemarket had crashed, but the parade of yuppies, shoulder-pads and champagne went on. This 19 July 1988 episode sees the Redfern family deal with a tragedy; it also features an acting cameo from future weatherman Jim Hickey. In these excerpts Hickey isn’t playing meteorological soothsayer to the nation, but a policeman responding to the mysterious death of Brad Redfern (Michael Keir-Morrissey). He soothes the Redferns, after tossing a coin with a fellow officer for a ride to Remuera in the deceased’s Jaguar.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was New Zealand's first urban cop show. Devised by Graeme Tetley (Ruby and Rata), it portrayed a unit policing inner city Wellington, under the guidance of Inspector Brian 'Sharkie' Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, the show followed the character-based storytelling of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first season marked one of the last in-house productions for TVNZ's drama department. The next two series were made independently by The Gibson Group.
Gloss was a popular Kiwi television drama series made by TVNZ that screened in the late 80s; it combined a wealthy family, the Redferns, with a lucrative high-fashion magazine business. Yuppies, shoulder-pads and méthode champenoise abound in this cult "glamour soap". New Zealanders wanted to see themselves as less bottom of the world and more "here we come and we are sailing" (as the infamous Cup campaign song warbled), and Gloss was just what the era demanded.
Yuppies, shoulder-pads, sports cars and méthode champenoise abound in this cult 'glamour soap'. Gloss was NZ's answer to US soap Dynasty, with the Carrington oil scions replaced by the wealthy Redferns and their Auckland magazine empire. The series epitomised 80s excess, and became something of a guilty viewing pleasure. In this Rosemary McLeod-penned pilot, a 'Remuera Revisited' plot unfolds as Brad Redfern's plans to have a quiet wedding get waylaid by ex-wife Maxine. Schoolgirl Chelsea wags, listens to her Sony Walkman and gets an unorthodox haircut.
There's panic on the streets as 19-year-old tearaway Ska (Matthew Hunter) comes to terms with love and death in Auckland's 80s urban underworld. After an ultimately tragic attempt to 'rescue' his prostitute sister, Ska plots revenge at a rock gig ... with riotous results. Directed by Bruce Morrison when broken glass was still on the ground from the Queen Street riot, the film was inspired by a story from 16-year-old Richard Lymposs. In this teen spirit-infused excerpt, street-fighter Ska saves rich girl Stacy (Kim Willoughby), and meets her classy parents.
In this episode of the 80s kid’s TV drama, matters are coming to a head. Terry Teo and brother Ted and sister Polly, criminal mastermind Ray Vegas and his henchmen Blue and Curly, government agents Thompson and Crouch, the bikies and the local policeman continue to chase each other around rural Kaupati. What Thompson and Crouch lack in intelligence, they make up for in costume changes; and Spud (Billy T James) is now quoting Byron to his bikies. The constable is dimmer than first suspected — but old salt Captain Shaddock’s aim is true.
The series finale in this 80s children’s drama begins with hero Terry Teo once again in the clutches of the evil Ray Vegas and sidekicks Blue and Curly. While Terry is held hostage by the gang, local cop Sergeant Wadsworth calls for back up — but reinforcements seem to have come from Keystone rather than HQ. Blue reveals an unexpected facility with heavy weaponry and humanity in amongst the pyrotechnics, but will the forces of good, and Polly’s karate skills and commonsense, be enough to get the Teo siblings back home for mum’s roast dinner?
Two decades before the animals of Black Sheep run amok, comes this Sunday night horror about a couple trapped in the countryside as the sheep start getting restless. In between encounters with a cheerful butcher and a man of God, we learn that New Zealand has undergone revolution: anyone who farms or harms animals is now branded a criminal. Directed by Costa Botes; scripted by poet and lawyer Piers Davies, who co-wrote Skin Deep (plus cult movie The Cars that Ate Paris, with acclaimed Australian director Peter Weir).
“The funniest, liveliest, most exuberant film ever made in New Zealand”. So said critic Nicholas Reid, a year after Came a Hot Friday became 1985's biggest local hit. Though Billy T’s loony Mexican-Māori cowboy is beloved by fans, he is but one eccentric here among many — as two scheming conmen hit town, and encounter bookies, boozers, country hicks, nasty crim Marshall Napier, and Prince Tui Teka playing saxophone. Until the arrival of The Piano in 1993, Ian Mune and Dean Parker’s award-loaded adaptation remained NZ's third biggest local hit. Ian Pryor writes about the film here.
Heroes followed a band trying to make it in the mid-80s music biz. Teen-orientated, the show marked a first major role for Jay Laga’aia (Star Wars), and an early gig for Michael Hurst (with blonde Billy Idol spikes). Band keyboardist John Gibson co-wrote the series music; he later became an award-winning film composer. Margaret Umbers (Shortland Street, Bridge to Nowhere) was a non-musician in the cast (with Hurst), but since has sung regularly in a jazz band. A second series follow in 1986.
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.
This tale of body-snatching botanical aliens invading 70s Wellington shared the 1973 Feltex Award for Best Drama. Dominated by Davina Whitehouse’s performance as a retired teacher-turned ET foster parent, it included early TV roles for Paul Holmes, Grant Tilly and Susan Wilson. Vincent Ley’s script won a Ngaio Marsh teleplay contest, and its realisation stylishly traverses local summertime environs — Silence was one of the first NZBC dramas filmed in colour. Director David Stevens went on to success in Australia (writing Breaker Morant, and The Sum of Us).