Since cutting his teeth on 1978 soap Radio Waves, Mike Smith has built one of the longest directing CVs in local television, winning awards en route for both drama and comedy. In 2005 he produced the debut season of Outrageous Fortune, and played a hand in its casting. He has also created or helped create shows Heroes, hit comedy Willy Nilly, The Lost Children and campground comedy Sunny Skies.
Right now Mike's in a sweet spot, doing some of the best work of his career (Siege, Underbelly, Almighty Johnsons), possibly because he seems determined not to rest on the laurels of his extensive experience, but to push himself out of his comfort zone. Director/producer Mark Beesley, quoted in April 2014
On 7 May 2009, police executing a search warrant in a Napier suburb were shot at by Jan Molenaar. Senior Constable Len Snee was killed, two officers and a neighbour injured; a 50 hour siege ensued. This adaptation of the events into a telefeature dominated the 2012 New Zealand Television Awards, winning Best One-off Drama, Script (John Banas), Performance (Mark Mitchinson as Molenaar), Supporting Actress (Miriama Smith), and Best Sound Design (Chris Burt). Hawke's Bay Today reviewer Roger Moroney said of the Mike Smith-directed drama: "They got it right".
This first episode of NZ's most popular and critically acclaimed drama series revolves around Wolf West being sentenced to four years in prison — and his wife, Cheryl, deciding it's time for her and her children to get out of the "family business". Wolf and the local police are dubious. But even this early in proceedings, it would be foolish to underestimate Cheryl. Whether she can take her daughters (ditzy wannabe-model Pascalle and the cunning Loretta) and sons (yin and yang twins Van and Jethro) with her is another matter altogether. And so begins a dynasty.
After her husband is jailed, matriarch Cheryl West (Robyn Malcolm) decides the time has come to set her family on the straight and narrow. But can the Wests change old habits? So begins the six-series long saga of the Westie dynasty. Hugely popular at home (beloved by public, critics and awards-nights alike), and imitated overseas, Outrageous Fortune has been a flag-bearer for TV3 and contemporary NZ telly drama; the series proved — in all its grow-your-own glory — that genre TV in NZ could be so much more than overseas stories pasted to a local setting.
Serial Killers pokes fun at a group of characters that write for a Shortland Street-esque TV soap called Heart of Hearts. Around the "table of pain" sit irrational Pauline (Robyn Malcolm, who claimed a 2005 Qantas Award for her performance), in the midst of a messy divorce from series co-creator Alan (John Leigh); boozy ex-nurse Simone; name-dropper Matt (Oliver Driver); and ditzy ingénue Elaine. Created by prolific writer James Griffin (Outrageous Fortune, Gloss, Mercy Peak, Shortland Street etc) and based on his award-winning play, it screened in 2005.
Working from a kind of 'play within the play' premise, comedy series Serial Killers, cleverly satirises the lives of a group of TV soap writers, actors and the industry they all work for. Featuring Pauline (played by Robyn Malcolm) the permanently stressed-out screenwriter of Heart of Hearts, and her ex-partner/co-worker Alan (John Leigh), these excerpts from the 2005-screened series include the pair trying to reason with their producer (a preternaturally calm Tandi Wright) who demands the writers re-introduce a character they'd formerly killed off.
Actor Wi Kuki Kaa (1938 - 2006) plays Tiare, a Vietnam War veteran who is dislocated by his experiences of war, and homelessness. He wanders the city streets, collecting ephemera in plastic bags. Nancy Brunning plays his daughter, who, with her own daughter, visits their reluctant koro (old man) to convince him to visit his ancestral home. The result is a moving story about a man jolted to find his turangawaewae (place to stand), and the whanau that helps him get there. Directed by Peter Burger, the film was selected for Critics' Week at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
The Strip centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who sheds a legal career to set up a male strip revue. Created by Alan Brash, The Strip played to a certain demographic's desire for ogling naked men (warmed up by 1987 play Ladies Night and 1997 film The Full Monty), but with a focus on female characters, as Melissa juggles business with raising a teenage daughter. Taking cues from Ally McBeal (with fantasy sequences to match) the Gibson Group tale of g-strings, feminism and red light romance screened for two series on TV3 and sold internationally.
Duggan stars John Bach as brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse, the show was conceived by Marion McLeod, and scripted by Donna Malane and Ken Duncum. Eleven episodes of the Gibson Group series were made, following on from introductory tele-features Death in Paradise and Sins of the Father. The turquoise waters of The Sounds make for an evocative setting in this sharp, classy Kiwi whodunit. Rachel Davies writes here about Duggan's birth.
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.
This bawdy backblocks comedy follows the efforts of two middle-aged males to adjust after the death of their Mum (Dorothy McKegg). The somewhat dim brothers (played by Mark Hadlow and Sean Duffy) are lost without her cooking and advice on Judy Bailey’s attractiveness, and getting close to goats…until the hired help (Alison Bruce) arrives. The short film was the first production by Big House, a collaboration between director Mike Smith and editor John Gilbert. Invited to the revered Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival in 1999, it inspired a hit TV series of the same name.
Are workplaces a chance for mutual gain, or is it only the higher ups that benefit? Dean Parker's award-winning script for this Sunday TV drama certainly doesn't duck the awkward questions. Joel Tobeck and Luisa Burgess play Bosco and Selena, who get factory jobs as assembly workers, get it on, then take opposing sides on motivational talks by management. Conscious the story would be punctuated with advertisements, Parker decided to counterattack by slipping in occasional clips from an interview with legendary unionist Jock Barnes. Later Parker turned the film into a play.
This acclaimed Gibson Group series was set behind the scenes on a current affairs programme. Katie Wolfe plays stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins, hired for her tabloid style in a bid to raise the show's ratings. In this excerpt from episode two, a surrogate pregnancy turns into a nasty custody battle. Amanda chases the story, whatever the cost (journalistic ethics included) and acquaints herself with the surrogate. But then her in-house rival Liz (Jennifer Ludlam, who won a TV award for this episode) gets a scoop interview with the parents of the disputed child.
This series centred on a weekly TV current affairs programme in mid-90s Wellington. Katie Wolfe stars as stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins: lured back from Australia for her tabloid style in an effort to boost the show's ratings. Tackling timely storylines and shot ‘handheld’ in the NYPD Blue-inspired style, the TV3 series was well reviewed but faced its own ratings struggles (a later series screened on TV One). It was Gibson Group’s second foray into producing a TV drama series, after Shark in the Park. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was a series writer.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
A continuation of the classic 70s UK TV series cherished by herds of horse-loving girls, the New Adventures follow Vicky Denning (Amber McWilliams) who has emigrated to the antipodes with her step-mother, where she is captivated by a mystic black horse. The co-production was set in NZ, produced by Tom Parkinson and features many Kiwi names in front of and behind the camera (Illona Rodgers, Ken Catran). Key original cast and the famous original title sequence and tune are reprised, but now with Beauty galloping along a west coast beach. Two seasons were produced.
A continuation of the classic 70s UK TV series cherished by herds of horse-loving girls, the New Adventures follow Vicky Denning (Amber McWilliams) who has emigrated to the antipodes with her step-mother, where she is captivated by a mystic black horse. The co-production was set in NZ, produced by Tom Parkinson and features many Kiwi names in front of and behind the camera. This extract from the fifth episode sees Vicky and Beauty meet a mysterious travelling circus; and postman Samuel (Bill Kerr) learns a lesson in trusting shysters.
A continuation of the classic 70s UK TV series cherished by herds of horse-loving girls, the New Adventures follow Vicky Denning (Amber McWilliams) who has emigrated to the antipodes with her step-mother, where she is captivated by a mystic black horse. The co-production was set in New Zealand and features many Kiwi names in front of and behind the camera. This extract from the fourth episode sees Vicky striving to convince the postmasters (Bill Kerr and Ilona Rodgers) that she and Beauty can be posties; and she faces hostility from local kids (including a young Claire Chitham).
A continuation of the classic 70s UK TV series cherished by herds of horse-loving girls, the New Adventures follow Vicky Denning (Amber McWilliams) who has emigrated to the antipodes with her step-mother, where she is captivated by a mystic black horse. The co-production was set in NZ, and features many Kiwi names in front of and behind the camera. This extract from the eighth episode sees Manfred attempt to fly on Karekare beach in a Richard Pearse-like contraption, as a shady-looking Kurt (Michael Hurst) looks on, and Vicky charges to the rescue on Beauty.
This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.
Long before the comedy of Flight of the Conchords, Heroes followed the triumphs and pitfalls of a band trying to make it in the mid-80s NZ music biz. It marked the first major role for Jay Laga’aia, and early lead gigs for Michael Hurst and Margaret Umbers. In this first episode the band gets together as Dave (Hurst) ditches his covers band, flunks a TV audition, and hooks up opportunist flatmate Ron (Laga’aia), synth player Peter (John Gibson, who co-wrote the series music) and bass player Maxine (Umbers). Synth and leopard skin abound.
Country GP was a major 80s drama series that charted the post-war years 1945 to 1950 in a rural central South Island town. Using fast-turnaround techniques that anticipated later series like Shortland Street, 66 episodes of Country GP were shot in 18 months at a specially built set in Whiteman’s Valley, Lower Hutt. It was groundbreaking as the first NZ series to cast a Samoan in a title role (Lani Tupu as Dr David Miller); but it also provided a nostalgic look back to an apparently kinder, gentler time than mid-80s New Zealand with its major social reforms and upheavals.
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.
It's April 1966 when young Massey student Peter (Hurst, sporting period mop and moustache) makes a surprise visit back home at the farm during study break, and is quickly put out by the archaic social mores: "ya taken to wearing a bra as well?". It's also Anzac Day, and his newfound pacifism and career plans soon put him on a collision course with his veteran father (Vere-Jones) in a surprisingly potent TV drama that pulls no punches — literally — in its depiction of a generation gap that proves irreconcilable.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular drama series following Detective Sergeant Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper) at work in the town of Cobham. Mortimer plays a city cop returning to his rural roots; Don Selwyn is Sergeant Bob Storey. The series was NZ’s first police drama, and a rare local drama to top ratings. Mortimer's Patch was made when the archetype of the ‘community cop’ everyone knew was still a powerful one, and it was a counterweight to the faceless riot policing of the Springbok Tour. Three series were made.
Ngaio Marsh Theatre was based on four murder mysteries by crime writer Dame Ngaio Marsh: Vintage Murder, Died in the Wool, Colour Scheme, and Opening Night (the latter was the only one not set in her homeland). UK actor George Baker (The Ruth Renell Mysteries, I, Claudius) starred as Inspector Roderick Alleyn — the rational Englishman solving murderous crimes in the green and pleasant colony. The series successfully leveraged the international appeal of Marsh's novels. Ngaio Marsh Theatre was the first New Zealand television drama to screen in the US (on PBS).
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.
The Mackenzie Affair told the story of colonial folk hero James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would later bear his name. This fifth and final episode sees the manhunt for Mackenzie over, with ‘Jock’ facing a sentence of hard labour and provoking sympathy from equivocal sheriff Henry Tancred. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production (with Scottish TV) imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft. It was made by Hunter’s Gold producer John McRae.
The five-part series told the story of colonial outlaw James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would bear his name. His escapades on the lam elevated him to folk hero status. Like producer John McRae’s prior series, Hunter’s Gold, the South Pacific Television ‘prestige’ drama was made with export in mind. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production — with Scottish TV, where the opening episode was shot — imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft.
When television began broadcasting in Auckland in 1960, the news consisted of a days old bulletin from the BBC in London. A locally-compiled bulletin began before the end of the year, with occasional locally-filmed items. From 1962 to 1969 a five minute news summary screened at 7pm, with the longer NZBC Newsreel following at 8. TV news expanded rapidly through the 60s, with the NZBC setting up a network of newsrooms in the main centres. November 1969 marked the first time a shared news broadcast played nationwide, with the launch of the NZBC Network News.