Neil Roberts discovered that he loved making television programmes while working as a parliamentary journalist. In the mid 1980s he founded independent production company Communicado, whose staff grew to more than 60. Later Roberts oversaw a period of change at Television New Zealand, during a short stint as the organisation's Television Manager. He died of cancer on 8 November 1998.
Like him or loathe him, he will be remembered as a quite extraordinary human being: a New Zealander who did much to remind us who and what we are. Warren Barton in The Dominion, 9 November 1998
Barry Crump's iconic deer hunting yarn A Good Keen Man captured Kiwi imaginations. Published in 1960, it quickly sold 300,000 copies, and with Crump cast as an "ironic, laconic sort of super-bushman", made him a legendary literary figure. This excerpt from the award-winning documentary looks at Crump's upbringing and early success as a writer. The full 72-minute documentary covers everything from his fractured family relationships, violence, a life-changing incident on a bush camp, and discovering religion, to the ads for Toyota that reignited Crump's profile in the 80s.
The first part of this controversial, no-holds-barred portrait of Robert Muldoon — the dominant figure of 20th century NZ politics — traces his rise to power. In one of the show’s most contentious themes, Neil Roberts and Louise Callan explore the effect that the death of Muldoon's father from syphilis may have had on his political career. Interviews with colleagues and family members cover his childhood, war service, early years as a husband and father, his immersion in the National Party and the relentless, divisive style that saw him become Prime Minister in 1975.
In the second part of this controversial, no-holds-barred portrait, Neil Roberts And Louise Callan look at Robert Muldoon’s tenure as Prime Minister — and claim that his best days were behind him before he took power. They examine Muldoon’s brutally divisive leadership style, which saw him at odds with officials, ministers, unions, the media and social groups that opposed him. The tumultuous events of 1984 that resulted from Muldoon’s desperate attempts to cling to power — calling a snap election and all but refusing to leave office after his defeat — are explored in depth.
Condemned as "designer news" before it had even been to air, Newsnight was TV2's foray into late night news for a younger audience (with one eye on the success of TV3's Nightline). Strongly influenced by the celebrity and human interest focus of women's magazines, it received an unsuccessful BSA complaint for not covering a major story (a teacher's strike). Simon Dallow made his TV debut alongside Lorelei Mason and then Alison Mau — while Marcus Lush's idiosyncratic take on the world earned the show a degree of cult (if not always critical) success.
No-one else has dominated the NZ political landscape the way Sir Robert Muldoon did — or been subjected to the level of TV scrutiny he was in this controversial two part series made by Neil Roberts. It was produced with his company Communicado’s customary style: brooding music, big slow motion close-ups and a malevolent rotating bust — and Roberts, much like his subject, took no prisoners as he explored Muldoon’s career and relationship with power. Complaints of unfairness from Dame Thea Muldoon and son Gavin were later partially upheld by the BSA.
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 Communicado’s series about popular culture heroes focuses on entertainment legend Howard Morrison. Presenter Neil Roberts finds him doing what he does best — performing live at the Huntly Working Men’s Club. He traces Morrison’s life from a Rotorua upbringing through stardom with The Howard Morrison Quartet, a solo career with appearances as The Sexy Savage in Manila, his smash hit ‘How Great Thou Art’ and work in TV and film (in his own feature Don’t Let It Get You, and as a singing shearer in Australia with a young Olivia Newton-John).
This wryly-titled 80s show was a homegrown take on US show That’s Incredible!, with the spectacular stunts and supernatural happenings of the original replaced with more downbeat kiwiana kitsch subjects. This excerpt from an end of season review looks at highlights from presenter Phil Keoghan’s contribution. The future Amazing Race host tries a spaghetti eating competition (post-bungy jumping), giraffe feeding, land sailing, snowboarding, male cheerleading, cow pat tossing and a cowboy up challenge. TFI was the first series from production company Communicado.
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.
The first guest on this episode of the Neil Roberts hosted chat show is none other than Sir Robert Muldoon, who recounts a quiet lunch with the Queen, his confidence Winston Peters will be NZ’s first Māori Prime Minister, and his decision to perform in The Rocky Horror Show. When joined by UK actor James Faulkner (The Shadow Trader), Muldoon discusses the policies of “close personal friend” Margaret Thatcher before another Queen gets a nod, as When the Cat’s Away celebrate 'Melting Pot' hitting number one by singing the acapella opening of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.
Hosted by television all-rounder Neil Roberts, It’s Only Wednesday was a short-lived TVNZ chat show in the late 80s. It was characterised by Roberts’ energy as host, and performances by Grant Chilcott’s swing band Wentworth-Brewster & Co. The It's Only Wednesday format saw guests staying on after their interviews, leading to some eclectic company sharing the couch. The guests included former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, and pop group When the Cat’s Away.
This 80s relic was a homegrown take on US show That's Incredible!, with spectacular stunts and supernatural happenings replaced with subjects that were more kiwiana kitsch than wow! It was the first show from production company Communicado; presenters included Tim Shadbolt, Neil Roberts, Sue Kedgley, Phil Gifford and Phil Keoghan. In a Vanity Fair interview to illustrate Kiwi's "enormous understatement" Jane Campion famously quipped: "You know, they used to have a program on TV in New Zealand, That's Fairly Interesting. [...] In America, it's That's Incredible!"
This wryly-titled show was a homegrown take on US show That's Incredible!, with the spectacular stunts and supernatural happenings of the original replaced with more downbeat kiwiana kitsch subjects. It was the first series from production company Communicado. Presenters included mayor Tim Shadbolt, Neil Roberts, future Green-MP Sue Kedgley and rugby writer Phil Gifford. This highlights and bloopers episode from the first series, includes crayfish hypnotism, obese cats, a wind-turbine powered catamaran, dancing cows, and Gifford as a Gorillagram.
This Kaleidoscope profile heralds the arrival of producer Larry Parr on the global film scene, following “the Kid from Raetihi” in his Jaguar from the hometown premiere of Came A Hot Friday (at that point the second most successful NZ film at the box office) to the Auckland offices of his company Mirage. In spite of the shoulder-padded, aspirational 80s framing, Parr talks about more troubled productions (eg. Pallet On The Floor) and the need for less self-conscious local cinema, with disarming honesty. Billy T James and Ian Mune provide character references.
Neil Roberts feels a need for German-engineered speed in this 1984 report from magazine show Weekend. New Zealand was emerging from the dour Muldoon years, and the imported Porsche car was a paragon of conspicuous consumption and yuppie status symbol. Roberts (future founder of production company Communicado) goes for a pre-Crash spin in a Porsche from dealership Giltrap Prestige, then joins Auckland menswear entrepreneur Ray Barker, who takes Neil home to check out his Carrera. Gordon McLauchlan presents; ZZ Top track ‘Legs’ provides the soundtrack.
Reporter Neil Roberts ventures into South Auckland in this TVNZ documentary, and finds two rapidly growing but very different communities. Otara and Mangere are becoming New Zealand’s industrial powerhouse, but a huge influx of Māori and Pacific Island workers and their families are struggling to adapt in a brand new city that was farmland just decades earlier, and lacks amenities for its new citizens. Meanwhile, to the east, Howick and Pakuranga are also booming but their more upwardly mobile, prosperous and very Pākehā citizens seem to be living in a world of their own.
TVNZ journalist (and future Communicado founder) Neil Roberts does an ethnomusicologist turn in this edition of "established media tries to explain what the young people are doing". His subject is NZ's fledgling punk scene which is already on its way to extinction. Much of the focus is on Auckland but Doomed lead singer (and future TV presenter/producer) Johnny Abort (aka Dick Driver) flies the flag for the south. The Stimulators, Suburban Reptiles and Scavengers play live and punk fans pogo and talk about violence directed at them (from "beeries").
In 1978 Eyewitness evolved out of TV2’s After Ten as a twice weekly current affairs show broadcast on Tuesday and Thursday nights. With Philip Sherry as studio anchor, it set out to investigate a single issue from a number of perspectives in each episode. Other foundation staff members included journalists Karen Sims, David Beatson, Dairne Shanahan, Rhys Jones and Neil Roberts. By 1981 it was presented by Karen Sims and had become NZ television’s longest running current affairs show — but it morphed into the nightly Eyewitness News the following year.