Peter Blake introduced more local content to popular music shows Ready to Roll and Radio with Pictures at a time when covers of overseas songs were the norm. The longtime musician began in television via 1970s music programme; Grunt Machine, and ended up in charge of a stable of shows. He has also composed music for everything from TV One's nightly News theme to drama Shark in the Park.
For me the strongest music themes for TV shows are often about melody. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the form of a tune or motif — a distinctive melody is a hook, it assures the theme is instantly recognisable. Peter Blake
Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), this top-rating tele-feature dramatised the life story of legendary comedian Billy T James. Billy screened on 21 August 2011 as a Sunday Theatre drama on TV One, 20 years after Billy T’s death, aged just 42. Actor Tainui Tukiwaho (Step Dave) plays Billy T. Touted as revealing "the man behind the chuckle", the drama traverses Billy T’s life from childhood. This excerpt follows Billy as he reaches the peak of his career, fronting TV skits and pub stand-up. It was adapted by Briar Grace Smith and Dave Armstrong from the Matt Elliott biography.
This edition of Prime TV’s history of New Zealand television looks at 50 years of entertainment. The smorgasbord of music, comedy and variety shows ranges from 60s pop stars to Popstars, from the anarchy of Blerta to the anarchy of Telethon, from Radio with Pictures to Dancing with the Stars. Music television moves from C’mon and country, to punk and hip hop videos. Comedy follows the formative Fred Dagg and Billy T, through to Eating Media Lunch and 7 Days. A roll call of New Zealand entertainers muse on seeing Kiwis laugh, sing and shimmy on the small screen.
When TV began in New Zealand in 1960, posh English accents on screen were de rigueur. As veteran broadcaster Judy Callingham recalls in this sixth episode of Kiwi TV history: "every trace of a New Zealand vowel was knocked out of you." But as ties to Mother England weakened, Kiwis began to feel proud of their identity and culture. John Clarke invented farming comedy legend Fred Dagg, while Karyn Hay showed a Kiwi accent could be cool on Radio with Pictures. Sam Neill and director Geoff Murphy add their thoughts on the changing ways that Kiwis saw themselves.
Popular consumer affairs show Fair Go is one of New Zealand TV's longest-running series. This episode — presented by its longest serving host, Kevin Milne — looks back at 30 years and 860+ shows of Fair Go. Amidst regular Fair Go stories, there is a flashback to the 1977 debut of original host Brian Edwards; retro segments on soapbox rights in Christchurch Square, blocked gutters, and neighbours at war; a 1982 spoof on the struggle to open screw tops on soft drink bottles; and a 1980 survey of NZ's most untrustworthy occupations (lawyers, car dealers). Contact Fair Go here.
In this edition of her 2005 TV series, broadcaster Kim Hill interviews then union leader Andrew Little. Little is advocating for a five percent pay increase for members of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (now E tū). Little bemoans lack of investment in training and argues for "growing the real value of wages" in a booming economy, while Hill grills the campaign’s potential effect on businesses and Little’s political ambitions. Little went on to become President of the Labour Party. In 2011 he was elected as a list MP, and led the party from 2014 to 2017.
Kim Hill interviews comedy legend John Clarke at his home in Melbourne. In this excerpt, Clarke talks about how easily humour travels and how Kiwis can be funny, and looks back at the birth of his iconic Fred Dagg character in the early 70s, with his black singlet, a hat given to Clarke by his sister, and some torn-off trousers from state television's wardrobe department. Clarke talks about New Zealand being far from alone in claiming to have a laconic, understated style of humour, and how he thinks the country is seen overseas.
Craig Busch aka The Lion Man is a self-taught big cat handler who has brought Barbary lions and white Bengal tigers to New Zealand. With both species extinct in the wild, Busch launched a breeding programme to add to limited numbers remaining in captivity. Great Southern Television produced three series following the often controversial Busch and his giant feline charges, from the early days of his Zion Wildlife Gardens park near Whangarei (later relaunched as The Kingdom of Zion). An international sales success, the show has played in more than 120 countries.
This series saw longtime Radio New Zealand National host Kim Hill foray from behind the microphone to in front of the cameras. The format was 25-min one-on-one interviews with politicians and newsmakers; it was designed to allow "the time to really discuss an issue ... in doing so we're able to get more context and more enlightenment." Interviewees ranged from ex-PM David Lange, Destiny Church supremo Brian Tamaki, comedian John Clarke, feminist author Germaine Greer, and Australian activist-writer John Pilger (with whom Hill had an infamous stoush).
Set in a high flying PR firm, Spin Doctors was a topical, fast turnaround satire — in the tradition of John Clarke’s The Games. No client is too grasping, no issue too unsavoury for Giles Peterson and Associates, and a team including a ruthless Australian (Mark Ferguson), a boozy trout (Elizabeth Hawthorne) and the office liberal unsuccessfully battling his conscience (John Leigh). Each episode was written and produced in just five days — allowing the writers (including James Griffin, Roger Hall and Tom Scott) full license with the week’s issues.
In the last of a trilogy of tele-movies, private investigators John Lawless (Kevin Smith) and Jodie Keane (Shortland Street's Angela Dotchin) seek the truth behind an apparent suicide. Their client is visiting mystery woman Lana Vitale (a strong performance by American Jennifer Rubin) who wants to know why her husband is dead. For Lawless, the trial soon leads to romance, intrigue, plus a shady nightclub/ porn operator (singer Frankie Stevens). This Kiwi take on American crime shows includes an appearance by Snakeskin actor Dean O'Gorman.
The second Lawless tele-movie sees ex-cop John Lawless (Kevin Smith) drinking too much while working as a bouncer in a downmarket bar. Then former crime-solving partner Jodie Keen (Angela Dotchin) enlists his help, to investigate the case of an incarcerated American (C. Thomas Howell) who may have been framed. Someone is attacking hitchhikers, and the creepy finale sees Jodie using herself as bait, before getting trapped in a barn with a murderer. Evening Post reviewer Sarah Daniell found "the whole shebang was executed with wit and style".
This 2000 reality show involved contestants completing challenges and overcoming a planted double agent, in order to avoid elimination and win a $30,000 cash prize. “All they have to do is survive the show and unmask the mole,” says host Mark Ferguson (Spin Doctors, Shortland Street). In this first episode, the group travel to Queenstown to tandem bungee jump, pack each other’s bags, complete a brain teaser, and eat ... before the first elimination. The Kiwi version of a 1998 Belgian format made a 2016 NZ Herald list of New Zealand’s worst ever reality shows.
Lawless saw Kevin Smith in one of his biggest roles: as undercover cop turned private investigator John Lawless. The character's career arc was told across three tele-movies. In this self-titled debut, Lawless struggles with divided loyalties while working for a dodgy drug lord (Joel Tobeck). Next thing, a robbery leaves Lawless framed by the good guys. This stylish Kiwi take on American crime shows won good reviews and a stash of awards, including gongs for Tobeck, co-star Angela Dotchin, director Chris Martin-Jones and best drama programme.
In 1993, advice show Dilemmas introduced a new host to replace Australian GP Kerryn Phelps. With Marcus Lush at the helm, this episode features panelists Ginette McDonald, Alice Worsley and George Balani. Among the troubles the group deal with are an anonymous phone call about an affair, and a self-professed "nice guy" who can’t hold a date. Lush gets briefly distracted by an abundance of pens on his desk, before the team touch on problem smoking in the office and George Balani, resplendent in novelty Bugs Bunny tie, suggests calling in the Mongrel Mob.
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.
TV One drama Shark in the Park followed the lives of cops policing a Wellington city beat. This episode from the second series sees the team bust a street fight, and search for a missing teenage girl. An elderly shoplifter and a joyrider test the ethics of the diversion scheme, where minor offences don't result in a criminal record. Actors Tim Balme and Michael Galvin (Shortland Street) feature in early screen roles, as youngsters on the wrong side of the law. Galvin plays the dangerous driver – he also happens to be the son of Sergeant Jesson (Kevin J Wilson).
Shark in the Park was New Zealand’s first urban cop show. In this second season opener, Inspector Flynn (Jeffrey Thomas) and his team face restructuring and cutbacks from HQ, and a gang prospect (Toby Mills) is interrogated about a hit and run. Among the impressive cast of cops are Rima Te Wiata, Nathaniel Lees, and Russell Smith (It is I, Count Homogenized). This was the first episode made by Wellington company The Gibson Group, as Kiwi television entered an era of deregulation (Shark's previous series was one of the last made by TVNZ’s in-house drama department).
The role of women in a traditionally male dominated profession is highlighted in this episode of Wellington police drama Shark in the Park. The episode was penned by Norelle Scott and directed by Ginette McDonald. New arrival 'Wally' (Joanna Briant) faces a baptism of fire from her colleagues — and a rough ride on the streets as a drunken couple's antics escalate into major problems for the thin blue line. The third episode of season one features Robyn Malcolm in her first screen role, while Mark Wright provides some late 80s colour as an inebriated yuppie.
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".
Holmes was a long-running current affairs programme that followed the news each weeknight on TV ONE. Presented by veteran broadcaster Paul Holmes, the show was as famous for his showmanship as it was for examining the issues of the day. Holmes interviewed the day's newsmakers; often championing the underdog 'kiwi battler'. In 2004 Paul Holmes defected from TVNZ to Prime TV to set up a rival 7pm current affairs programme, Paul Holmes. That lasted a few months before being axed (due to low ratings).
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.
This sci-fi telefeature for kids follows the adventures of runaways Peter (Toby Laing) and Maggie (Toni Driscoll), who meet when Maggie’s attempt to get Picnic bars on a five finger discount go awry and "rich brat" Peter is on the lam on a 10-speed. After falling into a grave of golden light at a farm cemetery, they wake up in the house of the strange Piper family. Laing is now trumpeter for Fat Freddys Drop, and a young Kerry Fox appears briefly as a policewoman in the opening. Scripted by veteran Ken Catran, the telefeature was re-cut from a four-part series.
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.
Created by Fiona Samuel, The Marching Girls follows a Taita social marching team who decide to have a crack at the North Island champs. In the first episode of this feminist-Flashdance-in-formation 80s classic, young whippersnapper Leonie tries to modernise the girls' routine by getting them to march to the heavy metal tunes of Ironlung ("they're really big in Australia!"). This proves too much for Mahara (Patupatu Ripley), who's got enough on her plate with her new role as hesitant union spokesperson for her fellow workers down at the factory.
True Colours came about thanks to a 1986 dispute between record companies and TVNZ. The companies demanded payment for videos, partly because of the costs of producing them; TVNZ refused, arguing the videos were a form of sales promotion. TVNZ then took all its music shows off-air, including Radio with Pictures. They were replaced by True Colours, hosted by RWP's Dick Driver and Shazam!'s Phillipa Dann. It featured mostly live-in-the-studio NZ bands, along with music news and interviews. The dispute was resolved by year's end; True Colours ran for seven of its 10 planned episodes.
Born of a dispute between TVNZ and record companies over video payments, True Colours tended to feature New Zealand bands in a studio setting, plus the occasional video. This first episode sets the template. Former Radio with Pictures host Dick Driver and Phillipa Dann (from pop show Shazam!) introduce a magazine-style show of live music, news and interviews. Ardijah open proceedings here, with their mix of polynesian R&B and funk. Later Tim Finn gets the interview treatment. The dispute was eventually settled and True Colours ended after seven episodes.
RWP reporter/director Brent Hansen (later head of MTV Europe) visits the South Island: checking venues, talking to local luminaries, catching live bands and generally taking the pulse of the local music scene. Flying Nun is on the rise (and just starting to attract international attention) although none of the label's major acts are playing near the RWP cameras. Christchurch is in flux waiting on the next big pop act to emerge, while Dunedin is a hive of activity with a new generation of Flying Nun acts starting to come through. Then there's Crystal Zoom...
RWP presenters past (Barry Jenkin aka Dr Rock) and present (Karyn Hay) discuss clips selected by Jenkin whose choices very much reflect his musical epiphany at the hands of punk in the late 70s. This segment features three local acts and provides the opportunity to see a somewhat distant Johnny Volume (guitar in the Scavengers on their classic 'Mysterex') and to observe Chris Knox's considerable musical and visual progression from the punk of the Enemy to the altogether more experimental Tall Dwarfs (with one of Knox's classic animated clips).
The Mockers had a breakthrough year in 1984. Their sixth single 'Swear It's True' caught New Zealand's attention, and in May their debut album peaked at number four on the Kiwi charts. In June they played Mainstreet for one of 1984's batch of Radio with Pictures specials, spawning the live album Caught in the Act, which was released in July. Vocalist and part-time poet Andrew Fagan cuts a piratical figure in his sailor's jacket and trademark fingerless gloves. Dunedin band The Idles were a lesser known proposition. They made ripples in 1984 with their first EP, 'Agroculture'.
This concert from May 1983 finds Dance Exponents — one of five bands filmed for a Radio with Pictures live series — with their star on the rise, but yet to release their debut album. An irrepressible Jordan Luck and band mates Dave Gent, Brian Jones and Mike Harralambi perform six songs in front of an enthusiastic full house, at Auckland's premier venue Mainstreet Cabaret. Highlights include a sparse, urgent 'Victoria' and a barnstorming 'Airway Spies'. Opening song 'Perfect Romance' was only ever released in this version on a companion live album.
As soon as the guitar line of 'Blue Lady' sparks up, the sea of perms, sweaty denim and cigarettes starts jumping. The Legionnaires (Hello Sailor reincarnated) were one of several top Kiwi bands to record live Radio With Pictures specials at Auckland's Mainstreet Cabaret during the 1980s. Their eight-strong set list contains bonafide hits like 'Blue Lady' and Graham Brazier's ode to his Liverpudlian roots, 'Billy Bold'. Another highlight is a moody rendition of 'Remember The Alamo' from guitarist and singer Dave McArtney's Pink Flamingos' catalogue.
Live from Auckland's Mainstreet Cabaret, this Radio with Pictures special showcases bands Coconut Rough and The Narcs. Coconut Rough open their six song set with an instrumental and close with 'Sierra Leone', after proving they're much more than one hit wonders. RWP host Karyn Hay then introduces the "high energy rock" of The Narcs. The driving keyboards of second track 'Look the Other Way' hint at how the band's sound was broadening. Label CBS released both gigs as album Whistle While You Work, which reached number 17 in the New Zealand charts.
"Once a band has made it here in Godzone, the big question is: where to now?". As presenter Karyn Hay put it back in 1981, there was only one answer — Australia. RWP reporter Simon Morris headed to Sydney to meet Kiwi musos who'd made it (Marc Hunter, on hiatus from Dragon), and those trying (Sharon O’Neill, Dave McArtney, Mi-Sex's Kevin Stanton, Barry Saunders from The Tigers). Hunter muses on Sydney brashness versus NZ introspection, O’Neill shyly promotes 'Maybe' to Molly Meldrum, and expat music producer Peter Dawkins explains what makes a hit.
The NZ Music Awards ceremony now fills Auckland’s Vector Arena and is a major social and music industry event. In 1978 the awards were broadcast in this 16 September Ready to Roll special, cobbling together finalists at Avalon Studios. Stu (Nice One) Dennison is the host (in brown overalls); and there are performances from John Rowles, newcomer Sharon O’Neill, the Rodger Fox Big Band, Hello Sailor, Toni Williams and Golden Harvest (who feature teeth-picking lead guitar in best Hendrix style). Just two awards are covered here: for single and album of the year.
Popular consumer affairs show Fair Go is one of New Zealand TV's longest-running series. It began in 1977, devised by Brian Edwards and producer Peter Morritt. The TVNZ programme mixes investigative reporting (daring to "name names" and expose rip-off merchants everywhere) with light-hearted segments. Its roster of presenters has included Edwards, Judith Fyfe, Hugo Manson, Philip Alpers, Kerre McIvor (nee Woodham), Carol Hirschfeld, Gordon Harcourt, and longest serving host, Kevin Milne. A perennial favourite segment is the round-up of the year's ad campaigns.
For a generation of music fans before the internet, show Radio with Pictures was a vital link to local and international music — and essential viewing before TV2's Sunday night horror movies. Following on from Grunt Machine in 1976, its presenters included Karyn Hay, Dr Rock (Barry Jenkin), Dick Driver Phil O'Brien. RWP's extended run coincided with the rise of MTV and the music video, and a burgeoning 1980s New Zealand music scene. Videos were a staple, but artist interviews also featured. The show also staged a number of Mainstreet concerts featuring leading local artists.
The opening sequence of music show Ready to Roll is imprinted on the eyes and ears of many Kiwi music fans. The show jumped directly from the opening graphics to a quick rundown of the week's top 20 singles. Here are two of RTR's beloved openings: the late 70s version is scored to 1974 Commmodores instrumental 'Machine Gun'. In the 80s, Peter Blake's synth number had taken over from funk, and the colours favoured electric neon. The graphics owed a debt to the arcade computer games that followed Space Invaders. The week's featured acts came next, then the countdown.
In the early 80s Ready to Roll was NZ’s premier TV pop show. It emerged in the pre-music video boom mid-70s hosted by Roger Gascoigne (and later Stu Dennison) with bands and dancers live in the studio. By the early 80s it was a seamless video clip Top 20 countdown — introduced by the Commodores pumping ‘Machine Gun’ — and appointment Saturday evening viewing for music fans (and a regular in the week’s Top 10 rating shows). It then evolved into a brand, spawning a number of RTR offshoots (Mega-Mix, Sounz and New Releases), before disappearing in the mid-90s.