Although she’d already done a few small acting roles, Sonia Gray was better known as a model when she jumped in the deep end at 21, playing Aleesha Cook on Shortland Street. The con-woman character targeted men on the street, gaining wealth and a job at the hospital. Gray has been most prominent on local TV screens as New Zealand’s second-longest serving Lotto presenter (she began in 2005). She was a co-host of roving reality show Ghosts and game show Wheel of Fortune. As well as helping Kiwis win big, Gray has acted in movie Love Birds and 2011 short film Blessed Are They.
When Aleesha was unleashing her worst on the show things got pretty crazy for me in the real world. If I ventured out in public I risked being shoved or spat on or sworn at ... perhaps the peak of humiliation came when a guy poured a pint of beer over my head from the upstairs bar at a pub. That was the spirit breaker. Sonia Gray on the ramifications of playing Shortland Street villain Aleesha Cook, The Spinoff, 18 January 2016
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, TV presenter Helena McAlpine enlisted a chorus of NZ's most recognisable music voices to cover Chris Knox’s classic love song. McAlpine was determined that mothers, daughters, wives and friends get the message that the “best form of defence against breast cancer is to catch it early”. Directed by Toa Fraser, the video for the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation awareness campaign shows a run of well-known Kiwis holding pictures of women they love, in front of a backdrop of Derek Henderson photos. McAlpine died on 23 September 2015.
Director Paul Murphy follows Second Hand Wedding with a romance featuring comedian Rhys Darby, songs by Queen and ... a duck. Darby plays heartbroken nice guy Doug: after a close encounter with a native duck (a paradise shelduck) with emotional problems, he enlists expert help from a sassy animal specialist (played by Brit Sally Hawkins, a Golden Globe-winner for feature Happy-Go-Lucky). True to rom-com form, love ensues ... eventually. NZ Herald reviewer Russell Baillie called Love Birds “an endearingly funny, if sugar-coated local romantic comedy”.
TV personality Jaquie Brown plays (and plays up) herself for further delightful comic effect in the second series of The Jaquie Brown Diaries (renamed The Jaquie Brown Odyssey for DVD release). In the Qantas Award-winning TV3 satire Brown is an egomaniacal reporter looking to climb the media ladder any which way she can. This episode sees Brown googling herself, and a late-night forum post sends her spiralling towards celebrity booze binge self-destruction on K Road. In her wake Auckland’s Metro social pages set are skewered with self-referential glee.
This TVNZ entertainment special showcases Pacific Island contemporary and traditional fashion design, as well as music and dance. The live event and the TV show were both produced by Stan Wolfgramm and Julie Smith of Drum Productions. Wolfgramm also co-hosts this 2009 programme, along with Lotto presenter Sonia Gray. Fashion designers Francis Hooper, Denise L’Estrange-Corbet and Liz Mitchell appear as judges, and performers include John Rowles, Ben Lummis and Moana and the Tribe.
Kicking off in July 2002, Flipside set out to make news accessible to a youth audience. The TV2 show was pitched as a positive alternative to traditional news programmes on TV One and TV3, by mixing coverage of music, culture and fashion with harder news. Text and email feedback from viewers was featured on-screen. Recognising the internet's growth as an information source, the show's "two-screen" approach included a Flipside website, which was part of TVNZ's Nzoom site. Presenters over Flipside's three-year run included Mike Puru, Sonia Gray and Evie Ashton.
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.
Wheel of Fortune is a game show that involves the solving of Hangman-style posers. Contestants spin the wheel to accrue prizes, guess letters that may be in the answer, and earn the right to roll again. The Kiwi edition was hosted by Phillip Leishman and Lana Coc-Kroft (with Simon Barnett later replacing Leishman). In a 1992 celebrity episode, Barcelona Olympic bronze medalist boxer (and future World Heavyweight challenger) David Tua, infamously requested the letter O, “for Awesome”. The show returned briefly in 2008 hosted by Jason Gunn and Sonia Gray.
Lotto was first broadcast on 1 August 1987 from Auckland. The live draw was hosted by Doug Harvey and Ann Wilson, and the seven balls (six regulation numbers and a bonus) were picked from 40 by 'The Barrel' — the automated number picker. Lotto is the oldest weekly draw run by the Crown-owned Lotteries Commission; over the years several billions of dollars in profits have been distributed to community projects by the Lottery Grants Board. The draw later moved south to Avalon and presenters have included longtimer Hilary Timmins, Grant Kereama, Grant Walker and Marise Wipani.