Suzy Cato moved from Brisbane to New Zealand with her Kiwi parents, while still a baby. After five years in Hamilton, she spent the rest of her childhood in the northern town of Kaikohe, where she was a fan of Sesame Street and later Spot On.
A self-described "big softy" who loved musicals and cowboy movies, Cato got her first taste of making people laugh while narrating a version of Goldilocks. Soon she was acting in local theatre, and competing in school speech contests.
After work experience at another radio station in Whangarei, Cato got a job writing commercials at Whangarei's KCC FM. After time doing various jobs at the station, she was offered the seven to midnight shift.
While working as a promotions assistant for music label BMG RCA, Cato met TV3 children's department head Rex Simpson while chaperoning musicians around local radio and TV stations. In 1990 Simpson called her, and asked if she'd ever thought of being on television. "Next thing I knew I was in at TV3 at 6am the following Saturday morning watching The Early Bird Show go live-to-air. The Saturday after that I was live on air with them."
EBS, as the show was also known, featured Cato playing straight person to a cast of puppet birds, including "extremely funny" star Russell Rooster, "some hard case ducks", a kea and an owl. Cato was not the only human on screen. Food maestro Annabel Langbein, gossip king David Hartnell and bugman Ruud Kleinpaste were also known to make appearances. EBS played mainly on Saturday mornings, with extra episodes added during the school holidays.
In 1992 Cato won her own weekday afternoon show, 3pm. She presented the show from a set containing a giant pumpkin, and a boot that doubled as a chair. Cato opened viewers' mail from a huge mailbox with eyes and a smiley mouth.
Soon Cato began hosting popular pre-school programme You and Me. Filmed in Dunedin, the show featured songs, storytelling and games, and made extensive use of te reo. You and Me was in production for seven years; Cato appeared in more than 2000 episodes.
In 1999 Cato formed her own company Treehut Productions, and set about creating Suzy's World. The TV3 series saw Cato traveling around the country making science accessible, as she found answers to questions which ranged from "what makes slime slimy?" to "why don't I feel happy all the time?". In a NZ Herald interview from this period, she counted herself lucky to be in a job which allowed her to sit in slime, do cartwheels and "be a big kid".
Suzy's World stretched to 263 episodes over four seasons. When TV3's parent company MediaWorks cancelled it in 2002, Cato took a well-deserved break and embarked on "her greatest production ever — growing a wee family".
It wasn't long before she was back in television production, this time as executive producer of Bryan and Bobby, of which 76 episodes have been made. Starring real-life constable Bryan Ward and a talking puppet dog, the show promotes safety messages to Kiwi children. Cato and Ward came up with the idea of the show after Ward realised that his local school had no police education officer. The duo knew they were onto something special, after early visits to schools in the Waikato resulted in 4000 letters from children. For some of Bryan and Bobby's musical messages, Cato has helped wrangle an eclectic range of celebrities, children and emergency services personnel.
A few years after Bryan and Bobby began, Cato and fellow "big kid" Trevor Plant created The Great Big Kid's Show, while Cato was doing a brief stint as an announcer at Auckland radio station Big FM. The show first hit the airwaves in 2009 on a handful of stations. By 2016 it was airing on 23 stations on over 96 frequencies across New Zealand. In 2016 the Sunday morning show was rebranded as Suzy and Friends, partly to tie in with the launch of a series of the same name on Cato's YouTube Channel, Treehut TV. Guests include local musicians and artists creating songs and magical moments for Kiwi children, and kids of all ages sharing their hobbies and humour.
In 2018 Cato competed on Dancing with the Stars.
Cato has written many children's books and is also host of the Amazing Me videos, which have been used in schools and pre-schools to teach life skills. She has performed multiple times in the yearly Christmas in the Park concerts, sometimes to audiences as big as 300,000. In 2001 she was co-host of magazine-style show Family Confidential, which offered advice and information for parents.
Treehut website. Accessed 24 March 2016
'Frequently Asked Questions' Suzy.co.nz website. Accessed 24 March 2016
Michele Hewitson, 'The wonderful world of Suzy Cato' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, October 12 2002
Ian Pryor, 'Breakfast with the kiddies' - Evening Post (TV Week section), 26 November 26 1990, page 1
Unknown Writer, 'SPOTLIGHT ON... BRYAN AND BOBBY' NZ Police Association website. Loaded 1 February 2014. Accessed 24 March 2016