Tony Holden's producing and directing career spans generations of classic Kiwi comedy, from A Week of It, Gliding On, The Billy T James Show, to Spin Doctors. CEO of production company Comedia Pictures since 1985, Holden has also spent four years as TVNZ's manager of commissioning and production.
No one believes me when I tell them we made over 40 half hours of comedy a year in the 80s, and screened them at 8pm on a Monday night; no wonder we got better at making comedy in those days! Tony Holden
Pull up a chair and grab your guitar; the Modern Māori Quartet — aka musicians Francis Kora, James Tito, Maaka Pohatu and Matariki Whatarau — are here to reinvigorate a clutch of classic Māori party tunes, helped along by a guest list of young and old. With their laidback style the boys trade jokes and memories, and older generations share the songs that make a room sing. This episode also features a new and improved version of 'Ten Guitars', some seriously sharp suits, and a roof-lifting performance from cultural group Te Waka Huia.
Described by co-creator Jamaine Ross as a sketch show "told from a brown perspective", this Māori Television series pokes the taiaha into life in Aotearoa. Hosted by improv trio Frickin Dangerous Bro – Ross (Māori), Pax Assadi (Persian) and James Roque (Filipino) – the show adds a multicultural 21st Century update to the skit traditions of Billy T James and Pete and Pio. This first episode mines comedy from white people, brown mums, hangi, sports reporting, subtitles, service station staff, and sat nav. NZ Herald’s Gracie Taylor called it "smart, funny, relevant and insanely relatable".
"Pitch Perfect meets Modern Family set on a marae" was the tagline for this 2017 Māori Television comedy/drama, about a kapa haka group that fluke their way to the national championships. This first episode shows that with seven weeks to prepare, whānaungatanga (family) will be as much of a challenge as getting it together onstage. Hori Ahipene plays dual roles as worried coach Teepz and Aunty Mavis. Roimata Fox plays kapa princess Koakoa, and actor turned director Katie Wolfe is Nanny Fanny. Press the CC box below the screen to translate occasional te reo dialogue.
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.
Each episode of this kids horror series features three ‘curse busting’ stories. In this first episode, student Jack Williams traces the curse back to creepy Charles Killian’s fondness for satanic rituals. Killian dies a fiery death and damns Room 21’s future students. Despite grave warnings, the new principal unlocks the classroom — and the curse awakens. In the second story it’s studious Celia’s turn to contain and destroy a ‘body jumping’ spirit before it claims her soul; the last tale pits Johnny against a fat-hungry warlock who comes a ‘splatter-tastic’ cropper. A second season followed in 2008.
Taste New Zealand presenter Peta Mathias hosts this 2003 Christmas special, featuring festive food and music. Musical guests Hinewehi Mohi, bass-baritone Conal Coad, Brooke Fraser (who sings 'Joy to the World') and King Kapisi perform, share Christmas memories, and cook their favourite seasonal dishes. Mathias herself sings 'O Come All Ye Faithful', backed by students of her old school, St Mary's College in Ponsonby. Other highlights include Mathias making music with King Kapisi, and Mohi's bilingual version of 'Silent Night' with choir Musica Sacra.
It's election time in this special episode from the topical weekly satire series about a PR firm (written by James Griffin, Dave Armstrong, Tom Scott and Roger Hall). Giles Peterson and Associates will take on any client - even if it means trying to update Helen Clark's wardrobe, speechwriting for Winston Peters, offering succour to fading National and Alliance MPs, brokering a coalition deal between the Greens and Labour, or helping candidates master the intricacies of The Worm. Meanwhile, elements of the Catholic Church feel they haven't apologised enough.
Described as a "Māori Twilight Zone", Mataku was a series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori experience with the "unexplained". Two South Pacific Pictures-produced series screened on TV3; a later series screened on TV One in 2005. Each episode was introduced by Temuera Morrison Rod Serling-style. The bi-lingual series was a strong international and domestic success; producer Carey Carter: "Our people are very spiritual ... and here we are ... turning it into stories so that the rest of the world can get a glimpse of that aspect of our culture."
Mataku was a bilingual series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori mystique. Described as a Māori Twilight Zone, Mataku was produced by Māori writers, directors and actors, and was a strong international and domestic success. Each episode was introduced Rod Serling-style by actor Temuera Morrison. This excerpt from the first episode, which screened on TV3, portrays two young sisters (Nora and Naera) who are playing in the forest when events take a tragic turn; mysterious putapaiarehe (fairies) are implicated and haunt a troubled grown-up Nora.
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".
Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, Jackson’s Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank (the town cop) and Ben Jackson (a big smoke lawyer). Returning with his family, golden boy Ben has controversially inherited the local pub from his recently deceased father. Produced by South Pacific Pictures, the one hour popular drama screened for two seasons. Writer James Griffin and director Niki Caro worked on the show, alongside much of the talent who would later create Mercy Peak and Outrageous Fortune.
Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, popular one hour drama series Jackson's Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank and Ben. Frank is the town policeman with a big secret; and golden boy Ben is a big city lawyer who has returned to town after their father's death. In this excerpt from the first episode of the South Pacific Pictures production, returning son Ben faces gossiping locals, simmering family tensions over the will (who will get the pub?) and an impending fishing tournament.
City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.
City Life screened from 1996 to 1998 and made a direct appeal to New Zealand's Gen X apartment-dwelling demographic. Following the lives of a tight-knit group of friends, and featuring racy shots of Auckland's K-Road and nightlife set to contemporary Kiwi pop music, the show was Aotearoa's answer to Melrose Place. In this excerpt from the first episode, the friends are thrown into conflict when one of their own (played by Kevin Smith) decides to marry outside the circle. Complications ensue when Smith shares a brief, but notorious, screen kiss with Charles Mesure.
Iconic serial drama Shortland Street is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the staff, family and patients of the eponymous hospital. This 1994 cliffhanger episode, written by Rachel Lang, features the wedding between receptionist Kirsty and muffin man Lionel. But will hunky Stuart be able to deny his love for Kirsty? Countless familiar characters appear; and three actors who have since launched Hollywood careers — Temuera Morrison, Martin Henderson, and Marton Csokas — as Dr Ropata, Stuart Neilson, and Leonard Dodds respectively.
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.
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.
Billy T’s unique brand of humour is captured at its affable, non-PC best in this compilation of skits from his popular 1980s TV shows. There’s Te News (“somebody pinched all the toilet seats out of the Kaikohe Police Station...now the cops got nothing to go on!”) with Billy in iconic black singlet and yellow towel; a bro’s guide to home improvement; skits about first contact, and a take off of Miami Vice. No target is sacred (God, the IRA, the talking Japanese sketch) and there are classic advertising spoofs for Pixie Caramel’s “last requests” and Lands For Bags’ “where’d you get your bag”.
A selection of sketches from this award-winning skit based comedy series featuring Willy de Wit, Ian Harcourt, Peter Murphy and Dean Butler (with occasional animation by Chris Knox). The Hoons display their all of their charm and tact at the beach — but cruising for action (in a car truly worthy of them) results in a heated confrontation with one of their rivals. The classic Norman the Mormon also features, alternative Dunedin bands of the 1980s are lampooned and Lucy Lawless makes her TV debut in an ad spoof that anticipates her future role in Spartacus.
Funny Business (Ian Harcourt, Dean Butler, Willy de Wit and Peter Murphy) emerged out of the Auckland comedy scene in 1985, taking some of their cues from mid-80s UK shows like The Young Ones. An association with producer/director Tony Holden and writer James Griffin led to a series for TVNZ in 1988 which won three TV Awards. A second series made in 1989 screened in 1991. Avoiding topical satire, they specialised in character based skits and music parodies — and hoons, buying lounge suites and mormons on bicycles would never be quite the same again.
Gloss was a popular Kiwi television drama series made by TVNZ that screened in the late 80s; it combined a wealthy family, the Redferns, with a lucrative high-fashion magazine business. Yuppies, shoulder-pads and méthode champenoise abound in this cult "glamour soap". New Zealanders wanted to see themselves as less bottom of the world and more "here we come and we are sailing" (as the infamous Cup campaign song warbled), and Gloss was just what the era demanded.
One of NZ television's more notorious episodes, the 1987 Gofta Awards start promisingly with an extended montage of Auckland scenes (just before the share market crash) but it's downhill from there. Presenters Leeza (Entertainment This Week) Gibbons and Nic Nolan look bizarre in silver suits; an underfed and over excited audience grows more and more vocal; special guest John Inman (Mr Humphries from UK sitcom Are You Being Served?) is heckled; and things come badly unstuck as timing issues see winners turned away as they try to collect their awards.
Comedian Billy T James presents an introduction to The America’s Cup as Team New Zealand challenges for The Auld Mug for the first time. Billy T visits Fremantle in Western Australia — where the Cup is being contested — and meets members of the NZ team including skipper Chris Dickson and backer Michael Fay. Rules and strategy are explained and there’s occasional product placement for sponsor Sony. Billy’s sense of humour is never too far away but this is a largely-factual exercise from a time before The America’s Cup was (briefly) “New Zealand’s Cup”.
This episode of New Zealand's own office comedy sees John (Ross Jolly) concluding that a love of stamps makes the boss (Ken Blackburn) a natural fit for Mastermind — next thing, the stores branch staff are gathering around with imaginary cameras and desk lamps, to help him practise for the pressures of facing quiz master Peter Sinclair. Meanwhile the team try to score another victory by getting an astrological chart made for a racehorse. Roger Hall's sitcom about public servants was a bona fide hit, long before Rogernomics and Ricky Gervais in The Office.
In this episode of the Jon Gadsby written rural sitcom, the locals at The Rabbiter’s Rest pub attempt to take an overzealous young constable down a peg. Michael Haigh (Gliding On) has yet another of his police roles as the worldly wise local sergeant. No appearance from Gadsby in this episode, but David Telford plays the genial proprietor, Doreen the barmaid reprises the role Annie Whittle made famous in A Week of It, and Billy T James is among the regulars propping up the bar. The humour is gentle; some of the jokes are shaggier than the local sheep flock at shearing time.
Off the back of the success of A Week of It and McPhail and Gadsby, Jon Gadsby was given his own gig, as writer of this gentle, rural based sitcom series. His comic partner David McPhail was not involved, but writer AK Grant was on board as script editor. Gadsby’s onscreen involvement was limited to cameo appearances, as a highly competitive rugby coach. Set in the rural backwater of Rabbit Flats, the series drew on Gadsby’s experiences as a barman in the Southland town of Dipton, and allowed him to revisit the bar-based skits of A Week of It.
In an age before Rogernomics, and well before The Office, there was the afternoon tea fund, Golden Kiwi, and four o'clock closing: welcome to the early 80s world of the New Zealand Public Service. Gliding On (1981 - 1985) was the first locally made sitcom to become a bona-fide classic. The series was inspired by Roger Hall's hit play Glide Time and satirised a paper-pushing working life then-familiar to many Kiwis. Gliding On won several Feltex Awards including best male and female actors and best entertainment.
In an age before Rogernomics, well before The Office, there was the afternoon tea fund, Golden Kiwi, and four o'clock closing: welcome to the early 80s world of the New Zealand Public Service. Gliding On (1981 - 1985) was the first locally-made sitcom to become a bona-fide classic. Inspired by Roger Hall's hit play Glide Time, the award-winning series satirised a paper-pushing working life familiar to many Kiwis. This episode features Beryl's non-smoking campaign, Jim's efforts to kick the habit, office sexual innuendo and a much-debated fire drill. "Morning Jim!"
"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.
With a chorus to do any football terrace proud, the final single from Th’ Dudes (featuring Dave Dobbyn, Peter Urlich and Ian Morris) became one of the great Kiwi drinking songs. It was actually written in Sydney to parody hard-drinking pub crowds; the lyrics namecheck Sydney landmarks (The Coogee, The Cross) and delights unavailable back home (Spanish shoes, falafel). Shot in Wellington's booze barn-like Cricketers’ Arms, the video showcases the excitement of the band’s live show, and offers a snapshot of bar culture in early 80s New Zealand.
In the tradition of novelty songs, ‘Culture?’ was catchy to the point of contagion. Fuelled by carnival keyboards, it was The Knobz response to Prime Minister Rob Muldoon’s refusal to lift a 40% sales tax on recorded music (originally instituted by Labour in 1975), and Muldoon's typically blunt verdict on the cultural merits of pop music (“horrible”). The giddy, hyperactive video comes complete with Muldoon impersonator (Danny Faye), and casts the band as the song’s 'Beehive Boys'. In the backgrounder, Mike Alexander writes about his time as the band's manager.
Mike Chunn's post-Split Enz band was formed as a vehicle for his brother Geoff's songs and this single from their second album is the one they are best remembered for (placing 97th in APRA's 'Nature's Best' Top 100 NZ songs in 2001). It's a classic car-as-metaphor-for-love song (although the model in question sounds like it needs some work). The line "come and come get you" is apparently a sly reference to the very continental VW Kharmen Ghia. This TVNZ studio video captured their live energy but inexplicably put them in a graveyard set much to the band's dismay.
This episode from the second series of pioneering comedy show A Week of It takes a light-hearted look at issues of the day: sporting contact with South Africa, the 1978 election, traffic cops against coupling in cars, dawn raids in Ponsonby, weather girls struggling with te reo, and bread and newspaper strikes. Censorship campaigner Patricia Bartlett struggles with a French stick, and beer baron Sir Justin Ebriated is interviewed. John Walker, "current world record holder for selling cans of Fresh Up", is sent up, and there's a racing-themed "geegees Wayne" sign off.
A Week of It was a pioneering satire series that entertained and often outraged audiences from 1977 to 1979, with its irreverent take at topical issues. The debut episode opens with an investigation into what Labour politician Bill Rowling is like in bed, and then Prime Minister Muldoon gets a lei (!). McPhail launches his famous Muldoon impression, Annie Whittle does Nana Mouskouri; and the Nixon Frost interview is reprised as a pop song. The soon to be well-known Gluepot Tavern skit wraps the show: "Jeez Wayne". McPhail writes about first launching A Week of It here.
A Week of It was a pioneering political satire series. This episode from the first series tackles topical issues — many of which will seem bewildering to a 21st Century audience. Ken Ellis and David McPhail discuss the great NZ work of fiction and Jon Gadsby presents Māori news. Annie Whittle and McPhail act out how babies are made; there's a Justice Department recruitment film; interviewer (and future royal PR man) Simon Walker is sent up; the sex habits of the 1977 Lions rugby tour are covered, as is wisdom of sheilas on racehorses. McPhail writes about the show's launch here.
This classic kids’ adventure series follows a boy trying to find his missing father, amidst the 1860s Otago gold rush. The show displayed unprecedented production values, and demonstrated that Kiwi-made kids’ drama could be successfully exported. This first episode sees Scott Hunter (Andrew Hawthorn) steal away to Tucker’s Valley, spurred on by his unsympathetic uncle. In the background pieces, writer Roger Simpson recalls creating 13 scripts at high speed, and director Tom Parkinson writes about the Kiwi landscape as character, and finding the production team.
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.
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.