Tony Manson has worked in television as a director, producer and commissioner of programmes. His specialty is factual programming - including directing for the popular Open Home and producing a wide range of documentaries.
I fell into TV after studying English literature. My academic interest in Geoffrey Chaucer’s storytelling has since taken me to Neighbours at War and Wayne Anderson: Singer of Songs. They’re actually not that far apart. Tony Manson
The hard-working search and rescue volunteers of Wanaka and Fiordland are profiled in South Pacific Pictures series High Country Rescue. This eighth episode looks at an elderly mountain biker who’s taken a tumble, an injured Israeli hiker who has good fortune with some kind locals, and an embarrassed young new year's reveller who underestimates the cold of Mt Roy. Despite the trying situations the volunteers keep spirits high. One rescue turns to farce when the responders get their ute stuck up a hill and require a rescue of their own.
In this 2012 series, media personality Jaquie Brown chronicles a year as a young mother, as she raises her first child Leo. With a single rule — not to offer advice — Brown aimed to document honestly the realities of modern parenting. This first episode looks at everything from worrying nipple advice to installing car seats, from the pelvic floor to the post-baby body. Brown's candid reflections (captured in video diary 'Little Brother') are mixed with experts (Plunket nurses, baby whisperers), and a look at Kiwi child-rearing social history. The show was produced by JAM TV for TV One.
This Kiwi version of the Got Talent franchise scoured Aotearoa "on a mission to find a star". Topping the weekly TV ratings, the TV One series was hosted by weatherman Tamati Coffey, with Rachel Hunter, musician Jason Kerrison (Opshop) and UB40 frontman Ali Campbell as the judges. In this opening excerpt of the 2012 final, the last two contestants are chosen: people’s choice Dudley Fairbrass, and judge’s choice Logan Walker. They join 10 other finalists — including eventual winner, 15-year-old Clara van Wel from Blenheim — to compete for $100,000 and a Toyota Corolla.
In this 2011 Jam TV series, reporter Hadyn Jones motors around Aotearoa in a 1966 Ford Falcon and caravan to meet the locals. He starts his engine in Dargaville, where he meets mechanic Ken, who gets the 'blue beast' going; Ange, a mother of three who got a burnout car for her wedding anniversary; he chats with axe-man Jason Wynyard at the Arapohue A&P Show; plus a heap of Dalmatian Kiwis. Critic Karl du Fresne rated the series appointment viewing, with Jones possessing a "rare knack of being able to make them [interviewees] relax and reveal themselves on camera."
This long-running series tails working dogs and their handlers, who are helping protect New Zealand’s streets, borders, prisons and national parks. This opening episode of the second season sees dog squad member Dan "come a cropper", while chasing thieves; one prison visitor leaves with an unusual gift from inside (while other visitors are worried about their drugs from the night before); and Auckland Airport sniffer dogs snuff out some unwanted imports. Dog Squad's first two seasons were produced by Cream Media, shortly before the company was taken over by Greenstone TV.
In this 2011 series Te Radar re-teams with company JAM TV (Off the Radar, Radar’s Patch) to meet people making a difference to sustainability issues. This first episode sees the comedian exploring green motoring: he visits a Kiwi project to make potato starch wing mirrors for a Nottingham F3 racing team; checks out the Trekka (the only NZ designed and mass-produced car) with journalist Todd Niall; rides a battery-powered Citroën in Whangarei, and tinkers with his Dad’s Land Rover. The first season won a 2012 NZ Television Award for Best Information Series.
This 2011 series has idiosyncratic host Marcus Lush roving over the northern tip of the North Island (from Auckland up). The first episode finds the self-confessed Jafa exploring all things Manukau Harbour: “this is something I’ve always wanted to do – arrive in Auckland by ship!”. Lush meets lighthouse lovers, learns about shipwrecks and World War II Japanese subs, goes shark tagging, travels by waka to a small island, and talks Mangere Bridge with comedian Jon Gadsby. North was the follow-up to JAM TV’s award-winning 2009 series South, also fronted by Lush.
This long-running reality series, made for TVNZ, follows the lives of dogs and their handlers: "fighting crime, saving lives", and helping protect New Zealand’s streets and borders. The very first episode sees the dog squad diffuse a street brawl in Manurewa, nab a runner from a crashed stolen car, and bust a visitor trying to smuggle contraband into Waikeria Prison in the Waikato. Plus avalanche rescue dogs are trained at Mt Hutt ski resort. This first Dog Squad series was produced by Cream Media (the company was taken over by Greenstone TV in 2010).
In this 2010 series, comedian Te Radar ditches his lawnmower to take on the challenge of transforming an overgrown quarter acre lawn into a lush garden bursting with produce. Using recycled material and organic methods, Te Radar has six months to hit his goals — including making a profit from selling his food. "You can almost smell the fertility in the air," he claims in this first episode, filmed in Riverhead north of Auckland. In true Te Radar style, comedy ensues. He forgets to build a gate for a fence, and heads to a neighbour's shed for help turning an old reel mower into a mulcher.
Nearly mammal free, pre-human New Zealand was a land of birds, many of them found nowhere else. In Birdland, Jeremy Wells (Eating Media Lunch) explores all things avian in Aotearoa. In this opening episode he visits Hauraki Gulf island sanctuary Tiritiri Matangi and Christchurch’s Peacock Springs. Putting the wry into wrybill, Wells muses on manu matters from twitching to tākahe poop. Dominion Post’s Linda Burgess praised Mike Single's "marvellous camera work", and Wells’ celebration of ordinary people "who work to protect and enhance what we still have".
Host Marcus Lush called this 2009 series a "love letter" to the characters and stories of the south. In this first episode he sleeps over on Dog Island (where he learns a lighthouse doesn’t have curved beds). Then it’s down to Stewart Island to join "Robin’s teepee cult" and meet Mason Bay whānau, and back to the Aucklander's adopted hometown of Bluff to chat with artistic beachcombers. South continued JAM TV’s winning collaboration with Lush (Off the Rails, ICE). At the 2010 Qantas Awards, the series collected gongs for best presenter and for director Melanie Rakena.
“Real patients, real drama: real emergencies.” This 2007 series goes behind the scenes of the Emergency Department at Wellington Hospital, focusing on the medical staff who treat patients in most urgent need of treatment. In this opening episode, a zookeeper is mauled by a lion, an infant fights for his life, and a patient has chopped his basil too finely. Produced by Greenstone productions (The Zoo, Border Patrol) the 12-part series won the Best Observational Reality Award at the 2007 Qantas Television Awards.
Idiosyncratic TV host Marcus Lush — continuing his ratings-winning collaboration with Jam TV — goes further off the rails and further south in this five-part series about the history, environment and wildlife of Antarctica. In this short excerpt Lush disrobes for the camera to experience a Scott Base three-minute shower. He also interviews the Curator of Antarctic History at Canterbury Museum who contextualises Captain Scott's 1912 expedition to the Pole that departed from Lyttelton harbour as being "very similar to blasting off to the moon from Hagley Park".
This award-winning lifestyle series took Wellington chefs Al Brown and Steve Logan out of their fine dining restaurant kitchen, and off on a mission to put the local in 'locally sourced' kai. In this episode it's wild food on a wild river — whitebaiting on the Mokihinui. Brownie gets a primo 'stand' and coaster advice; and Steve gets some Green Fern lager and meets a Department of Conservation ranger who tells the whitebait's perilous life story and nets a grown-up: a kokopu. Then it's riverside fritters with beurre blanc sauce and asparagus, washed down with a glass of pinot gris.
This award-winning series took Wellington chefs Al Brown and Steve Logan out of their fine-dining restaurant, to experience the local in 'locally sourced' kai. In this second episode, Al and Steve head to Tangahoe up the Whanganui River, looking for wild pig with a couple of good keen men — Baldy and Moon. Logan is with the dogs on the boar hunt; while Al's on veggies at the markets, before hitching a flying fox to sample some freshly baked organic kumara bread en route up river. The bush tucker result? Cider braised pork belly with kumara and corn mash.
Special Investigators was an observational documentary series which followed agents from various safety enforcement agencies, as they searched for the causes of plane crashes, mishaps at sea, and other fatal incidents. In this episode from the 2006 season, a Maritime New Zealand investigator interviews two Bay of Plenty teens who survived a tragic fishing trip. Their friend drowned after the runabout they were passengers in flipped while crossing breakers, at Maraetai Bay. The investigation is mixed with recreations and video footage of the accident scene.
Neighbours at War was a popular and long-running TV2 reality show. In this opening episode from the show’s second series, an Otara fence is a battle line in a bitter territorial dispute between Lois and Alec. The mediator is Labour MP for Otara Ross Robertson, who draws on Winston Churchill, General Douglas MacArthur and aroha in an effort to broker peace — amidst allegations of rubbish and porn mags on one side, and swear words and brown eyes on the other. Narrator Bill Kerton’s puns and some choice sound effects punctuate the neighbourly nastiness.
Tough Act follows the 2005 intake of first-year acting students at Toi Whakaari, New Zealand's most famous drama school. This episode concentrates on two group assignments: a performance describing the students' journey after being accepted into the school, and a performance in te reo, using song and movement. The pressure involved in creating, rehearsing and performing to deadlines reveals striking personality differences within the class. This episode was one of two nominated for Best Children's Programme at the 2007 Air New Zealand Screen Awards.
The concept for this 2005 Touchdown reality show involved sending a bevy of Kiwi beauties to outback Australia, so they can compete to become "the ultimate Kiwi chick" (and win a $100,000 prize). In this second episode the girls discover that the week’s immunity winner (the 'Boomerang Babe') will have to pick a trio of contestants, so the local townsfolk can vote which one to eliminate. The girls must help host Vadim Dale (reality romance show Outback Jack) brand a calf, where things get bloody; spend a night in the outback alone; and negotiate a hay bale challenge.
In these excerpts pulled from ten consecutive episodes of Miss Popularity, Outback Jack star Vadim Dale despatches ten long-haired, image-conscious young Kiwis to the Aussie outback town of Burra. There they compete to become "the ultimate Kiwi chick" by doing odd jobs, outdoor challenges, snake encounters, and bake-offs for the local market day. Contestants included film students, a firefighter, a future Playboy model, and flight attendant Jessie Gurunathan. Locals voted one contestant off each week. Gurunathan finally claimed the $100,000 prize on the hit Touchdown show.
Every story in this popular TV2 reality show saw warring neighbours each give their side of a border dispute, before a well-known local tried to mediate. In this first season episode the affray is over Parakai willow trees, accused of blocking sun and busting sewer pipes (narrator Bill Kerton calls them the "herbaceous equivalent of herpes"). The mediator is Helensville MP John Key. Struggling to sit on the fence, and amid accusations of racism, the future Prime Minister is unable to forge a driveway détente: "sometimes people just don’t want to see eye to eye".
Reality series Tough Act follows first-year students at New Zealand's most famous drama school. In this episode personal lives clash with professional aspirations. The students' first professional production looms. As they rehearse scenes from Shakespeare, distractions are everywhere. Hollie is grieving after news of an accident and class romances are put to the test when partners perform intimate scenes with colleagues. When Sophie sleeps in and misses a rehearsal, she faces serious consequences. The series was nominated for two local awards for Best Reality Series.
Historian Michael King's opus was a bridge between Māori and Pākehā; he turned Aotearoa's history into an unprecedented publishing bestseller. History Man traces King's own past, to understand the man and his passion for his work. This doco was commissioned only weeks before King and his wife were tragically killed in a car accident. Nevertheless it is a detailed portrait of a much loved and missed New Zealander. It is another collaboration from this producer/director team, whose subjects include Michael Houstoun, Ian Mune and Barry Crump.
Popular comedian Mike King tried his hand at a Letterman-style talk show with this relatively short-lived TV2 series. In this final episode King’s guests are TV personality Jason Gunn, McLeod's Daughters actor Lisa Chappell, kickboxer Ray Sefo, and Australian comedy writer Santo Cilauro, who talks about working with the late Bruno Lawrence on TV series Frontline. One-time Commodores bassist Ronald LaPread leads the eight-piece house band.
This episode of arts show Mercury Lane features legendary musician Bill Sevesi, and poet Sonja Yelich (mother of musician Lorde). Sevesi takes centre stage: various musician friends join him to reminisce about packing Auckland dance halls in the 50s and 60s (at least until the arrival of 10 o'clock closing). After celebrating his 79th birthday, Sevesi is still as upbeat and music-obsessed as ever, especially when it comes to his beloved steel guitar and ukulele. In the final clip, Sonja Yelich performs her poem Teeth, with wry accompanying visuals from director Fiona Samuel.
Mercury Lane was a story-driven arts show that generally included a cluster of short documentaries, poetry and musical performances in each hour-long episode. This episode of the Greenstone-produced arts series features Sam Hunt interviewing acclaimed New Zealand poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell. Campbell discusses his early childhood in the Cook Islands as the child of a Pākehā father and Polynesian mother, and reads a selection of poems. The programme ends with Auckland pianist Tamas Vesmas playing a Debussy prelude at the Auckland Art Gallery.
This Wayne Leonard documentary from 2002 goes on a journey to explore what defines Māori humour. The tu meke tiki tour travels from marae kitchens to TV screens, from original trickster Maui to cheeky kids, from the classic entertainers (including Prince Tui Teka tipping off an elephant) through to Billy T James, arguably the king of Māori comedy. Archive footage is complemented by interviews with well-known and everyday Kiwis, and contemporary comedians (Mike King, Pio Terei). Winston Peters and Tame Iti discuss humour as a political tool.
In the early hours of 1 January 1998 Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, two young partygoers in the Marlborough Sounds, were in a water taxi looking for a place to crash. They vanished and were never seen again. The investigation transfixed the nation, and led to the conviction of Scott Watson for murder. Directed for TV3 by John Keir (Flight 901: The Erebus Disaster), this 2002 documentary revisits the case from the perspective of two fathers — Gerald Hope and Chris Watson — and brings them together for the first time to talk about whether Scott Watson is guilty.
This 2002 documentary explores the stories behind one of Aotearoa’s most beloved songs: ‘Pokarekare Ana’. Claims for the authorship of the waiata aroha are examined, and Kiwis famous and lesser known reflect on the song’s place in the culture. Directed by Chas Toogood, the doco features classic performances: from St Joseph’s Girls’ Choir singing in the Waitomo Caves in 1960, to Inia Te Wiata going low in English, Kiri Te Kanawa soaring in concert, Hinewehi Mohi enlisting a 30,000 strong league crowd as backing singers, and sailing away in a 1987 America’s Cup campaign song.
This documentary traces the life of intersex activist Mani Mitchell. 'Intersexual' is a term to describe a person with atypical combinations of the biological features that usually distinguish males from females. Mitchell's harrowing but ultimately inspiring story is told via candid and articulate interviews, as Mitchell talks about being made a "hospital freak show tour" by doctors, and growing up secretly 'middlesex'. The Dominion Post's Jane Bowron called Mani's Story "one of the great survivor stories". It won the 2004 Qantas Media Award for Best Documentary.
Produced by Greenstone Pictures, Mercury Lane was a story-driven arts show that screened late on Sunday nights on TV One, from 2001 until 2003. Each hour-long episode of this 'front-person free' show included a cluster of short documentaries covering a wide range of subjects including poetry, visual art, music and performance.
They came, they battered, they bickered. Peter Hudson and David Halls were as famous for their on-screen spats as their recipes. The couple ("are we gay? Well we're certainly merry") turned cooking into comedy, and won Entertainer of the Year at the 1981 Feltex Awards. This 73-minute documentary explores their enduring relationship and tragic passing — from memorable early days entertaining dinner guests at home and running a shoe store, through to television fame in NZ and the UK. The interviews include close friends and many of those who worked with them in television.
This 2001 Mercury Lane episode is based around pieces on author Maurice Shadbolt, and OMC producer Alan Jansson. With Shadbolt ailing from Alzheimer’s, Michelle Bracey surveys his life as an “unauthorised author” (Shadbolt would die in 2004). Next Colin Hogg reveals Jansson as the “invisible pop star” behind OMC hit ‘How Bizarre’ and more. The show is bookended by readings from Kiwi poets: Hone Tuwhare riffs on Miles Davis, Fleur Adcock reads the saucy Bed and Breakfast, and Alistair Te Ariki Campbell mourns a brother who fought for the Māori Battalion.
Aotearoa is the last big land mass on earth discovered and settled by people (orthodox history suggests Māori arrived around 1280). Directed by Mark McNeill, this Greenstone TV documentary examines controversial evidence put forward to claim an alternative pre-Māori settlement — from cave drawings and carvings, to rock formations and statues. Historians, scientists, museum curators, and amateur archaeologists weigh up the arguments, DNA, carbon, and oral stories of the early Waitaha people, to sift hard fact from mysticism and hope.
Miranda, Gordon, Roz and Sharon deal with the life-threatening realities of obesity. Nominated for Best Documentary at the 2002 NZ Television Awards, Big explores their daily routines and difficult relationship with their size. Miranda is severely overweight and can't dress or wash without help; Roz is upfront about her bingeing and its origins in low self-esteem; Gordon undergoes lap band surgery in the hope of curing his tendency to retain weight. Big’s most poignant moments come from Miranda and Roz’s determination not to let their struggles affect their children’s well-being.
This long-running popular factual series went behind the scenes of New Zealand's auction houses, following the process as items, from cars to family heirlooms, went under the hammer. The half-hour Greenstone show screened for five seasons, from 2000 to 2006. The auctioneers included James Hogan, Ross Millar and James Parkinson (all from Webb's auction house), Penny Reid (Cordy’s in Auckland) and Kevin Hayward (then at Plumbly’s in Dunedin). Michael Hurst narrated season five. The show is not to be confused with the 1990s BBC antiques quiz show of the same name.
This episode of Greenstone Pictures' documentary series about maritime misfortune recounts the fate of the Boyd — a shipwreck created by a bloody act of revenge. Presenter Paul Gittins travels to Whangaroa Harbour in the Far North where, in 1809, local Maori slaughtered more than 60 passengers and crew. This savagery — and the cannibalism that followed — severely strained early Maori-Pakeha relations for decades. Gittins carefully examines the lead-up to the attack and former Race Relations Conciliator, and local resident, Hiwi Tauroa provides further context.
On 7 February 1863, the worst maritime disaster in New Zealand history occurred. British warship HMS Orpheus ran aground on a notorious sandbar at Manukau Heads, with the loss of 189 of the 259 onboard. Directed by John Milligan (Trio at the Top), this documentary was part of a series examining the country’s worst wrecks. Presented by Paul Gittins, it discusses the disaster, its cause, and the consequent investigations. While the British admiralty laid blame on the harbourmaster, local Māori interpreted the wreck as utu, for a breach of tapu by a Pākehā settler the previous day.
Popular Greenstone series The Zoo aired for over a decade. The show went behind the bars at Auckland Zoo to meet monkeys, rhinos, kiwi, humans, and more. A family-friendly hit, initially for TV2, it sold widely overseas. The show spawned a number of spin-offs and best of DVDs, including two Zoo Babies specials, Trent's Wild Cat Adventures — plus Two by Two at the Zoo (2005) and The Zoo: This is Your Life (2011), which each featured one animal per episode. The Zoo won the viewers' vote for Favourite Documentary Series at the TV Guide Awards, seven years running.
This Greenstone Pictures' series was a mixed plate of reality TV, cooking show and Stage One Anthropology. The (Kiwi) concept is simple: presenter Suzanne Paul invades a house with a camera crew and mystery dinner guest, while restauranteur Varick Neilson cooks the occupants dinner. Special guests included David McPhail, Temuera Morrison, Mike King and Kevin Smith. Two series were screened in 1998 and 1999, with a third screening in 2004.
On 28 April 1995, the collapse of a viewing platform at Cave Creek, in Paparoa National Park on the West Coast, caused 17 students and a Department of Conservation Field Centre manager to plunge 40 metres into a chasm. 14 died, and four were injured. The documentary (from which NZ On Screen has three excerpts) explores what happened and why, with accounts by family members, survivors, and DoC staff. Made three years after the tragedy, the programme looked at its lasting impact on those left behind. It won Best Documentary at the 1998 NZ Television Awards.
This series was a mixed plate of reality television, cooking show and first stage anthropology. The (Kiwi) concept is simple: presenter Suzanne Paul invades a house with a camera crew, while restauranteur Varick Neilson cooks the inhabitants some dinner. This early episode features the under-stocked flat of a group of Auckland 20 somethings. When the week's mystery dinner guest turns out to be ‘New Zealand's sexiest man' (as voted repeatedly by TV Guide readers) Kevin Smith, the female flatmates applaud.
The giant, flightless moa, could stretch up to three metres tall and weighed up to 275kg. This documentary tells the story of the "mighty moa". It covers the bird's 19th Century rediscovery by English naturalist Richard Owen who surmised that the moa existed from bone evidence (leading to ‘moa mania' bone-trade); through ignition of hope that moa may still be alive when takahe (thought as dead as the dodo) were discovered in Fiordland in 1948; to digging up bird skeletons and remains of moa hunter culture in South Island swamps.
Clash of the Codes was a show that pitted teams representing various sports against each other in a series of physical challenges (obstacle courses, mud runs and stair climbs etc). In the made-for-TV battle for code bragging rights the traditional heavyweights (rugby, rowing) were challenged by strivers from the newer codes (eg. Olympic canoeing champ Ian Ferguson, Coast to Coast multisporter Steve Gurney, and young then-unknown triathlete Hamish Carter). Four series were made; the first three were hosted by Simon Barnett and the last by Robert Rakete.
Clash of the Codes was a made-for-TV series that pitted teams representing various sports against each other in a series of devised physical challenges. In this final episode from the first series, rowing and canoeing are the frontrunners, with plenty of Olympic podium experience on both teams (Ian Ferguson, Eric Verdonk and Chris White, plus world champ sculler Phillipa Baker). They tackle a steep bush rescue and the army confidence course at Whangaparaoa Peninsula. A young Marc Ellis (rugby) gets early practice playing the larrikin onscreen.
A documentary profiling the humanitarian work of Professor Fred Hollows (1929-1993), a New Zealand-born, Australian based eye specialist who saved the sight of thousands of underprivileged people in Australia, Eritrea, Nepal and Vietnam through a mix of common-sense and temerity. The "intellectual with the wharfie's manner" became an Australian folk hero and was named Australian of the Year in 1990. Producer John Harris went on to found Greenstone Pictures, along with Director Tony Manson, who later became a Senior Commissioner for TVNZ.
Maggie's Garden Show (originally Palmers Garden Show) was a popular TV One series that ran from 1992 to 2003. Featuring ‘bug man’ Ruud Kleinpaste, gardening experts Bill Ward, Jack Hobbs, Gordon Collier and Professor John Walker, and of course, the nation’s most beloved ginger gardener, host Maggie Barry. The Ellerslie Flower Show special was a perennial favourite amongst viewers; a review from the Herald notes, “In an age where TV personalities grow to be larger than life, Maggie's Garden Show has stuck to its information-based roots.”
Houses have long been central to New Zealand's identity, from the whare to the quarter-acre pavlova paradise, to The Block and the 2000s Auckland bubble. This TVNZ ‘home show’ looks at the obsession, circa the early 90s: exploring contemporary grand designs, renovation dilemmas, and meeting Kiwi personalities of the era in their homes. The first of four series was presented by actor Jennifer Ward-Lealand and builder (and future Dunedin mayor) Dave Cull. Jim Hickey and Jude Dobson later joined Cull. The show spawned a 1994 book written by Cull and Stuart Niven.
This TVNZ ‘home show’ explores 90s grand designs and their architects, renovation dilemmas and Kiwi personalities in their houses. This debut episode is presented by actor Jennifer Ward-Lealand and builder (and future Dunedin mayor) Dave Cull. Ward-Lealand visits architect Roger Walker in his pastel pink and green Tinakori Road home, intros a “70s Cinderella” bathroom do-up, and drops in on DJ Kevin Black’s arts and crafts-style mariner’s cottage. Cull tests a non-stick frying pan and a barn house. Date stamps include denim shirts and a saxophone theme tune.