Ben Mitchell headed from Hamilton to Auckland in 2000 and began pursuing an acting career, soon after being crowned Mr New Zealand. Following a guest role in Shortland Street in 2000, he has become a fan favourite since returning to the show in 2006 to play Doctor TK Samuel. The character later married Doctor Sarah Potts (Amanda Billing), and became head of the hospital's Emergency Department. Aside from a number of short films, Mitchell has also starred in three feature films: cross-cultural romance Love Has No Language, comedy Curry Munchers and indie drama Broken Hallelujah.
It's an honourable craft. If you're talented and willing to work hard, someone will snap you up. Ben Mitchell in 2010
After showing she could definitely generate a headline from an interview (when she quizzed Bachelor winner Art Green on matters sexual, in a 2015 NZ Herald web series) Anika Moa got her own chat show on Māori Television in 2016. The couch interview format saw Moa interview guests and review media in her trademark candid style, from actors Cliff Curtis and Lucy Lawless to politician Chloe Swarbrick. Eleven 30-minute episodes were made for series one; a second series began in 2017. The series won praise for its fresh (non white male) perspective.
Possibly the longest-brewing wedding on Kiwi television was that of Shortland Street’s Chris Warner (Michael Galvin) and Rachel McKenna (Angela Bloomfield), in February 2014. Between them the couple had overcome stalkers, alcoholism, car crashes, bombs, brain damage, and a total of six prior marriages…but on this occasion there are no last minute objections to interrupt proceedings, just a firm answer to the decades long 'will they, won’t they?' question for the show’s golden couple. Only Grace (Lynette Forday), who is carrying Chris's baby, doesn’t look like she feels the love…
Arguably one of the most heartbreaking deaths in Shortland Street history was that of Doctor Sarah Potts (Amanda Billing) in August 2014; it spawned online tribute pages and widespread grief from fans. Potts’ struggles with multiple sclerosis on the show had helped spread awareness of the condition, but it was research on a superbug cure that spelt the end of her decade on the show (she had contracted the bug from a contaminated syringe). These excerpts include her tearful farewell to partner TK Samuels (Ben Mitchell) and their daughter Tillie (Leila Eketone).
JRR Tolkien's beloved novel The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins on a quest to help reclaim the lost dwarf homeland of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. Shoulder-tapped by Gandalf for the mission against some opposition, Bilbo joins a company of dwarves in an epic adventure: vying against goblins, orcs and Gollum's riddles. After the box office blitzing and Oscar-slaying Lord of the Rings trilogy, adapting the precursor novel was an expected journey. Martin Freeman (The Office, Sherlock) plays Bilbo, with Peter Jackson again at the helm in this first of a three-part adaptation.
Since a spectacular truck crash just before the Christmas 1995 episode, the Shortland Street team have often pulled out the stops at Christmas time, and other special anniversaries. The 90 minute 20th anniversary special — which won acclaim in May 2012 — was no exception. Aside from Chris Warner being arrested for murder in his hospital bed, a dramatic helicopter crash injures Nurse Nicole Miller, a P addict is loose in the building, a heart has gone missing, and at least six former Shortlanders return. A fashion parade of old costumes from the clinic provides some light relief.
This homegrown Erin Brockovich story follows former Whakatāne sawmill worker Joe Harawira and his long battle to reveal the impact that workplace toxins have had on his community. In the 80s after being afflicted by health issues, Harawira noticed co-workers getting sick. In 1988 he helped found SWAP (Sawmill Workers Against Poisons) and began investigating the effects of exposure to dioxins, a by-product of timber treatment. The Joe versus the mills crusade screened on Māori Television, and won Best Popular Documentary at the 2012 NZ Television Awards.
In this dark whodunit Gareth Reeves (The Cult, A Song of Good) stars as a crime writer who goes bush with strangers, while on a break from researching a story on a serial killer. Soon there’s death in the muddy Waitakere backblocks. The film marked the big screen debut of filmmaking partners James Napier Robertson and Tom Hern, en route to their high profile drama The Dark Horse. The results won support from a strong ensemble cast (Ian Mune, Ilona Rodgers), an invitation to the NZ film festival, and praise from NZ Herald reviewer Peter Calder for "smart writing and good acting".
Trapped in a storage locker, shorn of her appendix, nurse Alice Piper (Toni Potter) turns the tables on her captor: psycho Joey Henderson (Johnny Barker). When Doctor Craig Valentine encounters Henderson, he finds himself caught between anger and duty. Finally marking the end of the Ferndale Strangler's reign, this March 2008 Shortland Street episode climaxed an eight-month long plotline which saw five members of the cast falling victim. Earlier three leaked videos each revealed a different killer (none of them Joey), upping the suspense as to the strangler's real identity.
A taonga in Māori culture is a treasured thing, whether tangible (eg. a letter, photo, or heirloom) or intangible (eg. a family story). This series uses taonga — whose protection is enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi — as a starting point to tell dramatic Māori stories from the last 150 years. Weaving documentary techniques with re-enactments, Taonga features the stories of Guide Sophia, Sir Maui Pomare and Penetito Hawea among others. It screened on Māori Television in 2006, and featured actors Ian Mune, Rawiri Paratene, Taungaroa Emile and Miriama McDowell.
After her husband is jailed, matriarch Cheryl West (Robyn Malcolm) decides the time has come to set her family on the straight and narrow. But can the Wests change old habits? So begins the six-series long saga of the Westie dynasty. Hugely popular at home (beloved by public, critics and awards-nights alike), and imitated overseas, Outrageous Fortune has been a flag-bearer for TV3 and contemporary NZ telly drama; the series proved — in all its grow-your-own glory — that genre TV in NZ could be so much more than overseas stories pasted to a local setting.
Kōrero Mai ('speak to me') used a soap opera (Ākina) as a vehicle to teach conversational Māori, aided by te reo tutorials. Special segments taught song and tikanga. Multiple seasons were made for for Māori Television by Cinco Cine Productions. Cast and crew with credits on the series include presenters Matai Smith and Gabrielle Paringata; actors Calvin Tutaeo, Vanessa Rare, Jaime Passier-Armstrong, and Ben Mitchell; and directors Rawiri Paratene, Rachel House and Simon Raby. Kōrero Mai won Best Māori Programme at the 2005 Qantas TV Awards.
The Strip centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who sheds a legal career to set up a male strip revue. Created by Alan Brash, The Strip played to a certain demographic's desire for ogling naked men (warmed up by 1987 play Ladies Night and 1997 film The Full Monty), but with a focus on female characters, as Melissa juggles business with raising a teenage daughter. Taking cues from Ally McBeal (with fantasy sequences to match) the Gibson Group tale of g-strings, feminism and red light romance screened for two series on TV3 and sold internationally.
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.