Wellington-raised Bettina Hollings studied advertising and communications at Auckland Institute of Technology (now AUT), before she got a job as a media planner at advertising agency Colenso. Three years later, in 1987, she was hired to become one of two programmers at TV2. A television programmer's main task is to place shows in time slots attractive to specific audiences.
Iconic Kiwi soap Shortland Street is credited as Holling's brainchild. In 1991, while still working at TVNZ as a programmer, she advocated for a five-day-a-week soap. Up until then 1970s soap Close to Home — which screened twice weekly — was the closest New Zealand had come to a regular ongoing soap. Original Shortland Street producer Caterina De Nave recalled Holling’s seminal role in a 2008 Listener interview. De Nave argued that despite facing near universal scepticism, Hollings "did not let it lie and talked at length with Ruth Harley at NZ On Air and then one day NZ On Air said they would fund it".
At this point there were two contenders to make the new soap: South Pacific Pictures (SPP), then owned by TVNZ, who proposed Shortland Street, and TV3, who proposed rural drama Homeward Bound. Shortland Street won the bid; SPP were commissioned to make 230 episodes, with a total budget of $10 million. Having read an article discussing the best settings for drama (police station, school, hospital), Hollings had suggested a hospital as the soap's location. She, De Nave and writer Jason Daniels created the key teen male characters of Stuart (Martin Henderson) and Nick (Karl Burnett). Shortland Street launched on TV2 in May 1992, and after some early speed bumps soon won a keen audience.
In 1995 Hollings shifted to rival channel TV3. There she oversaw factual reality shows like Police Stop and Fresh-up in the Deep End, and rose to be Associate Director of Programming.
In March 1997 Hollings became the first woman to head a major network in New Zealand, when she took the throne of TV3 owner CanWest’s new channel C4. The station launched with theme nights like Brit Comedy Wednesday and Sci-Fi Thursday. It targeted a young urban demographic.
While at C4, Hollings memorably described people meters used to measure ratings as "a fiction we have all agreed to believe in". In 2000 she put herself at the meters' mercy, when she quit programming and jumped fence to create her own shows, through her own production company Imagination TV.
One of the company’s first productions was series The Great TV3 Comedy Debate (2000), where Kiwi personalities debated issues like rugby, sex, and whether Godzone was the greatest little country on earth. Ex Touchdown executive Darryl McEwan joined Imagination TV in 2005.
Other early Imagination series that Hollings produced included School Rules (2002), a look at life for students at Auckland's Selwyn College; Babies (2002), which followed the world of pregnancy and child-rearing; and the first version of SPCA Rescue (the long-running TV One series was originally known as Animal House).
Imagination TV has gone on to introduce many versions of the reality genre to local screens, often to high ratings — including the Qantas-nominated MasterChef New Zealand, New Zealand’s Got Talent, Stars in their Eyes, My Kitchen Rules and Grand Designs.
In 2021 feature-length documentary Mark Hunt: The Fight for His Life was unveiled. The trailer describes it as 'a film by Bettina Hollings and Peter Brook Bell'. The chronicle of the 'Super Samoan' mixed martial arts star was written and produced by Hollings, and directed by Bell.
Hollings has also worked on TV series in Australia, including RSPCA Animal Rescue for Channel 10 (which ran 87 episodes) and Wild Life at the Zoo for ABC (an award-winning series on Sydney's Taronga Zoo).
The company’s slate also encompasses kids show Party Animals (with Luke Nola), Rachel’s Tour of Beauty (a globetrotting series presented by model Rachel Hunter) and dating competition Heartbreak Island.
Hollings was on the founding board of Women in Film and Television's Auckland branch, and is a shareholder in Queenstown’s Rata restaurant. In February 2016 she was awarded the WIFT Entrepreneurship Award, “for founding Imagination Television, one of New Zealand’s top independent production companies, consistently producing popular, rating television for networks in New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and Asia.”
Profile updated on 13 October 2021
Imagination Television website. Accessed 30 November 2020
Cath Bennett, ’Shorty Road to Success’ - The Sunday Star Times, 23 May 2010
Louisa Cleave, ‘Hollings jumps the production fence’ (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 30 June 2000
Trisha Dunleavy, Ourselves in Primetime - A History of New Zealand Television Drama (Auckland University Press, 2005)
Fiona Rae, 'Caterina De Nave' (Interview), The Listener, 31 May 2008
Unknown writer, ‘Peoplemeters deliver fool’s gold, says media academic’ - AdNews, 29 January 1999