After 18 years making documentaries for state television, David Harry Baldock established company Ninox Television in 1988. At Ninox, he endeavoured to continue the old public service mantra of making shows that inform, educate and entertain. Over the next two decades, the company produced hundreds of hours of prime time television covering everything from history and home improvement, to everyday heroes.
Hokitika-born, Baldock was adopted at birth and grew up in Dunedin, where future broadcasting colleague Ian Fraser was a few years ahead of him at high school. Baldock entered many local speech contests and spent his spare time acting onstage, from repertory to the Globe Theatre.
When Baldock got into television, the adage was that to get in the door you either had to be Catholic, or have a relative in the industry. His brother Peter had already joined Dunedin's DNTV-2 as a presentation director. David became an assistant editor, after hearing about the job through a vocational guidance counsellor. He counts himself lucky to have got into TV when new arrivals were given wide-ranging training. After five years, largely in the editing department, he was accepted for a trainee producer/director’s course in Wellington.
Invited by producer Brian Lennane, he joined eclectic new music show Grunt Machine in Easter 1975, the day Avalon Television Centre opened its doors. That first gig was as a reporter/director. Baldock remembers producer Des Monaghan telling him "we don’t know how you got transferred up here, but you’re going to directing current affairs, where you can sink or swim." Baldock would direct a range of current affairs shows, state funerals — and even the prime time news, the night flooding stopped staff from getting to the studios.
Baldock directed this infamous interview with Robert Muldoon, and was in at the beginning of regional show Today Tonight (giving Baldock the unusual honour of having worked on Today, Tonight, and Today Tonight). One-off documentary Operation Disneyland (1979), about a group of handicapped children travelling to Los Angeles, proved so successful it was swiftly rescreened in a Saturday night slot. Baldock was then invited to join TVNZ's documentary team.
In 1983 Baldock was nominated for a Feltex Award for his work on documentary series Vietnam - The New Zealand Story. He was also behind the camera at the launch of two shows presented by Ian Johnstone: in-at-the-deep-end series The Beginners Guide, and Speakeasy, which each week saw a new trio of guests conversing on a particular topic. Meanwhile the Johnstone-presented Norman Kirk doco August '74 - The Death of a Prime Minister was Feltex-nominated.
Baldock and Johnstone later reconvened for two unusual foreign assignments: Two Faces of Africa saw them touring refugee camps with Princess Anne, and interviewing Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda. Co-production Return Journey saw them in the US working with Kiri Te Kanawa on the voice-over of her episode, which documented a trip back to New Zealand for the opera singer.
In 1988 Baldock left the state broadcaster to launch Ninox Film and Television. Baldock began the company with author Philip Temple, then later partnered with producer Bronwen Stewart. Other key contributors at Ninox would include Howard Taylor, John Hagen and Mike Bennett). Baldock came up with ideas for many shows himself; the only format that began outside the company was double Qantas-winner Sensing Murder, which sold throughout Europe.
Ninox's output covered an impressive array of topics, from arts (La Boheme, Wise Women and Song) to history (Our People Our Century), Māori land claims (One Land Two People), and reality shows of all shades (the long-running Location Location Location, and award-winner Get a Job, where the unemployed did military training).
Ninox also made the first Kiwi documentary permitted to capture an actual murder trial. The idea for two-parter The Trial arrived during a week in a London isolation ward, when the only interesting television Baldock saw was a Scottish programme revolving around real life trials.
Baldock’s original format for Mitre 10 Dream Home won two People's Choice awards, and sold to Canada, where it ran for a decade and saw French and English language versions. In 2003 Ninox won an out-of-court settlement over claims the Dream Home format had been stolen by three US companies. However it lost a costly Australian court battle against The Block — a loss which eventually helped cripple the company.
Other Ninox shows to travel well were The Promise, about champion racehorse Sir Tristram and his breeder, the first person soldier accounts of Last of the Anzacs, and the Baldock-directed At the Risk of Our Lives. The latter’s tales of early explorers in Aotearoa were nominated for five NZ Television Awards, and sold to the BBC.
Baldock is especially proud of Our People Our Century, Pacific Rescue, Mungovern Ave Hall (from series Real Lives) and one-off documentary Come A Long Way. Our People Our Century is probably the most ambitious show Ninox produced. Produced by Baldock and fellow TVNZ escapee Ray Waru, it won the 2000 NZ Television Award for Best Factual Series. Themed episodes and interviews with ordinary Kiwis examined 100 years of change.
Pacific Rescue (1995) marked the first of many Ninox programmes to chronicle life and death situations, and those who save the day. The 90 minute documentary recreated a multi-boat sea rescue after a rogue storm. Baldock describes it as "an incredible journey from the fight to get the funding, through the struggle to uncover the truth, to the richness of the stories of survival that were told". Baldock won an award for the doco in Chicago, but is proudest that an American women’s group used Pacific Rescue to show others how women can cope under extreme danger. Three years later he directed another 90 minuter. High Incident. Capturing four days at Manukau Police Station, it later spawned Ninox series Emergency Heroes.
Meanwhile Mungovern Ave Hall, filmed in a small community hall in Porirua, provided a taste of the suburb’s diverse culture, and Come A Long Way marked one of Bob Marley’s final screen appearances, as recalled by legendary music reporter Dylan Taite.
After the collapse of Ninox in 2008, Baldock became head of television at Wellington production company Sauce. In 2012 he headed to China on a three year contract. He directed multiple documentary projects and items for Chinese television which screened in English and Chinese, and interviewed artists and designers across two continents.
Back home, Baldock directed Atoms at Work (2018), a documentary about New Zealand's role in the development of the silicon chip. He also began a stint taking American tourists on trips around Australasia.
Baldock has also had a long involvement in industry politics. As President of TVNZ’s Television Producers and Directors Association, he was a key player in the TVPDA’s amalgamation with the Independent Producers and Directors Guild; the result was SPADA, of which he was a longtime board member. Baldock also helped create the GOFTAS, New Zealand’s first combined film and television awards.
Profile updated on 2 September 2020
David Harry Baldock
'David Harry Baldock: PMs, Russian subs, and psychics...' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen website. Director Ian Pryor. Loaded 7 July 2014. Accessed 7 July 2014
David Baldock, 'Something did happen that night' – Onfilm, September 2010, page 8
Ian Johnstone, Stand and Deliver (Cape Cately, 1988)
'Out-of-court settlement for Ninox Films' AdMedia, 11 December 2003