Elisabeth Easther was just out of drama school Toi Whakaari in 1995 when she was cast as Shortland Street nurse Carla Crozier. She gained Kiwi television infamy as the street's first murderer. Later, for three years from 2010, Easther was a familiar face as the Mum in an ad campaign for Countdown supermarkets. She is also a journalist, radio commentator, voice artist and award-winning playwright (Seed, Famous Flora). In 2018 Easther travelled around the Hauraki Gulf, following in the footsteps of her mother — pioneering broadcaster Shirley Maddock — as host of an updated version of TV show Islands of the Gulf.
When I didn't continue with my law degree in favour of drama she never tried to put me off in favour of the more practical path. Instead she supported those ambitions and when the going got tough she always knew what to say to pick me up and dust me off...I'm forever grateful to have had her footsteps to follow in. Elisabeth Easther on her mother, broadcaster Shirley Maddock, The NZ Herald, 20 February 2018
Comedians Rose Matafeo and Laura Daniel created and starred in this part sketch comedy, part sitcom. Funny Girls sees Daniels and Matafeo producing sketches for a fictional comedy series, and dealing with incompetent male bosses and a clueless producer (Breaker Upperer Jackie van Beek). In 2016 the TV3 series won attention when Comedy Central was accused of copying a season two skit about a board game for girls. The mainly female cast includes Kimberley Crossman, Brynley Stent and Alice Snedden. Madeleine Sami made her TV directorial debut in season two.
Director Karl Zohrab’s docudrama makes the case for World War I military leader Major General Sir Andrew Russell to be resurrected in Kiwi popular memory alongside the likes of Freyberg. Based on Jock Vennell's biography, the film spans Russell’s life from his Hawke’s Bay childhood to Gallipoli and the Western Front — where the New Zealand Division commander was acknowledged for his tactical nous — to the latent effect of his war experience. It screened on The History Channel for Anzac Day 2014. Colin Moy (In My Father’s Den) plays Russell in battlefield dramatisations.
Rest for the Wicked showcases an all-star A-team of older Kiwi actors — among them John Bach, Bruce Allpress, and Gloss boss Ilona Rodgers. Gravel-voiced Tony Barry (the man who uttered the immortal line "goodbye pork pie") stars as Murray, a retired detective going undercover in an upmarket rest home. Frank hopes to catch his longtime nemesis (Bach). Instead he finds himself in the company of the randy, and the unexpectedly dead. The "sweet, rather knowing little movie" (Linda Burgess in The Dominion Post) marked the feature debut of advertising veteran Simon Pattison.
TV personality Jaquie Brown plays (and plays up) herself for delightful comic effect in this hit TV3 satire. Former Campbell Live reporter Brown plays an egomaniacal journalist looking to climb the media ladder any which way she can. Auckland's aspirational set: a cast of Metro social page alumni and wannabes, are skewered with self-referential glee. The second series was retitled for DVD release as The Jaquie Brown Odyssey; both series won acclaim and Best Comedy gongs at the Qantas Film and TV Awards. The Listener gushed: "A local sitcom that doesn't suck."
In this six part TV One series, suburban Mum Jodie (Jodie Dorday) accidentially kills her ex-rock singer husband Brian (Shane Cortese) and is convinced by her friends to bury the body. The comedy drama was devised by Maxine Fleming and Gavin Strawhan, and produced for Eyeworks Touchdown by screen legends Julie Christie and Robin Scholes (Once Were Warriors). Scholes was onboard to develop drama at the production company renowned for its popular factual television. It was the first NZ television drama to use high definition cameras. A planned sequel was never made.
Christchurch property developer Dave Henderson experienced bankruptcy, accusations of fraud, and 25 plus tax audits. This Kafkaesque comedy is based on his best-selling book about a five-year battle with the tax department, over a $924,000 bill. Kiwi/Scot actor Erik Thomson returned from Australia to play Henderson, while a near-unrecognisable Michael Hurst cameos as MP Rodney Hide. Lumiere reviewer Simon Sweetman praised the “superb” casting, and Thomson’s playful performance. The film is adapted and directed by screen vet Jonothan Cullinane.
In this satirical series Jeremy Wells channels presenter Kenneth B Cumberland (the academic who presented 1981 history series Landmarks). The makers of Eating Media Lunch plunder New Zealand's television archives, and poke fun at the past. The show promoted itself as “the most important series in the history of history”. Each episode tackles a big issue, including ‘Crime’, ‘Visitors’, ‘Trouble’ and ‘Evil’. Alongside archive footage, the odd piece of fakery and animation gets thrown in. Michael King, this defiantly ain't!
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 season saga of the Westie dynasty. Hugely popular (beloved by public, critics and awards givers alike), Outrageous Fortune was a flag-bearer for TV3 and New Zealand television drama. The series proved — in all its grow-your-own glory — that television in Aotearoa could mield comedy and drama, and be so much more than overseas stories pasted to a local setting.
As a downtown Auckland street performer — Mesmer — makes a special connection with a cafe customer, it transpires that she can move punters in mysterious ways. Her alien perspective is distinctively conveyed: Mesmer's metallic outfit shimmers in silver, blue and gold, and she sounds like a robotic tui as she shifts and whirs and works the crowd. The first film from Morag Brownlie, Mes Mer was invited to international festivals. Among the spellbound locals, watch out for future-NZ’s Next Top Model judge Colin Mathura-Jeffree, next to Bjork (!).
This Shortland Street episode ended the 1995 season with a missing baby, a Christmas turkey and a bizarre accident. After being set up by conniving nurse Carla Leach (Elisabeth Easther), a drunken driver aims his Mac truck directly for the hospital's reception. Amongst the injured, Kirsty wakes up with a case of memory loss, while Carmen suffers unexpected after-effects, soon after swearing everlasting devotion to Guy Warner. Meanwhile Nick potentially faces prosecution, after accidentally leaving his girlfriend's one-year-old child at the supermarket.
This series centred on a weekly TV current affairs programme in mid-90s Wellington. Katie Wolfe stars as stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins: lured back from Australia for her tabloid style in an effort to boost the show's ratings. Tackling timely storylines and shot ‘handheld’ in the NYPD Blue-inspired style, the TV3 series was well reviewed but faced its own ratings struggles (a later series screened on TV One). It was Gibson Group’s second foray into producing a TV drama series, after Shark in the Park. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was a series writer.
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.