After writing for children's staples Play School and What Now Fiona McKenzie was a journalist on CTV, before training as a director at South Pacific Pictures. As a freelancer she has directed a variety of TV shows — from comedy (Letter to Blanchy, Comedy Central) to non-fiction (Epitaph, The Way We Were). During a 12-year stint in South Canterbury, McKenzie taught screen production and made films for local museums and galleries; she also directed movie romance The China Cup (2009), which won extended runs in local cinemas. These days living in Christchurch, she continues to make films for varied clients.
I love the team work — there’s nothing more collaborative than making film and television. But as a writer I also love the quiet percolating of ideas. I enjoy getting my head around the characters and what they’re about. Because whatever the genre, they drive the story. Fiona McKenzie
In this series, epitaphs on gravestones provide the starting point for presenter Paul Gittins to unravel skeletons in cupboards, lovestruck suicide pacts, and fatal love letters. Combining documentary and reenactment, the show used compelling personal stories to retell New Zealand history. An actor and history enthusiast, Paul Gittins became a household name on Shortland Street (as Dr Michael McKenna) before devising this series for Greenstone. Epitaph ran for three seasons, and won Best Factual Series at the 1999 New Zealand Television Awards.
Created by animator Cameron Chittock, with help from Kiwi animation legend Euan Frizzell, this part claymation series follows a boy named Oscar as he goes off on adventures with two imaginary friends: daring Doris and the sometimes cowardly Bugsy. In these 26 five-minute episodes, Oscar meets pirates, oversized bugs, a frog princess, jumps on a flying carpet and travels through time and space. The series screened in New Zealand from 1995 to 1999. Overseas screenings included on ITV in the UK, where it became the 10th highest rating children's show on the network.
Letter to Blanchy was a gentle back-blocks comedy co-written by A.K. Grant, Tom Scott and comedy duo, McPhail and Gadsby (who also starred). Each episode centred on the bumblings of a trio of mates living in a fictional small town: intellectual Derek (McPhail), rough-diamond Barry (Gadsby) and tradesman Ray (Rowley). The show's narration comes from a letter written to Blanchy, a friend living in the relative sophistication of Christchurch. The series was adapted for a theatre tour in 2008.
Pete and Pio was a sketch comedy show based on the talents of its two leads, Peter Rowley and Pio Terei. Each episode opens with a stand-up double act performed to a studio audience and closes with a musical number led by Terei. The sketches mostly star Pete and Pio together, with a small supporting cast. This was Terei’s first lead television role, and was followed later by his own show Pio! which also aired on TV3. Rowley has had a long career in comedy, most notably his collaborations with Billy T James in the 1980s.
Competing canines on primetime TV invoke memories of the heyday of A Dog's Show in this TVNZ series. Tux was presented and produced by dog lover Mark Leishman, with his faithful golden Labrador companion Dexter (until the latter's death in 2000). Jim Mora provides a genial and pun-filled commentary as obedience tests and obstacle courses challenge the teams of dogs, and exasperate (and occasionally delight) their owners. Titbits come in the form of dog lore and trivia, advice from pet psychologists and canine funniest home videos.
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.
What Now? is a long-running entertainment show for primary school-aged children. Filmed before a live studio audience on weekend mornings, What Now? is a New Zealand TV institution; it was the first TV show to have live phone-ins. The series is known for its challenges that sometimes result in participants being 'gunged'. A roll-call of presenters includes Steve Parr, Danny Watson, Simon Barnett, Jason Gunn, Michelle A'Court, Tamati Coffey, Antonia Prebble, and more. 'Get out of your Lazy Bed' by Matt Bianco is the theme song memorable to generations of Kiwi kids.
Play School was an iconic educational programme for pre-school children, which was first produced in Auckland from 1972, then Dunedin from 1975. The format included songs, a story, craft, a calendar, a clock and a look outside Play School via the shaped windows. But the toys, Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima, Humpty and Manu, were the real stars of the show. The title sequence ("Here's a house ...") and music were a call to action recognised by generations of Kiwis. Presenters included actors Rawiri Paratene and Theresa Healey, Russell Smith and future MP Jacqui Hay.