Some years back, Jane Andrews listed her career highlights to date: reaching the summit of a mountain in Nepal; maintaining phone contact with a hostage-taker, while police engineered a rescue attempt; paddling a boat down the Ganges; mounting a successful campaign to free a war veteran from facing his 80th birthday behind bars; being kissed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver; playing Johnny Cash's guitar.
Andrews grew up in the Taranaki town of Waitara, where it was often wet, and adventures were more likely to happen in her mind than firsthand. An intermediate school lesson about ancient Egypt opened her eyes. "I remember clicking that the pyramids were real, and asked if you could visit them," she says. "The teacher looked at me like I was insane. People from Waitara didn’t dream of going to Egypt. This was a town where the local freezing works was nicknamed 'The University'.
Andrews is thankful to another teacher: the high school art teacher who on hearing she was considering a science degree, mentioned the horror of wearing a white coat for the rest of her life. Andrews chose the media. In the early 1990s she studied journalism at the NZ School of Broadcasting, then donned her "power-suited shoulder pads" and began an internship in the TVNZ newsroom.
Over the next five years she was lucky to learn from "the industry’s best live presenters" while reporting for Holmes, Tonight (with Anita McNaught) and Newsnight. Aimed at a younger audience than the traditional news show, Newsnight introduced presenter Marcus Lush, who Andrews would work with again. She remembers feeling like "a naughty school kid" who has broken into the studio.
Her interests began to encompass to other forms of storytelling, as she worked on everything from interview shows to MTV to children's television. A brief stint at South Pacific Pictures on the production team of Shortland Street and City Life added some drama to her skills toolbox.
Andrews went on to work at the short-lived Kiwi version of MTV; she was a production manager on Havoc, the "wondrous show" that introduced presenter Mikey Havoc. She remembers one show opening on a shot of Havoc's empty chair. "We just waited for him to turn up."
MTV did not last. Havoc was reborn at TVNZ, and Andrews moved to children’s show What Now? The Saturday morning TV institution offered the chance to "sing, dance and make silly videos and get paid for it".
Live television came knocking again via late weekday show Today Live, presented by Susan Wood. Then Andrews was asked to make a documentary paying tribute to newsreader Angela D'Audney. It needed to acknowledge "a woman who forged a path for so many others — in front of the camera, in news and in drama". D'Audney watched the documentary with Andrews shortly before she died on February 2002.
That same year, Andrews left TVNZ to set up a production company with another TVNZ escapee, producer Melanie Rakena. The idea behind Jam TV was to make innovative programmes "their way". Andrews thinks it was "instinct and luck" that the duo worked so well together. Jam's flagship travel show Intrepid Journeys, was their first. It took three years to find funding, then ran for nine seasons. Each episode saw a well-known Kiwi setting off for an international destination which rarely involved luxury hotels.
Initially Andrews concentrated on financial matters, but she soon moved into production. At Jam she directed or produced over 500 hours of television, including Jacquie Brown parenting show Keep Calm and Carry On, meeting Kiwis shows NZ Story and Caravan of Life (hosted by Haydn Jones), and Kiwis at war documentary Our Lost War.
Wary of cookie cutter presenters mouthing familiar platitudes, Andrews and Rakena showed an eye for finding on-screen talent whose enthusiasm could take television in refreshing directions. They struck creative gold with Marcus Lush and comedian Te Radar (aka Andrew Lumsden).
Andrews concentrated on making environmental shows featuring Intrepid Journey survivor Te Radar: Off the Radar (2008), Radar's Patch (2010) and Global Radar (2011 - 2013). Rakena says that in many ways Radar made the perfect TV host. "He understands the importance of making things accessible ... and exciting." He also had a "joyful exuberance" in topics that others might find ordinary.
Off the Radar remains a personal favourite for Andrews. The show saw Radar and an off-screen Andrews living sustainably on a paddock. Dealing with chickens and various "rural conundrums" made Andrews realise how much she'd learnt by osmosis, during childhood visits to her grandparents' farm. Andrews and Radar were nominated for Qantas Awards for their work. With Radar's Patch, the setting was an overgrown quarter-acre section, while Global Radar saw Radar heading overseas to investigate environmental questions. The first season (of two) was named Best Information Series at the 2012 NZ Television Awards. (Meanwhile Melanie Rakena concentrated on the shows presented by Marcus Lush: Off the Rails, Ice, South and North.)
Through all the above shows, Intrepid Journeys kept the Jam TV team circling the globe. Writing about the show for NZ On Screen, Andrews mentioned how the duo were wary of the fakery and repeated takes of so many reality and travel programmes. "We called it reality TV because we captured real things happening in the real world in real time. We started everyday with no interviews booked or even a run sheet of what we would aim to film." Most times the crew knew they would only get one take.
Andrews and Rakena won the Best Micro Business category of the 2006 Her Business Businesswoman of the Year Awards. In 2007 Kiwi screen organisation SPADA named them Independent Producers of the Year. In 2010, Jam TV walked away with four Qantas awards, and Andrews found herself duelling with her business partner in two categories: winning Best Information /Lifestyle Programme for sustainable living show Radar's Patch, and losing Best Director to Rakena for the later's work on South.
Andrews gave Intrepid Journeys' winning formula of celebrities and travel a twist with DNA Detectives. This time guests got on a plane to learn more about their own ancestry. Hosted by Rocky Horror Picture Show creator Richard O'Brien, the show sprang from a DNA test that Andrews had taken, so she could learn more about her bloodline. "It's like a magical treasure hunt into who you are, " she says. "It has the sort of detail in it that you just couldn't tell from a family tree."
In 2019 Andrews and Rakena co-directed eight-part series Following Twain, which saw Oscar Kightley touring Aotearoa in the path of American author Mark Twain (who hit New Zealand in 1895). The same year Andrews completed two-part documentary That's a Bit Racist. Presented by Shavaughn Ruakere and Jo Holley. the documentary explores New Zealand's history of racism via interviews and lighter-hearted moments. While in Invercargill, the TV crew experienced racism firsthand. As Andrews told Stuff, "my cameraman is Māori and has a long beard. A car drove by and the occupants yelled out the window 'go back to your own country' ".
In 2019 Andrews and Rakena finally decided to put the top on their Jam TV jar, after 18 years of making television together. In late 2019 Andrews relocated to New South Wales, where she runs photography and video company The 360 Bureau.
Profile updated on 29 April 2020
Jam TV website (broken link). Accessed 22 January 2014
Jam TV: Melanie Rakena and Jane Andrews...' (Video interview) NZ on Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 28 June 2010. Accessed 29 April 2020
'Her Insight' (Interview) - Her Business, May 2007
Judy O'Callaghan, 'That's A Bit Racist documentary film crew racially abused in South Island city, producer says' Stuff website. Loaded 15 July 2019. Accessed 12 February 2019
Fiona Rae, 'That's a Bit Racist: The new doco exploring New Zealand's racial biases' (Interview) - The Listener, 5 July 2019 (broken link)
Tara Shaskey, 'Former Waitara High student produces new TV show' (Interview) - The Taranaki Daily News, 14 October 2015