Alongside a busy theatrical career, Jennifer Ludlam has acted onscreen at home and in Australia (Sons and Daughters, Prisoner). Award-winning turns came as an ex-prostitute falling for an undercover cop in 1993 TV-movie Undercover. Three years later she was news anchor Liz Whiteman in Cover Story. Ludlam won again as the put-upon mother in Apron Strings, before acting in TV comedy Golden and thriller The Blue Rose.
Jennifer Ludlam is especially compelling as the desperately sad matriarch, ill-equipped to deal with her son’s incorrigible problems ... Joe Sheppard, reviewing Apron Strings on The Lumiere Reader, 11 August 2008
Shortland Street receptionist Leanne Miller (Jennifer Ludlam) provided many magic moments during her time on the show. Prone to mispronunciations, homophobic comments (although she later had a change of heart) and meddling in her daughter Nicole's relationships, Leanne also endured muggings, a drowned partner and surgery without anaesthetic. When Shortland actor Grace Palmer is asked for her favourite moment from the show, she chooses the time Leanne took health supplements laced with speed. The clip ends with a brief glimpse of Leanne after the event.
In this 13 episode series by veteran TV scriptwriters Rachel Lang and James Griffin (creators of Outrageous Fortune, The Almighty Johnsons) Outrageous stars Antonia Prebble and Siobhan Marshall are cast east into Auckland's CBD, where they team up to solve a murder. Along the way the odd couple (office temp and victim's best friend) unite to unravel dubious goings-on in the post-crash Auckland financial world, and team up the people working behind the scenes against the corruption. The 2013 series was produced by Chris Bailey for South Pacific Pictures.
In this 2013 murder mystery from writers Rachel Lang and James Griffin (Outrageous Fortune, Almighty Johnsons), Outrageous stars Antonia Prebble and Siobhan Marshall are cast east to Auckland's CBD as a sleuthing odd couple. This opening 10 minutes of the TV3 series begins with a body floating in the Viaduct. Then temp Jane March (Prebble) finds more drama than stationary in her first day at a law firm: her predecessor — Rose — is dead rather than on holiday, and she meets Rose’s brassy best mate Linda (Marshall) when she barges in to collect Rose’s possessions.
In September 1893 New Zealand became the first country to grant all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. This fly on the wall docudrama reimagines this major achievement, following Kate Sheppard (played by Sara Wiseman) throughout the final push of her campaign. The 70-minute TV movie follows the template set by director Peter Burger and writer Gavin Strawhan in their 2011 docudrama on the Treaty of Waitangi, with key characters directly addressing their 21st century audience. At the 2012 NZ TV awards, Wiseman won for Best Performance by an Actress.
In Samoan-born director Sima Urale's first feature, two mothers from very different Aotearoa cultures find the courage to confront the secrets of the past, in order to set their sons free. Hard-working Lorna runs an old-fashioned cake shop and lives with her unemployed son. For Anita, star of an Indian cooking show, things come to a head when her son decides to meet her estranged sister Tara, who runs a no-frills curry house. Apron Strings debuted in the Discovery Section of the 2008 Toronto Film Festival. It won four Qantas awards, including for actors Jennifer Ludlam and Scott Wills.
Created by superhero fan Stephen J Campbell, this light-hearted adventure series follows teen Ben Wilson (Carl Dixon) who discovers his father and grandad have done time as superheroes. Still getting to grips with the basics of being one himself, Ben enlists family and friends to help fight assorted villians. The show ran for three seasons, and spawned web series The Wired Chronicles and Origins. Nominated for awards in Rome and New Zealand, it picked up one in Korea. The eclectic cast included the tried (David McPhail) and the new (Hannah Marshall from Packed to the Rafters).
A Twist in the Tale was one of a series of kidult shows launched by The Tribe creator Raymond Thompson, after he relocated to New Zealand. The anthology series spins from a storyteller (Star Trek's William Shatner) introducing a story (often fantastical) to a group of children, some of whom appear in the tales. The show featured early appearances by many young Kiwi thespians, including Antonia Prebble, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Dwayne Cameron and Michelle Ang. Although the writing team were British, some of the directors and most of the crew were New Zealanders.
This short film follows Vincent (Leighton Phair), a young Chinese-Kiwi rescued from a group of racist punks in a spacies parlour by a mysterious Asian (Gary Young), then drawn into a seedy Triad underworld. Vincent is struggling with his identity in a mixed race family. Directors Stuart McKenzie and Neil Pardington wrote the story with playwright Lynda Chanwai-Earle, drawing it from interviews with members of the Chinese community in Wellington and Christchurch. Early 90s Flying Nun bands feature on the score; DJ Mu (future Fat Freddys Drop frontman) cameos as a punk.
This acclaimed Gibson Group series was set behind the scenes on a current affairs programme. Katie Wolfe plays stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins, hired for her tabloid style in a bid to raise the show's ratings. In this excerpt from episode two, a surrogate pregnancy turns into a nasty custody battle. Amanda chases the story, whatever the cost (journalistic ethics included) and acquaints herself with the surrogate. But then her in-house rival Liz (Jennifer Ludlam, who won a TV award for this episode) gets a scoop interview with the parents of the disputed child.
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.
The Gibson Group drama series centres on a team of TV journalists working on a weekly current affairs programme. Katie Wolfe plays stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins, who has been lured back to Wellington from Australia by a network boss hoping her tabloid style will help ratings. Her workmates are not so confident. In this excerpt from the start of the first episode, Robbins hits the news (literally) as she runs into a disturbed nightclubber (Katrina Hobbs) on a rainy night. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was one of the series writers.
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.
This 1991 telefilm follows young undercover cop Tony (William Brandt) who gets in too deep when infiltrating a heroin ring in the underbelly of Wellington’s music and pub scene. The Kiwi noir tale was inspired by real-life undercover policeman Wayne Haussman, who was convicted of drug trafficking. Directed by Yvonne Mackay (The Silent One), it was made as a pilot for a series that never eventuated. At the 1993 NZ Film and Television Awards Undercover won Best TV Drama; Jennifer Ludlam was awarded for her role as Tony's ex-prostitute girlfriend. Cliff Curtis plays a musician.
The role of women in a traditionally male dominated profession is highlighted in this episode of Wellington police drama Shark in the Park. The episode was penned by Norelle Scott and directed by Ginette McDonald. New arrival 'Wally' (Joanna Briant) faces a baptism of fire from her colleagues — and a rough ride on the streets as a drunken couple's antics escalate into major problems for the thin blue line. The third episode of season one features Robyn Malcolm in her first screen role, while Mark Wright provides some late 80s colour as an inebriated yuppie.
Gloss was a popular Kiwi television drama series made by TVNZ that screened in the late 80s; it combined a wealthy family, the Redferns, with a lucrative high-fashion magazine business. Yuppies, shoulder-pads and méthode champenoise abound in this cult "glamour soap". New Zealanders wanted to see themselves as less bottom of the world and more "here we come and we are sailing" (as the infamous Cup campaign song warbled), and Gloss was just what the era demanded.
Musician Petunia (Jennifer Ludlam) and daughters Polly and Patch are tiring of their lives as land yachting "gypsies of the motorway" in the first episode of this hyperactive children's fantasy drama written by Margaret Mahy. Their salvation could be a magic house owned by Crocodile Crosby — a used car dealer with ambitions to be a pirate — but a devious land agent (Michael Wilson) and a dastardly wealthy couple stand in the way. All powerful narrator Paul Holmes orchestrates the action which features extensive use of music and period video special effects.
Petunia and her daughters Patch and Polly have moved into their decidedly unconventional dream house in the second episode of this surreal children's fantasy drama written by Margaret Mahy and directed by Yvonne McKay. Their idyllic new life of music making is soon shattered by their home handyman neighbour from hell Branchy (Grant Tilly). But he has problems of his own with the unwelcome arrival of his three long lost, grasping and perpetually hungry sons. Special guest Jon Gadsby contributes an energetic performance as pie magnate Chicken Licken.
Heavily influenced by the mid-80s MTV-led music video boom, this madcap six part kids fantasy series focuses on an aspiring songwriter and her daughters who renounce life on a land yacht to settle in a house with a mind of its own. Based on scripts by acclaimed author Margaret Mahy (in her first collaboration with director Yvonne Mackay), it utilises then cutting edge video special effects (requiring locked off shots and no camera movement). The soundtrack is by composer Jenny McLeod while Paul Holmes' narrator is omnipotent and petulant in equal parts.
Radio Waves charted the “lives and loves” of a commercial Auckland radio station in the age of Bee Gees and flares. Grant Bridger (‘Win Savage’) and Andy Anderson played DJs with Alan Dale as station manager; it was Dale’s screen debut, before fame in Australia (Neighbours) and the US (24, Ugly Betty). Devised by Graeme Farmer, Waves was an effort by SPTV to best TV One’s flagship soap Close to Home. While producer Tom Finlayson’s first drama was short-lived, its metro Auckland context — peopled with upbeat urban strivers — signaled a changing NZ on screen.
Children's adventure series Gather Your Dreams follows Kitty, a teenager who dreams of stardom while travelling with her family's vaudeville troupe in Depression-era 1930s New Zealand. The troupe's impresario (and Kitty’s father) was played by Mortimer’s Patch star Terence Cooper. Mostly shot in the Coromandel, the half hour 13-part series was one of a run of kidult dramas made in the late 70s by South Pacific Television. Like its predecessor — colonial scamp saga Hunter's Gold — it had international sales success. Dreams was helmed by Hunter's Gold director Tom Parkinson.
A Going Concern was part of a wave of new drama which hit television from the mid 70s, after the launch of a new second TV channel. The soap debuted in July 1975, initially twice a week in an afternoon slot, before moving to primetime. Chronicling the lives of the staff of a South Auckland factory, it won enthusiastic reviews. The Auckland Star praised the "believable Kiwis with topical problems". Critic Barry Shaw argued it had "a good deal more going for it in characterisation, pace and direction" than rival soap Close to Home. A Going Concern was cancelled after a year.
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.