After making a career in marketing at record company RCA, English-born John Sumner switched back to his original love of performing in 1992. Since then he’s appeared in Shortland Street and had a memorable role in political satire Spin Doctors as Giles Peterson — "the buffoon", as Sumner calls him — the boss of a PR agency. He played the producer of a current affairs show on TV's Cover Story, and on the big screen was cameraman Herb in Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong. Sumner has also lent his voice talents to numerous shows and documentaries, including Going Going Gone, Treasure Island and Piha Rescue.
In terms of the character of Giles, it was simply a guy who had gone in early, made a hell of a lot of money, decided he was gonna be a winemaker, it sucks, he creates vinegar, and it was just a wonderful character to be able to play ... "a buffoon", who's well-meaning but very conscious of himself. John Sumner on his role in Spin Doctors, in an interview for The Beat Goes On, 25 March 2013
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."
Perfect Creature is set in an immaculately realised alternative colonial New Zealand where steam powers cobble-stoned cities, and zeppelins cruise the skies. A race of benevolent vampires preside over the spiritual life of humanity. When one of them turns rogue, a manhunt begins. Starring international actors (Dougray Scott, Saffron Burrows) Perfect Creature was the second feature for director Glenn Standring. It was the first Kiwi film picked up for distribution by a major Hollywood studio (Twentieth Century Fox), who ultimately dithered with its release.
Peter Jackson's love affair with moviemaking and special effects was ignited by seeing the original King Kong (1933) as a child. Jackson's Kiwi-shot remake takes one of cinema's most iconic monster movies, retains the 30s setting and iconic New York finale, and toughens up the "beauty" (Naomi Watts). The film also transforms the male (non-ape) lead from lunkhead to sensitive playwright (Adrien Brody). Exhilarating, Oscar-winning CGI brings the great ape to life, alongside rampaging dinosaurs, and oversized wētā inexplicably absent from the maligned 1976 remake.
It's election time in this special episode from the topical weekly satire series about a PR firm (written by James Griffin, Dave Armstrong, Tom Scott and Roger Hall). Giles Peterson and Associates will take on any client - even if it means trying to update Helen Clark's wardrobe, speechwriting for Winston Peters, offering succour to fading National and Alliance MPs, brokering a coalition deal between the Greens and Labour, or helping candidates master the intricacies of The Worm. Meanwhile, elements of the Catholic Church feel they haven't apologised enough.
In the early hours of 1 January 1998 Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, two young partygoers in the Marlborough Sounds, were in a water taxi looking for a place to crash. They vanished and were never seen again. The investigation transfixed the nation, and led to the conviction of Scott Watson for murder. Directed for TV3 by John Keir (Flight 901: The Erebus Disaster), this 2002 documentary revisits the case from the perspective of two fathers — Gerald Hope and Chris Watson — and brings them together for the first time to talk about whether Scott Watson is guilty.
Set in a high flying PR firm, Spin Doctors was a topical, fast turnaround satire — in the tradition of John Clarke’s The Games. No client is too grasping, no issue too unsavoury for Giles Peterson and Associates, and a team including a ruthless Australian (Mark Ferguson), a boozy trout (Elizabeth Hawthorne) and the office liberal unsuccessfully battling his conscience (John Leigh). Each episode was written and produced in just five days — allowing the writers (including James Griffin, Roger Hall and Tom Scott) full license with the week’s issues.
This long-running popular factual series went behind the scenes of New Zealand's auction houses, following the process as items, from cars to family heirlooms, went under the hammer. The half-hour Greenstone show screened for five seasons, from 2000 to 2006. The auctioneers included James Hogan, Ross Millar and James Parkinson (all from Webb's auction house), Penny Reid (Cordy’s in Auckland) and Kevin Hayward (then at Plumbly’s in Dunedin). Michael Hurst narrated season five. The show is not to be confused with the 1990s BBC antiques quiz show of the same name.
Each episode of Going Going Gone introduces sellers as they head to auction, and then sees if buyers agree with their valuations when the items go under the hammer. This opening episode heads to Turners for a classic car auction, and follows a woman selling off her antique family furniture, as her heirlooms are assessed then presented for sale by auctioneer James Parkinson. The show ends with a teaser: the arrival of a bejewelled solid gold bull at Webb’s auction house. The long-running popular factual show was made by Greenstone Productions for TVNZ.
This Coming Home episode introduces two Kiwi "pioneers in their fields": psychologist John Money and horse expert Wayne McIlwraith. Colorado-based McIlwraith works on top racehorses around the globe, then goes climbing on his rare days off. Money was celebrated and criticised for his game-changing work on gender and sexuality. Returning for a visit downunder, he sets about donating his artworks to a museum in Gore. The episode was made soon after doubts were first raised about the success of Money's most famous case of gender reassignment, David Reimer.
Two expat Kiwis return home from the United Kingdom in this episode of Coming Home — Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien, and renowned opera tenor Patrick Power. Power returns for work: he’s performing two demanding roles in Pagliacci and Cavalleria rusticana in Auckland. O’Brien’s visit is far more relaxed, visiting old haunts, his siblings and a former employer. Despite the pair espousing love for their UK residences, both fall victim to that irresistible allure of home. O'Brien, a British citizen raised in Aotearoa, was finally granted citizenship in 2011.
Film director Roger Donaldson and motor racing legend Steve Millen both began making their mark in New Zealand, before making the move to California. The first Coming Home episode sees them at work in the USA, and visiting old haunts in Aotearoa. Donaldson shoots the effects-heavy Dante's Peak and prepares $100 million thriller Thirteen Days, while Millen hits the race track, in-between running his custom car parts company. Later he returns to the farm near Auckland, where his need for speed began on the family tractor. Donaldson heads to Auckland and Queenstown.
On 28 April 1995, the collapse of a viewing platform at Cave Creek, in Paparoa National Park on the West Coast, caused 17 students and a Department of Conservation Field Centre manager to plunge 40 metres into a chasm. 14 died, and four were injured. The documentary (from which NZ On Screen has three excerpts) explores what happened and why, with accounts by family members, survivors, and DoC staff. Made three years after the tragedy, the programme looked at its lasting impact on those left behind. It won Best Documentary at the 1998 NZ Television Awards.
The giant, flightless moa, could stretch up to three metres tall and weighed up to 275kg. This documentary tells the story of the "mighty moa". It covers the bird's 19th Century rediscovery by English naturalist Richard Owen who surmised that the moa existed from bone evidence (leading to ‘moa mania' bone-trade); through ignition of hope that moa may still be alive when takahe (thought as dead as the dodo) were discovered in Fiordland in 1948; to digging up bird skeletons and remains of moa hunter culture in South Island swamps.
Treasure Island was an early local example of a reality show staple — contestants endured the great outdoors, and each other. Over nine seasons the series went through multiple variations, including a Couples at War season, and another featuring favourites from the past. During the 2004 season of Celebrity Treasure Island, contestant Lana Coc-Kroft was airlifted from Fiji, after she cut her foot on coral and got a life-threatening blood-poisoning disease. On 2002's Treasure Island: Extreme, Barrie Rice — an ex SAS soldier — dealt with being eliminated by hiding in the jungle.
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.
Actor and casting legend Diana Rowan (who discovered both Anna Paquin and Keisha Castle-Hughes) turns her hand to writing and directing, with this darkly comic half-hour television drama based on an original story by Shonagh Koea. Veteran actor Helen Moulder (Fallout) gives a stand-out performance as a recently widowed woman, who arrives at a novel solution to well-meaning but hideous friends and family. The Wall is dedicated to director of photography Bayly Watson, who passed away soon after working on it.