After time as a reporter and radio producer, Judy Callingham became one of the first women in New Zealand to make her mark as a television scriptwriter (Close to Home, Gloss, Shortland St, and many more). Her broadcasting career has encompassed stints as a presenter (Town and Around, Fair Go), journalism tutor, and NZ On Air board member. These days she runs a media training company with husband Brian Edwards.
... I suppose we did try to push the envelope a little bit, but it was very gentle pushing. If you look at those early episodes, things that were considered absolutely outrageous in those days — like divorce — now would go past at a 5.30 slot, and no-one would raise a hair. Judy Callingham, on early soap Close to Home
The opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television travels from an opening night puppet show in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ On Air, Sky and Māori Television). Many of the major players are interviewed. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within the story.
From early teleplay The Evening Paper to the edgy Outrageous Fortune, this episode of 50 Years of New Zealand Television talks drama and comedy. Key players, from actors to executives, recall a host of signposts in the development of storytelling on Kiwi TV screens. John Clarke recalls 1970s sitcom Buck's House; Paul Maunder remembers the drama that likely helped introduce the DPB; and TV executive John McRae recalls worries about the projected cost of global hit Hunter's Gold, and mentioning the word 'placenta' on the first episode of Shortland Street.
When TV began in New Zealand in 1960, posh English accents on screen were de rigueur. As veteran broadcaster Judy Callingham recalls in this sixth episode of Kiwi TV history: "every trace of a New Zealand vowel was knocked out of you." But as ties to Mother England weakened, Kiwis began to feel proud of their identity and culture. John Clarke invented farming comedy legend Fred Dagg, while Karyn Hay showed a Kiwi accent could be cool on Radio with Pictures. Sam Neill and director Geoff Murphy add their thoughts on the changing ways that Kiwis saw themselves.
Duggan stars John Bach as brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse, the show was conceived by Marion McLeod, and scripted by Donna Malane and Ken Duncum. Eleven episodes of the Gibson Group series were made, following on from introductory tele-features Death in Paradise and Sins of the Father. The turquoise waters of The Sounds make for an evocative setting in this sharp, classy Kiwi whodunit. Rachel Davies writes here about Duggan's birth.
City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.
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.
Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. It follows the events of a far-north resort and casino; a number of well-known actors made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners and city weekenders, including Ilona Rodgers, Don Selwyn, Andy Anderson and Katie Wolfe. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic. In this episode the swarthy Cosic cooks up an illegal smuggling scheme to diversify a farm's income stream.
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.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
Homeward Bound was TV3’s bid for New Zealand on Air funding for a local soap opera. Set around the lives of the rural Johnson family, 22 episodes were produced for the then-nascent network (the series ultimately lost out to TVNZ’s Shortland Street). Created by Ross Jennings and written by Michael Noonan, it represented a move back to a small town way of life after the Gloss-y urban excesses of the 1980s; it also explored pressures facing country communities following the stock market crash. The cast included Liddy Holloway, Peter Elliott and a young Karl Urban.
By 1990, Billy T James, NZ’s most loved comedian, was recovering from a heart transplant - and trying his hand as a sitcom actor. His career was based on one liners and stand-up gags - but this Billy T James Show was a series of 26 half hour family based comedies with a clear debt to The Cosby Show. Billy was cast as a radio DJ with an Australian wife (Ilona Rodgers) and two daughters - but the trademark giggle was absent, the humour was gentler and the series never captured the public imagination. It was to be his last TV series — Billy T James died in 1991.
In these excerpts from his last TV series — a family based sitcom — Billy T has to deal with his radical older daughter who wants to get a moko, a teenage boy trying to smuggle beer into his younger daughter’s birthday party, a defamation writ, and another tribe becoming his landlord. There are varying degrees of help from his wife (Ilona Rodgers), his aggressively dim Australian brother-in-law (Mark Hadlow) and his daughter’s painfully politically correct pakeha boyfriend (Mark Wright), as well as cameos from Temuera Morrison, Martin Henderson and Blair Strang.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was New Zealand's first urban cop show. Devised by Graeme Tetley (Ruby and Rata), it portrayed a unit policing inner city Wellington, under the guidance of Inspector Brian 'Sharkie' Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, the show followed the character-based storytelling of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first season marked one of the last in-house productions for TVNZ's drama department. The next two series were made independently by The Gibson Group.
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.
Peppermint Twist’s pastel-tinted portrait of 60s puberty floated onto New Zealand television screens in 1987. Despite winning a solid teen following, it only lasted for one series. Set amongst a group of teens in small town Roseville (in reality the outdoors set on the edge of Wellington, originally used for Country GP), the show’s stylised look and sound had few Kiwi precedents — though its links to American perennial Happy Days are clear. Peppermint made liberal, and increasingly confident use of period music, with each episode named after a pop song of the day.
This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.
This 80s TV series sees real estate agent Selwyn, TV producer Nardia (early turns from Temuera Morrison and Jennifer Ward-Lealand) and art student Ben (Kerry McKay) as a trio of young Wellingtonions drawn together by a mysterious invitation. At an antique shop dinner they discover they share a colourful birth mother, before becoming players in a game for a legacy of $250,000. Conceived by Brian Bell, Seekers was one of a series of teen-orientated dramas made in the mid-80s (along with Heroes and Peppermint Twist). The 16 episodes screened from February 1986.
Colin Broadley was part of the Kiwi soundtrack during a decade of dramatic change. A DJ on NZ's first pirate radio station, he was also hunky star of Runaway, the first local movie in 12 years. In 1986 'whatever happened to' style series Then Again found him in the Coromandel, where he was tending bees and living back to the basics. Broadley talks exciting times on the Radio Hauraki boat, and inside a cell; the perils of kissing Bond girl Nadja Regin in the Opononi mud; a near-fatal crash; visits to China, and his belief that modern day economics and land use are unsustainable.
Long before Look Who's Famous Now and 2014's There and Back, TVNZ series Then Again traced its own line from past to present. Hosted by Annie Whittle, the series combined where-are-they-now style interviews with footage from the archives, including that unfortunate weightlifting incident at the 1974 Commonwealth Games. Among the names to feature were sportspeople (Sylvia Potts, Graham May), broadcasters (Colin Broadley, Peter Harcourt) and celebrity quins (the Lawsons).
Country GP was a major 80s drama series that charted the post-war years 1945 to 1950 in a rural central South Island town. Using fast-turnaround techniques that anticipated later series like Shortland Street, 66 episodes of Country GP were shot in 18 months at a specially built set in Whiteman’s Valley, Lower Hutt. It was groundbreaking as the first NZ series to cast a Samoan in a title role (Lani Tupu as Dr David Miller); but it also provided a nostalgic look back to an apparently kinder, gentler time than mid-80s New Zealand with its major social reforms and upheavals.
It's April 1966 when young Massey student Peter (Michael Hurst, sporting period mop and moustache) makes a surprise visit back home at the farm during study break, and is quickly put out by the archaic social mores: "ya taken to wearing a bra as well?". It's also Anzac Day, and his newfound pacifism and career plans soon put him on a collision course with his veteran father (Peter Vere-Jones) in a surprisingly potent TV drama that pulls no punches — literally — in its depiction of a generation gap that proves irreconcilable.
Popular consumer affairs show Fair Go is one of New Zealand TV's longest-running series. It began in 1977, devised by Brian Edwards and producer Peter Morritt. The TVNZ programme mixes investigative reporting (daring to "name names" and expose rip-off merchants everywhere) with light-hearted segments. Its roster of presenters has included Edwards, Judith Fyfe, Hugo Manson, Philip Alpers, Kerre McIvor (nee Woodham), Carol Hirschfeld, Gordon Harcourt, and longest serving host, Kevin Milne. A perennial favourite segment is the round-up of the year's ad campaigns.
Presented by broadcasting legend Selwyn Toogood, this beloved agony-aunt (and uncle!) discussion show screened on weekday afternoons, from 1976 to 1985. Toogood and four female panelists answered viewers' letters, taking on issues big and small. "We tackle every problem, be it incest, love or tatting" as panelist Liz Grant put it. Regular panellists included artist Shona McFarlane, Heather Eggleton, Catherine Saunders, and writer Johnny Frisbie.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years, middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977, nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series, which was co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac. They initially only agreed to make it on condition they got approval for The Governor. The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen; the demands of creating a regular show helped develop the skills of Kiwi actors and crew.
Town and Around was a nightly magazine show, covering everything from current affairs and studio interviews to slapstick to stunts; including a notorious spoof on a farmer who shod his turkeys in gumboots. A popular and wide-ranging regional series, it ran for five years from 1965, and was the training ground for a generation of industry professionals (Brian Edwards, David McPhail, and Des Monaghan amongst many others). Town and Around was made prior to a national network link, and editions came out of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.