Folk musician Marcus Turner spent three years as one of a trio of presenters on kids show Spot On, where he became known for his musical performances and comic sketches. After leaving the show in 1984 he worked as a director, including on documentaries for NHNZ and another kids classic, Play School. He also spent time in the UK as a fulltime folk musician. Turner passed away in early February 2016.
In 1980 a new presenter to join the team was armed with a guitar, and a ready stream of one-liners. Bob Parker describes Spot On presenter Marcus Turner, in the final episode of Spot On
This 1993 documentary surveys the world’s southernmost volcano, Mount Erebus. Cameras travel to never before filmed depths, 400 metres below the sea ice. They also go 3500 metres above sea level into the erupting crater. The film charts what is able to survive in the otherworldly environment, from seals to moss. Solid Water was the third part of an acclaimed Wild South trilogy on Antarctica, which helped establish a relationship between Discovery Channel and TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ). It was awarded for Best Camera at the 1994 New Zealand TV Awards.
Wildtrack was a highly successful nature series for children, running from 1981 through several series to the early 90s. In this episode the presenters check out “dung fungi” in cow pats and walking-on-water-insects (pond skaters) in the studio, and head outside to check out kea alpine parrots who are “too friendly for their own good” (threatened by smuggling and over eager tourists); the West Coast’s black sand beaches; Fiordland’s underwater world; and selective plant breeding that involves washing a bee.
Wildtrack was a highly successful nature series for children, running from 1981 through several series to the early 90s. The series was produced from Natural History New Zealand’s (then TVNZ’s Natural History Unit) Dunedin base and this final episode for 1990 looks at the natural world of the Otago Peninsula and harbour, from unique inhabitants: royal albatross, fur seals, and yellow-eyed penguin; to myth-busting explanations of the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, lichen, and mudflat cricket. It includes the year’s bloopers reel.
Beloved by 70s and 80s era Kiwi kids, Spot On mixed educational items and entertainment. For the final episode, broadcast live on Christmas Day 1988, guest host Bob Parker celebrates the show’s 15 years by tracking down almost every Spot On presenter. There are also clips of fondly remembered sketches and adventures, set to pop hits of the day. The roll call of presenters includes Phil Keoghan, Ian Taylor, Danny Watson, Erin Dunleavy, Ole Maiava, Helen McGowan and the late Marcus Turner. Spot On won Best Children’s Programme at the 1988 Listener Film and TV awards.
TVNZ series Viewfinder was aimed at making news and current affairs accessible to a teen audience. Topics ranged from underage drinking to the new breakdancing craze, to a campaign to see School Certificate exam papers after they had been marked. Reports were filed by the show's three presenters. Over the show's run these included Phillipa Dann (in her first presenting gig), Uelese Petaia (star of 1979 movie Sons for the Return Home), David Hindley (also a gay rights campaigner) and Michael Barry. The show's distinctive synthesiser opening infiltrated many young minds.
TVNZ’s Natural History Film Unit was founded in Dunedin around 1977. The first Wild South documentaries began filming a year later. The slot's initial focus was on New Zealand’s perilously endangered birds, eg the Chatham Island black robin (then the world’s rarest bird). The results won local and international notice, and a loyal audience. Wildtrack was a sister series showcasing natural history for young viewers. Wild South ended in 1997 when the Natural History Unit was purchased by Fox Studios; it later became internationally successful production company NHNZ.
Launched in February 1974, Spot On was an award-winning education-focused magazine programme for children. Presenters who got their break on the beloved show included Ian Taylor, Danny Watson, Phil Keoghan and Ole Maiava. Keoghan went on to global fame as host of The Amazing Race; Taylor now heads up Taylormade Productions and Animation Research Ltd. The show was created by Murray Hutchinson. Producer Michael Stedman later became head of the Natural History Unit. Peter Jackson and Robert Sarkies entered Spot On’s annual Young Filmmaker competition.
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.