Growing up in Thames, Maxine Fleming dreamt of becoming a poet. Fleming was not the first poet who went on to study journalism (at what is now AUT in Auckland). Afterwards she worked at newspapers on both sides of the Tasman, and did a stint at agency Australian Associated Press. But after finding herself spending increasing amounts of time writing and performing for various theatre groups, she finally threw in the journalism to devote her energies to theatre.
In 1992 Fleming got her first scriptwriting gig, on newly-launched soap opera Shortland Street. Fleming describes the experience of fast turnaround television as a “steep learning curve, but it was a lot of fun" — each night on the television screen she would get to find out what worked, and what didn’t.
Fleming has gone on to write for TV series Outrageous Fortune, — a show which demanded a "tricky" combination of drama and comedy — City Life, small town medical drama Mercy Peak, and Cliff Curtis mini-series The Chosen. She was head writer on Prime series Interrogation, whose plotlines took place almost entirely in a police interrogation room.
Come the millenium she was co-creator and writer of award-winning teen television series, Being Eve, which debuted on TV3 in 2001. The slightly kooky narrative, combining drama with digital effects and real-life interviews, focused on curious teen Eve (Fleur Saville). It remains one of Fleming’s “all-time favourite shows to work on — I still meet teenagers 10 years down the track who’ve watched it and love it”.
Being Eve was born after NZ On Air earmarked $2.1 million for a series aimed at nine to 14 year olds. Fleming kicked around ideas with Gavin Strawhan, then South Pacific Pictures' head of development. Both were keen to write something fresh, funny and intelligent. “On a personal level, as a mother of pre-teens, I really wanted my kids to watch a show that wasn't centred around navel-gazing American teenagers.”
Directors Peter Salmon and Armagan Ballantyne came on board, enthused by the scripts. Being Eve won local awards for both Best Drama Series, and Best Children’s Programme. It was also Emmy nominated in the Children and Young People category, and Fleming was nominated for best script at the NZ Television Awards. The show sold to more than 40 territories and screening in the US on Nickelodeon and its sister channel, The N.
2008 saw the debut of “dark comedy” Burying Brian. Initially Fleming planned to develop the project as a play, inspired by hearing women at a friend’s hen party admitting they had thought about what life would be like without their husbands. After winning interest from producer Robin Scholes, Fleming developed the idea for television with Gavin Strawhan. The show sees a woman (played by Via Satellite’s Jodie Dorday) enlisting her friends to help cover up the death of her husband. Fleming argued that “at its heart, the series is about women’s friendships and how their relationships are tested by this extreme event”.
Fleming's hit show Agent Anna, starring Robyn Malcolm as a hapless divorcee who becomes a real estate agent, began the first of two seasons in 2013. “I'm instantly sympathetic to poor Anna,” wrote Stuff critic Chris Philpott after episode one. “This isn't just a character in a show; this is a housewife who has been ripped off by her husband, and by life.” Fleming and Vanessa Alexander won an award for Best TV Comedy Episode at the 2013 NZ Script Writer Awards.
Collaborating with Outrageous Fortune's James Griffin, Fleming co-created 800 Words. The series, a co-production between South Pacific Pictures and Australian company Seven Productions, centred around a newspaper columnist who relocates with his two teenage kids from Sydney to the fictitious NZ town of Weld after the death of his wife. The show rated highly in Australia, topping Tuesday night primetime ratings. A third and final series screened in 2017.
After working on Shortland Street in varying roles since its conception, Fleming took over from Simon Bennett as the show's producer in early 2016. Carrying on from the hugely successful 2015 cliffhanger which she helped to write, Fleming's run as producer has seen a well-received euthenasia storyline, and the introduction of the show's first transgender actor.
"Maxine Fleming: At the heart of a good story..." (Video Interview), NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 20 March 2017. Accessed 20 March 2017
Chris Philpott, ‘Agent Anna impresses, plus next week's TV' (Review of Agent Anna) Stuff website. Loaded 1 February 2013. Accessed 9 September 2016
Susy Pointon, ‘Developing Eve - An interview with writer Maxine Fleming’ - Write Up, September 2001
'Maxine Fleming on co-creating Burying Brian' TVNZ website. Accessed 9 September 2016