In a screen career spanning more than two decades, Melanie Rakena has produced more than a thousand hours of television. Rakena has spent time in floor management, executive producing, and head of the Lifestyle Unit at TVNZ, where she oversaw an array of reality and magazine formats.
While leading the lifestyle unit, Rakena's desk wasn't far from that of television reporter Jane Andrews. "I always liked her energy," Rakena said in this video interview."...she's just good at everything. I thought, I need her." In 2002 the two left TVNZ and launched their own production company, Jam TV. Over 18 years, Jam enjoyed significant success producing an array of award-winning popular factual programmes. Rakena is particularly passionate about adventure travel, and many of Jam's shows were based around travel and exploring, whether local or international.
Having enjoyed backpacking to far flung corners of the globe, Rakena convinced TVNZ of the worth of taking local celebrities off the beaten track, and out of their comfort zone. It took some time. The result was Intrepid Journeys, launched in 2003. Each episode followed a famous New Zealander during a fortnight visit to a country (or countries). Over nine seasons, the show won multiple awards for best series in its category, with travellers ranging from musicians and ex-Prime Ministers, to an extensive list of actors and TV presenters.
Rakena was also turning her hand to a run of shows hosted by the personable Marcus Lush. She began with 2004's Off the Rails, a train show that crossed over beyond trainspotters to become a breakout mainstream hit. With Marcus Lush as personable guide, the series looked at New Zealand and New Zealanders via a journey along the main trunk line. As well as producing the series, Rakena directed seven of the 12 episodes.
Lush and Jam built on their successful partnership by exploring three further locales. The shows were Antarctic series ICE (2007), South (2009), which saw Lush exploring in and around his adopted hometown of Bluff, and North (2011) in which he returned to his native Auckland, then headed north. Rakena won Qantas Best Director awards for the first two shows, adding to an impressive awards tally.
Jam TV also produced back-to-nature lifestyle shows Off the Radar, and follow-up Radar's Patch. Both programmes feature comedian Te Radar endeavouring to live sustainably, while 2012 Best Information Series awardwinner Global Radar saw him exploring how human actions shape the world.
In 2013 Rakena got back on the road as producer of This Town. The show was born from interesting Kiwi towns and people she has encountered on her travels. Rakena "thought it would be a refreshing change to let people tell their own stories without the filter of a presenter or a voiceover".
She also worked on two seasons of DNA Detectives, and directed the lion's share of eight-part series Following Twain, which saw Oscar Kightley touring Aotearoa in the path of American author Mark Twain (who hit New Zealand in 1895). After completing the show in 2019, Rakena and Andrews finally called it a day on their extended Jam TV partnership.
Profile updated on 23 December 2020
Jam TV website (broken link). Accessed 22 May 2017
James Croot, 'Talk of the town' (Interview) Stuff website. Loaded 1 October 2013. Accessed 23 December 2020
'Her Insight' (Interview with Melanie Rakena and Jane Andrews) - Her Business magazine, May 2007