Television producer Philip Smith made his name with a stable of internationally-successful sports programmes. These days, as head of production company Great Southern Film and Television, he has been expanding from comic shows like Eating Media Lunch into other fields — including reality shows (Rescue 1), Moa-nominated telemovie The Kick and 2008 movie Apron Strings.
I thought I’d build a company with a couple of good shows and be comfortable. But in a way it’s my nature to grow things. I can’t stop myself. Philip Smith
This short film about a teen struggling to connect with his father took the top prize in NZ On Screen's inaugural ScreenTest film competition for high school students. Wakatipu High School pupil Lachie Clark made Alone with his Year 13 Media Studies classmates Ella Little and Alex Booker. Following the theme "coming of age", teen Charlie (Joel Malcolm-Smith) heads to the hills to escape his dad's harsh words. ScreenTest judge Jackie van Beek (The Breaker Upperers) praised the "beautiful landscapes, cinematography and editing". TV producer Philip Smith plays the dad.
In this acclaimed investigation for Three's current affairs show The Hui, Mihingarangi Forbes interviews four Māori men who were victims of abuse while in state care as boys. They talk about the lead-up to being in custody, the mental, physical and sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of other wards and staff, and the cycle it created. The screening drew public attention to systemic abuse, and played a key role in provoking the government to launch an official inquiry the following year. Warning: contains confronting themes and language.
Five years after the Treaty of Waitangi's signing, tension between British and Māori was at boiling point. In the middle of nowhere in Northland, chief Te Ruki Kawiti devised a plan to fight back. His masterpiece was Ruapekapeka, a state of the art pā with underground tunnels, deep trenches and artillery bunkers. Journalist Mihingarangi Forbes visits the site to investigate how Māori — outnumbered four to one — survived a 10 day British bombardment. Produced by Great Southern Television and Radio NZ, NZ Wars won awards for Best Documentary, Māori Programme and Presenter.
This 2016 miniseries dramatises the life of legendary Everest conquerer Edmund Hillary. Written by Hillary's friend Tom Scott (who also wrote Hillary documentary A View from the Top), the six-part drama covers Hillary's life from growing up poor with a disciplinarian father, to romance, Everest, Antarctic adventures, and tragedy and achievement in Nepal. It was directed by Danny Mulheron (The Kick). Hillary was nominated for six NZ Television Awards, including for Andrew Munro's portrayal of Sir Ed. Dean O'Gorman won Best Actor, as Hillary's friend and climbing companion George Lowe.
Award-winning Māori current affairs show The Hui sets out “to increase understanding and awareness among mainstream New Zealand about the issues facing Māori and the unique aspects of our culture.” The format includes interviews, investigative reports and panel discussions. Fronted by journalist Mihingarangi Forbes, it screens on Sunday mornings on Three. An April 2017 Hui report on the experiences of men who were abused in state boys' homes won acclaim, and led to a government inquiry. The Hui is produced by Great Southern Television.
This excerpt from the acclaimed miniseries about Kiwi mountaineer and philanthropist Sir Edmund Hillary includes his 1930s childhood in sleepy Tuakau, and scenes from the 1940s, when his desire to join the war effort clashes with the beliefs of his pacifist father. Ed's young life is sketched in three chapters: a stolen library book ignites a passion for the mountains, teenage Ed experiences the grandeur of Mt Ruapehu, and adult Ed (played for the remainder of the series by Andrew Munro) grows restless with life as a beekeeper while being labelled a coward for his family's war stance.
When the All Blacks beat France to win the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, it eased New Zealand's angst of more than 20 years without a title. It also created an unlikely hero in Stephen 'Beaver' Donald. A run of injuries led to a call-up for the fourth choice first five (he was whitebaiting when contacted). When Aaron Cruden was injured, Beaver came off the reserves bench and kicked a decisive penalty. Danny Mulheron's Moa award-nominated TV movie relives the reject-to-redemption fairytale. David de Lautour (Westside) plays Donald. This excerpt includes the kick itself.
When this popular TV One comedy-drama about misbehaving real estate agents debuted in 2013, it copped flak from real estate bosses for perpetuating negative stereotypes about the industry. Agent Anna follows Anna Kingston (played by Robyn Malcolm, who also came up with the series idea), whose husband has left her and their two teenage daughters. Needing work, Kingston turns to selling houses in Auckland's cutthroat market. The programme ran for two seasons. Theresa Healey (Shortland Street), Adam Gardiner (movie Hopeless) and Roy Billing (Old Scores) co-star.
Anna Kingston (Outrageous Fortune's Robyn Malcolm) isn't having a good year: her husband has left her and their two teenage daughters, forcing her to relinquish a pampered lifestyle to return to work. Devised by Robyn Malcolm, this TV One comedy-drama follows Kingston as she tries to sell real estate and live with her parents. Her rich friends give her the cold shoulder, and her sleazy work colleague Leon Cruickshank (Adam Gardiner from movie Hopeless) proves he can't be trusted. Rejected by everyone, Kingston turns to self-help CDs for inspiration: "I deserve to win".
American scientist Jared Diamond described Aotearoa’s animal life as the “nearest approach to life on another planet” because of its distinctive evolution. With few mammals, New Zealand before people was ‘birdland’. This 2009 series sees presenter Jeremy Wells (Eating Media Lunch) train his binoculars on birds, and meet the flocks of human Kiwis (twitchers, bird nerds, conservationists) who follow them. Produced by company Great Southern Television, Birdland screened in a primetime slot on TV One. Steve Braunias (author of How to Watch a Bird) was one of the scriptwriters.
In the first episode of The Cult, headstrong lawyer Michael Lewis (Shortland Street's Renato Bartolomei) joins a volatile group in a Northland house. Each of them has lost a family member or friend to commune Two Gardens, and wants to get them out. Meanwhile, inside Two Gardens, Michael's son is asked to "renounce" his own brother. Created by Kathryn Burnett and Peter Cox, The Cult won Qantas awards for acting, design, music, cinematography, and editing — and was nominated for another four acting awards. Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent) directs this first episode.
Nearly mammal free, pre-human New Zealand was a land of birds, many of them found nowhere else. In Birdland, Jeremy Wells (Eating Media Lunch) explores all things avian in Aotearoa. In this opening episode he visits Hauraki Gulf island sanctuary Tiritiri Matangi and Christchurch’s Peacock Springs. Putting the wry into wrybill, Wells muses on manu matters from twitching to tākahe poop. Dominion Post’s Linda Burgess praised Mike Single's "marvellous camera work", and Wells’ celebration of ordinary people "who work to protect and enhance what we still have".
The Cult follows two groups: the members of a commune, who have renounced all contact with the outside world, and a loose-knit team of 'liberators', keen to reestablish contact with commune members they care about. The first prime time drama from Great Southern Film and Television won six of its 11 nominations at the 2010 Qantas Film and Television Awards — including for the acting of Lisa Chappell and Danielle Cormack (as a devious doctor). It was nominated for Best Drama. The moody 13-part thriller was created by Kathryn Burnett and Peter Cox.
In the 2000s mockumentary realism (led by The Office) was making its mark in television comedy. Series The Pretender gave Kiwi politics the embedded camera treatment, with expat comedian Bob Maclaren playing overconfident property developer-turned-MP Dennis Plant. The first episode of the second series sees Plant cause political chaos, with the launch of his Future New Zealand party. This season was nominated for three Qantas TV awards in 2009, including best comedy. The show was created by Peter Cox (Insider’s Guide to Happiness) and Great Southern TV’s Philip Smith.
In this reality show Phil Keoghan (The Amazing Race), ambushes contestants and bids them to overcome a challenge with limited time (three days) and resources. This episode ditches the self-help aspect and ups the machismo by having a freezing worker, southern shepherd, champion rower, trans-Atlantic race winner, Kiwi league legend, and ex-Mr New Zealand compete in old school elimination challenges for NZ's 'toughest man' title. Future Olympic champ Eric Murray is the young buck wrestling for the hardman mantle with wily Mark 'Horse' Bourneville.
In this highlights special culled from the first four years of Eating Media Lunch, presenter Jeremy Wells manages to keep a straight face while mercilessly satirising all manner of mainstream media. Leaping channels and barriers of taste, the episode shows the fine line between send-up and target. The 'Worst of EML' tests the patience of talkback radio hosts and goes behind the demise of celebrity merino Shrek; plus terrorist blooper reels, Destiny Church protests, Target hijinks, and our first indigenous porno flick (you have been warned: not suitable for children).
No Opportunity Wasted was a reality show devised by Phil Keoghan, Emmy Award-winning Kiwi host of The Amazing Race. In the show Keoghan ambushed contestants and gave them a limited time (three days) and limited resources (usually $3000) to ditch the excuses and "live life now". Challenges included swimming with sharks, building a giant community playground, and a NZ tough guy competition (that included future Olympic champion rower Eric Murray). The New Zealand edition followed on from the inaugural series that screened on Discovery Channel in the US in 2004.
In this satire series presenter Jeremy Wells — channelling Kenneth B Cumberland (of Landmarks fame) — examines NZ history in a mock-revisionist manner, poking fun at the pretence of the past. From the makers of Eating Media Lunch, the show is self-described as “the most important series in the history of history”. Each episode tackles the big issues, including ‘Crime’, ‘Visitors’, ‘Trouble’ and ‘Evil’. The show draws its material mostly from television archive basements, with the odd piece of fakery and animation thrown in. Michael King this defiantly ain't!
This 'alternative' version of New Zealand history was made by the team behind Eating Media Lunch. Channelling Kenneth Cumberland —presenter of heavyweight 80s series Landmarks— Jeremy Wells plumbs the TV archives to poke fun at New Zealand, and its people. Some excruciating hilarity is mined from artifacts of visitation to southern shores, from Bill Clinton to the Beatles. Muhammad Ali's fast food tastes down under are examined; the Dalai Lama finds bad karma in Christchurch; Charles and Diana visit in 1981; and mirth is mined from all things ovine.
In this mockumentary series, hapless property developer turned politican Dennis Plant (played by Bob Maclaren) campaigns to win a fictional Queenstown seat, then later launches party Future New Zealand. Made by Great Southern, the first season screened on TV3. A second season on TV One coincided with the 2008 election; it was thrice nominated at the 2009 Qantas NZ Film and TV Awards (Best Comedy, plus Actor and Supporting Actor, for Maclaren and Andrew King respectively). Reality met fiction when Plant's 2008 election blog appeared on the NZ Herald website.
Jeremy Wells brings Kenneth Cumberland-seque authority to this 'alternative' version of Kiwi history, which was made by many of the team that worked on Eating Media Lunch. The Unauthorised History plumbs TV and history archives to poke fun at the pretence of the past (and present). This episode examines artefacts to do with sex and Aotearoa. With tongue planted in check (and in other places) Wells revisits everything from pole-dancing in the "hellhole of the Pacific" — colonial-era Russell — to randy Hutt Valley teenagers "getting laid" in the 1950s.
Lion Man Craig Busch, and his unlikely colleagues — African lions and white Bengal tigers — were a ratings and international sales success across three TV seasons. The Lion Man went behind the scenes at his Zion Wildlife Gardens animal park. In this first episode of the Great Southern TV show, Busch talks about his introduction to working with the big cats — and the scars that are part of the job. There's also a peek at the making of an award-winning Sky TV promo that featured his lions. Busch, and the park, were later to be the centre of regular controversy.
Craig Busch aka The Lion Man is a self-taught big cat handler who has brought Barbary lions and white Bengal tigers to New Zealand. With both species extinct in the wild, Busch launched a breeding programme to add to limited numbers remaining in captivity. Great Southern Television produced three series following the often controversial Busch and his giant feline charges, from the early days of his Zion Wildlife Gardens park near Whangarei (later relaunched as The Kingdom of Zion). An international sales success, the show has played in more than 120 countries.
Eating Media Lunch satirised mainstream media, from "issues of the day" journalism to reality TV to the society pages (lampooned in the "celebrity share market index index"). No fish was too big or barrel too small. Presenter Jeremy Wells kept a straight face over seven seasons of often controversial episodes, while investigating issues inexplicably missed by other media (eg the porno film made in Taranaki and shot in te reo, or ritalin-fueled reality programme Medswap). EML's seventh season won Best Comedy Programme at the 2008 Qantas Film and Television Awards.