One of NZ’s most experienced and prolific TV producers, Ross Jennings cut his teeth at Avalon in the late 1970s on dramas like Close to Home and Moynihan. After stints as Head of Drama at TVNZ and at Crawfords in Melbourne, he began a long association with Screentime Communicado where he created early reality TV series Middlemore, and Police 10-7. Jennings passed away on 25 March 2016.
I have absolute faith in the New Zealand audience. Once they become comfortable with our own sounds and stories their appetite for local drama will grow and grow ... but you have to give New Zealanders good product, made with heart and passion and integrity. Ross Jennings, in a June 1992 Evening Post interview
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.
This first episode in the second series made about “South Auckland’s finest singer”, Wayne Anderson, sees his career at a crossroads. Poor sales have torpedoed his breakthrough concert at Sky City and his manager, Orlando, is preoccupied with his new job at a car park. Still, there’s a gig at Acacia Cove — the most glamorous venue on the rest home circuit; and Wayne is now getting styling advice from Faye (a fellow member of the Elvis Presley Fan Club). Even more exciting is the prospect of taking his music to Manukau with his own radio station.
Marae DIY is a long-running Māori Television series that brings a tangata whenua twist to the home renovation reality format: "marae knock out their 10-year plans in just four days". This Qantas Award-winning episode heads to Manutuke Marae (south of Gisborne) mid-winter in 2006. Marae DIY creator Nevak Rogers (aka Nevak Ilolahia) has Rongowhakaata whakapapa. Alongside co-presenter Te Ori Paki, Rogers plays cheerleader as her whānau rally to meet the goals: from french doors for the kitchen, to makeovers for the nannies (including a moko by Derek Lardelli).
Māori Television has staked such a claim on Anzac Day coverage that the two have almost become synonymous. The channel began its all-day Anzac coverage with an extended, award-winning broadcast in 2006. Māori Television increased mainstream media interest in its Anzac coverage by cleverly enlisting longtime TVNZ newsreader Judy Bailey to co-host with Wena Harawira. This opening 30 minutes includes the 2006 studio welcome, and live coverage of the 67th annual Auckland Dawn Parade, with narrators Tainui Stephens and historian Stephen Clarke.
This debut episode of a not completely fictional series follows Wayne Anderson, “Manurewa’s greatest singer”, and his attempts to break out of the rest home circuit and find fame and fortune. Wayne dreams of taking the evergreen music of his idols Engelbert and Elvis to the world. But even his manager’s show business links — he works in a video store — aren’t bringing in the 50 dollar gig needed each week. Things may be looking up with the best perm Wayne’s ever had, plus an audition in a Karangahape Road bar. As a non-driver, he will have to get there by bus.
Series Ghost Hunt made dead of night visits to locales with a reputation for being haunted. The trio of presenters became paranormal investigators, trying to detect ghosts in iconic locations across New Zealand. In this excerpt, the crew visit St James Theatre in central Wellington, and discover a number of mysterious lights on their footage. The presenters are former What Now? host Carolyn Taylor, actor Michael Hallows, and team leader Brad Hills, who would go on to direct and star in 2015 romantic comedy Excess Baggage.
The membership is aging, the roof leaks, the phone and computer systems are outdated and the kitchen needs a major upgrade. Chris Weaver comes from a brewery background, but he’s the new CEO of the Auckland Racing Club, and these are just some of the challenges facing him as he attempts to rebuild the club (while a TV crew follows him in the first episode of this seven-part series about NZ’s oldest racing club). He has high hopes ‘Whips and Spurs’ – race meetings with bands and DJs – will start attracting the under-35s, but the weather forecast isn’t good.
London-based jazz saxophonist Nathan Haines returns home to perform with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, where he's accompanied by his bassist father, Kevin, and guitarist brother, Joel in a musical family reunion. They've followed different paths since the mid-80s when Nathan was 14 and they used to play as a trio (seen here in archive footage). The NZSO concert features standards and new songs from the brothers. This documentary backgrounds those songs, and follows the tricky business of melding jazz group and orchestra in rehearsal and concert.
Is the Sport of Kings headed for the knackers’ yard? As the racing industry attempts to combat declining numbers of punters, falling stake monies and increasing competition for the betting dollar, the Auckland Racing Club — New Zealand’s oldest — allows a TV crew behind-the-scenes access to its headquarters at the Ellerslie Race Course. This seven part series follows the asset-rich, cash-poor club’s new CEO, young and unproven in the racing industry, as he embarks on a mission to modernise its image and operations, and turn its fortunes around.
This documentary looks at the life and work of New Zealand's most celebrated painter, Colin McCahon. The first excerpt looks at McCahon's beginnings in Timaru and Dunedin, and his explorations of modernist techniques in paintings that reconceived 'the promised land' in an endemic landscape. The second excerpt covers McCahon's time in Muriwai in the 60s and 70s, and the influence of the environment and Māori spirituality on his work. Sam Neill reads from McCahon's letters and writings. Directed by Paul Swadel, it won best documentary at the 2005 Qantas Awards.
Director/producer Paula Jones spent time on the streets of Auckland getting to know the ‘street kids' that are the subjects of this documentary, before she started shooting. With minimal posturing for the camera, the result is an up close portrait of young homeless people with names like Tapu, Baby Girl and Boom Boom. In a non-judgemental way, Jones shows viewers the glue sniffing, alcohol abuse and unplanned pregnancy that is an everyday way of life for many of these kids. The Hidden screened as part of TV3's Inside New Zealand series.
Taking its name from police code for "a unit has arrived at the job", Police Ten 7 is a long running TV2 show which adds elements of reality TV to the crime-fighting model pioneered by the BBC's Crimewatch (which ran on TVNZ from 1987 to 1995). Made in conjunction with the NZ Police, and fronted until 2014 by retired Detective Inspector Graham Bell, the series profiles wanted criminals, asks for public help to solve crimes, and features behind the scenes policing stories. It achieved international fame after the "blow on the pie" incident. Sergeant Rob Lemoto began presenting in September 2015.
Every year around Christmas time, the Auckland Domain is lit up for a star-filled night of free Christmas celebrations. Hosted by Jay Laga’aia, this 2000 edition of the concert has “more than 300,000 people” gathered for an evening of songs, carols and fireworks. Kicking off with a Christmas rap from Anthony Ray Parker and kids, the celebrations go long into the night. Stepping up to the mic are everyone from Tina Cross, Frankie Stevens and Ainslie Allen, to the cast of Shortland Street and Mai Time. The evening is capped off with a fireworks display and the arrival of Santa Claus.
Political cartoonist Malcolm Evans tells his father's story of war in this documentary. Major Hilary Evans was exempt from conscription, but chose to fight in World War II. He was a prisoner of war who escaped and lived rough in Italy's hills and mountains, to avoid recapture. Using his father's letters and diaries as well as interviews shot in Italy, Evans builds up a picture of his father, the soldier. Il Magiorre - My Father's War in Italy played as part of the Documentary New Zealand strand on TV One, and was named Best Documentary at the 2002 Qantas Media Awards.
Tala Pasifika was a Pasifika drama series which grew from workshops aimed at upskilling Pasifika screen talents. The first six teleplays debuted on TV One in 1996 as part of magazine show Tagata Pasifika. Two more screened in their own slots in 1999. Instigated by Stephen Stehlin and Pomau Papali'i, Tala Pasifika was the first drama series to showcase Samoan culture. Don Selwyn and Ruth Kaupua were brought on to produce. Among those supporting the workshops or the resulting series were NZ On Air, the NZ Film Commission, Creative NZ and Justine Simei-Barton's Pacific Theatre.
This sitcom features a conscientious travel agent attempting to rein in her wayward siblings. Mild-mannered Melody (Nightline's Belinda Todd, oddly cast against type) is aided and abetted by her ditzy air hostess friend, a hapless co-worker and a nosey neighbour. Despite intense work by a team of scriptwriters, hopes this would be a flagship title for the fledgling TV3, were, to understate things, quickly dashed. Careers suffered, stars were exiled, and Melody Rules became a by-word for failure in NZ TV (equalled only by The Club Show). Watch episode one and decide if time has offered redemption.
'Going, Going, Gone ...' was the ominous title for the opening episode of one of NZ television's most celebrated failures. With her mother on an archaeological dig in Malaysia, Melody (Belinda Todd) is babysitting her brother and sister and counting down to a much anticipated holiday of her own. But will Mum make it back in time (or will she only ever be a voice on the phone)? Will her brother survive his first date? And will her sister get to the big Slagheap concert? And who thought it was good idea for Brendan (Alan Brough) to wear that shirt?
A family reunion is the perfect vehicle to introduce the characters of this early TV3 soap. Set in a rural hamlet just south of the Bombay Hills, it revolves around the Johnstone family who have farmed the area for 100 years; but times are changing and, following the market crash, so are their fortunes. Beneath the surface of reunion civilities lurks a marriage in tatters, a prodigal son returned, a family inheritance spat and a mystery teenager (Simone Kessell) confusing the bloodlines. The cast included Liddy Holloway, Peter Elliott and a young Karl Urban.
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.
Ambitious kids' sci fi series Space Knights pitched the King Arthur myth into a zany universe of Knights of the Round Space Station, Vader-esque villains, rainbow rocket exhaust, and laser lance jousting. The distinctive look of this early South Pacific Pictures series — like a picture book come to life — was led by cartoonist Chris Slane who achieved it by using actors in life-size puppet suits and blue screen effects. In this excerpt, the evil Mordread creates an android Trojan horse to infiltrate Castle Spacelot. The 'Space Junk' theme song is by Dave Dobbyn.
TVNZ's Loose Enz series was a series of 12 stand-alone dramas made in the early 1980s. This episode, directed by television trailblazer Caterina De Nave, chronicles married life for two neighboring couples who have very different relationship dynamics. Mary (a rare starring role for Shirley Duke) is trying to move into the working world now that her kids have grown up, much to the irritation of her controlling husband David. The couple next door have a much more equal relationship. Increasingly dark, this episode is a trenchant criticism of patriarchical mores of the time.
This Loose Enz edition follows a theatre group developing a play about Greek Gods. The full gamut of am-dram tropes are featured: know-all director, a lecherous lead (Jeffrey Thomas), zealous extras, drunk techies, an existential playwright (Colin McColl), shambolic dress rehearsal etc. Estranged couple Tom (Grant Tilly) and Helen (Liddy Holloway) find the play’s lofty themes echoed in more earthly realities. With a who’s who of NZ luvvies of the era it’s not quite Carry On, but there are japes aplenty, the show must go on, and it’ll be all right on the night.
This Loose Enz edition sees ambitious young TV ad-man Gary (Rex Merrie) attempt to climb the corporate ladder. His pitch to his old school superiors at a dinner party involves patronising a burgeoning Polynesian market. Open-neck shirts, wide lapels and gold chains represent the aspirational early 80s and bow ties and tartare sauce mark the Rotarian generation of Kiwi Mad Men. When wife Jenny (Alice Fraser) decides to be heard as well as seen, Gary finds his gender stereotypes challenged as much as his business sense. The gabby teleplay was written by Vincent O'Sullivan.
Written by political satirist Tom Scott, Press for Service is a humorous take on parliamentary reporters battling with the Prime Minister over journalistic freedom. With the idealism, sleaze and alcoholism so often associated with the job, we follow David Miller (Richard Poore), as he strives to be a respected journalist. Miller writes a damning piece, but forgets to check his sources. The teleplay opens and closes with John Toon's elegant aerial shots of Wellington and a buoyant score. It features Wellington actors Ray Henwood and Ross Jolly. Press for Service spawned a short-lived series.
One of an early 80s series of stand-alone dramas, Coming and Going is set in a boozy officers’ mess in Maadi in Egypt during World War II. Based on a short story by Dan Davin (who saw service in North Africa and Europe), it centres on Reading (David McPhail in a rare serious role) who will never be one of the blokes — but who is now facing ostracism and open hostility. Andy (Kevin Wilson) has just rejoined the unit after being wounded; and he gradually discovers that Reading’s plight is the result of something far more serious than standoffishness.
This off-the-wall comedy of errors — from the Loose Enz series — sees hapless tour operator Graham (Ian Watkin) and his wide boy driver Ron (John Bach) leading a busload of international visitors (well) off the beaten trail. the teleplay neatly skewers clichéd promotional travelogue commentaries (with the music of Sibelius never far away) and takes broader shots at the tourists’ various cultural stereotypes. With Graham well-meaning but dim, and Ron too busy looking after number one, Graham’s mum (a formidable Yvonne Lawley) and enterprising local Iwi come into their own as hosts.
TVNZ’s Loose Enz was a series of 12 stand-alone dramas that canvassed a broad range of subjects. With a distinct NZ voice, the series’ 1982 9:30 scheduling allowed the array of writers to pen racier and more confrontational content. Funding exceeded the (mostly) meagre levels of the 70s, and talent pooled around the production: names such as Tony Isaac (who produced the series), Caterina De Nave, Billy T James, Merata Mita, John Toon, and Angela D’Audney, made up an illustrious cast and crew who had forged, or were yet to cut, vital paths in the screen industry.
The powerhouse, largely Māori cast of this teleplay includes Jim Moriarty, Merata Mita, Billy T James (as a Marxist) and, in his acting debut, Zac Wallace (star of Utu). The Protesters explores issues involving race and land ownership in the aftermath of the Springbok Tour and Bastion Point. A group of Māori and Pākehā protestors occupy ancestral land that the government wants to sell. While waiting for the police to arrive, they debate whether to go quietly or respond with violence. Though some wounds are healed, The Protesters ends on a note of division, reflecting the era it was made in.
In this infamous edition of the Loose Enz anthology series, sexologist Rufus (Grant Tilly) has marriage problems, due to being more theoretical than practical when it comes to the ways of the flesh. Things grow more complicated when patient Ernest (Bruno Lawrence, playing nerdy for a change) claims he is suffering from having a magic touch with women. Alongside Joy of Sex japes and punning pillow talk galore, this sex farce gained notoriety for scenes of high-profile newsreader Angela D’Audney (as the dissatisfied wife) going topless, then donning a turquoise catsuit.
Kingi (Mitchell Manuel) is a sultry teenager who encounters domestic violence and racism and veers down a path of petty crime. School ground punch-ups, stealing milk money and shoplifting see him placed under care of a social worker — and eventually Kingi runs out of chances. From writer-director Mike Walker, Kingi's Story tackles Māori youth and the path to delinquency and is based on the lives of a group of boys (including Manuel) who became wards of the state. It is the first part of a loose trilogy that includes Kingpin (1985) and Mark II (1986).
In this episode of the early 80s TVNZ high country drama (penned by Pukemanu writer Julian Dickon and directed by Roger Donaldson), Jocko (Bruce Allpress) is reunited with two fellow Korean War veterans — but one is now an escaped convict and the other a police officer heading the manhunt. Stan, another escapee (a suitably manic Bruno Lawrence), stirs things up but the real drama here involves unfinished business for three former soldiers from a conflict 25 years earlier. It’s also very much a man’s world, without a single female character to be seen.
This two hander is one of the heavier editions of the Loose Enz series. After midnight, a woman (Heather Lindsay) rifles through her prescription drugs then smashes a glass against an Egon Schiele print hanging on her wall (with Laurie Anderson-inspired blips scoring the scene). Shortly afterwards a married colleague (Peter Vere-Jones) turns up, whom she's forgotten she's phoned. The titular samaritan finds himself drawn into the midlife crisis of a woman under the influence: from Yevtushenko to a bitter waltz to Split Enz's 'I Got You'.
No ordinary Christmas tale, The Monster’s Christmas throws viewers into a world of friendly creatures, talking hot pools and witches with gym equipment in their cave lairs. Child find Lucy McGrath revels in the role of a plucky girl who encounters a one-eyed monster with smoke billowing from his head. The monsters need her help to steal their voices back from an evil witch. The stylings of the live action creatures were influenced by the volcanic North Island locations, and designed by Janet Williamson and cartoonist Burton Silver. Yvonne Mackay (Kaitangata Twitch) directs.
This episode of the Loose Enz series features small town intrigue in Hawkes Bay. Prickly, violin playing, ex-POW Austin (Derek Hardwick) refuses to retire despite handing over the farm to son Wesley (Goodbye Pork Pie director Geoff Murphy) — and the impending sale of the neighbouring property (to Japanese buyers) puts him on the warpath one boozy night at the local. Rural land politics and identities are nicely observed, the farmers’ band is delightfully chaotic (with Paul Holmes as a sax-playing fencer), and the Land Rover stuck in reverse is worthy of Fred Dagg.
Praising novel The Scarecrow, one critic argued that author Ronald Hugh Morrieson had melded genres together into “a brilliant, hallucinatory mixture distinctively his own". The movie adaptation is another unusual melding; a coming of age tale awash with comedy, nostalgia, and a touch of the gothic. Taranaki teen Ned (Jono Smith) is worried that the mysterious arrival in town (US acting legend John Carradine) has murderous designs on his sister. The masterful narration is by Martyn Sanderson. The result: the first Kiwi film to win official selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
Written by future Gloss creator Rosemary McLeod, this Television One sitcom satirised late 70s gender politics. It was filmed before a studio audience at Avalon Studios. In this episode, Ginette McDonald’s lippy feminist withholds the joy of sex from her hippy hubbie, and Bruno Lawrence (sporting a magnificent anti-comb over) is the unreformed motorhead neighbour whose hangover cure is beer and cornflakes. Lawrence’s larrikin performance in the show was spotted by director Roger Donaldson, who cast Bruno in his breakout lead role in a movie: Al Shaw in Smash Palace.
In Moynihan, secretary of the carpenters’ union Leo Moynihan (Ian Mune) — with orange mini and leather jacket — has to navigate the shark-infested waters of 70s industrial relations. The first NZ-Australia co-production (with ABC) was devised by union organiser Earle Spencer and Jane Galletly (a rare credit in the then-male dominated industry). It was the first series made by TV One’s drama department; it won viewers as well as Feltex awards for best drama and Mune’s performance. The changing face of Wellington, including an under-construction Beehive, features.
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.
The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after 50 plus years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.