Tony Holden's career as a producer and director spans 40 plus years.
Holden quit his studies at Canterbury University to begin an internship with TVNZ. After training as a cameraman and three years as a first assistant director, Holden moved into producing and directing, including time on music shows Ready to Roll and Radio with Pictures.
Plans to do the required course as a television director had to be put aside when Holden was asked to take over directing duties on show A Joke's a Joke. The show provided valuable training in more than just directing: travelling around NZ interviewing people on the street, listening to jokes being told badly, Holden got valuable insight into the building blocks of comedy.
Soon Holden was directing on pioneering sketch series A Week Of It; he credits David McPhail as "probably my most formative influence". One of the earliest local comedies to win a large-scale audience, A Week Of It debuted in an after 10pm slot in 1977. Success soon saw a move to prime time, and two Feltex Awards for best entertainment programme. Among other things, the show gave Holden experience in editing comedy at speed, as there was only a half-hour between when the show was recorded and when it went to air.
In the 80s Holden went on to play a big hand in another Kiwi comedy classic - playwright Roger Hall's Gliding On, an ensemble tale of public servants doing very little. As well as producing the show for most of its four season run, Holden directed many episodes. He feels that Gliding On struck comic gold partly because so many people had experience of bureaucracy and/or working in an office. Having directed occasional episodes of The Billy T. James Show, he also swapped duties by producing Billy's fifth season, which saw the arrival of new sidekick Peter Rowley, and a reduction of song and dance numbers in favour of edgier sketch comedy.
That decade, Holden directed episodes of Gloss, many commercials, the occasional music video, and was a prime player behind culture-clash comedy An Age Apart, starring Brit actor Deryck Guyler. In 1985 Holden quit TVNZ and formed Auckland-based independent production company Comedia Productions, now renamed Comedia Pictures.
Comedia was contracted to produce comedy programmes for TVNZ, including sketch show Funny Business, which saw Holden working alongside another generation of comic talents. The show ran three seasons, and in 1989 Holden became a rare comedy director to win TV director honours (typically won by drama directors), after he scored a Listener Film and TV Award for his work on the show.
Comedia returned to Roger Hall territory with 90s comedy series Neighbourhood Watch and Market Forces. The latter show updated Gliding On's characters to the 'brave new world' of management. Holden also commanded two-hour live special Camping Out with the Topp Twins.
In 1995 Holden began a stint at South Pacific Pictures as Head of Production, and in 1999 he became General Manager, Television. Holden's eight-year plus connection to flagship SPP series Shortland Street has included stints as a director, executive producer, and two years plus as one of the producers. He also directed occasional episodes of short-lived ensemble drama City Life.
In 2001 Comedia began production on Spin Doctors. The satirical show backgrounded dark goings on at a PR company, with stories often inspired by that week's newspaper headlines. Holden produced and directed many episodes (Wayne Tourell taking over directing duties in the third and final season); the powerhouse writing team included Roger Hall, James Griffin, Tom Scott and occasionally Holden himself.
2003 saw Holden begin a four year period as TVNZ's General Manager of Commissioning and Production, giving him new insights into the industry. "I think it was the best thing I ever did, because it taught me to be a much better producer, a far more respectful producer." Programmes commissioned under Holden's tenure included anthology series Mataku, the acclaimed Insiders Guide to Love, and black comedy Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby.
Holden was one of the few to see the potential of mounting a local version of new show Dancing with the Stars. In 2007, the year he left TVNZ, he began working on a local version of the show. He has also produced or executive produced a number of quiz shows, including the Kiwi version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Billy, a top-rating TV movie retelling of the life of Billy T James, screened on TV One on 21 August 2011. Holden produced, with Judith Trye; Peter Burger directed. On set, Holden sometimes got shivers watching lead actor Tainui Tukiwaho's "fantastically close" portrait of the comedian.
'Tony Holden - Kiwi comedy veteran' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen Website. Director James Coleman. Loaded 22 August 2011. Accessed 22 August 2011
Comedia website. Accessed 8 August 2011
Matt Elliott, Billy T - The Life and Times of Billy T James (Auckland, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2009)