Trevor Spitz, who died in March 2012, was a key player in the 1989 launch of channel TV3. The musician turned promoter had begun working in television in the 70s as a talent scout and producer of entertainment shows, and won success — and controversy — with hit television export That's Country. He was influential in the careers of many performers, including comedic duo McPhail and Gadsby and singer Suzanne Prentice.
He got hold of us and pretty much completely reorganised us. Jon Gadsby, on how he and David McPhail benefitted from Spitz's promotional talents
TV3 celebrated its launch with a two-hour special featuring music, montages, and a Māori welcome. Aotearoa's first new television channel in more than two decades went to air on 26 November 1989, after years of meetings, hard graft and competing bidders. This clip of TV3's first ten minutes creates a party atmosphere of smiling happy faces. Dave Dobbyn and dancers get energetic in promotional song 'Get the Feeling', then Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves pulls the launch lever. Also featured are appearances by a wide array of Kiwis, from children to soldiers to Sam Hunt.
Hosted by one-time mod Ray Columbus, That's Country was one of the highest rating shows of the early 80s. This 1982 episode features veteran Kiwi country performers (John Hore, Patsy Riggir) and trans-Tasman pop star Dinah Lee. The opening ensemble number features Canadian singer Glory-Anne Carriere and US duo the Gypsy Mountain Pickers, along with Australian Jade Hurley (who still bills himself as the King of Country Rock). Check out the rhinestone cowboys and girls as they belt out the theme song, then settle in for solo performances. Yee-ha!
Punk rock was breaking and musical styles changing, but in New Zealand country music was appointment viewing at 7pm on Saturday. That's Country ran from 1980 to 1984. Hosted by one-time pop singer Ray Columbus, the show featured both local and international talent including Suzanne Prentice, Patsy Riggir, Emmylou Harris and George Hamilton IV. An American offer to buy the show and install a US presenter were resisted. Instead the show was sold to a Nashville cable TV network, in a New Zealand first; That's Country soon had an audience of 30 million in the States.
A Week of It was a pioneering comedy series that entertained and often outraged audiences over three series from 1977 to 1979. The writing team, led by David McPhail, AK Grant, Jon Gadsby, Bruce Ansley, Chris McVeigh and Peter Hawes, took irreverent aim at topical issues and public figures of the day. Amongst notable impersonations was McPhail's famous aping of Prime Minister Rob Muldoon; a catchphrase from a skit — "Jeez, Wayne" — entered NZ pop culture. The series won multiple Feltex Awards and in 1979 McPhail won Entertainer of the Year.
Telethon was a 24-hour live television spectacular aimed at securing donations from viewers for a charitable cause. The first, in 1975, launched the second channel (TV2) and raised over half a million dollars for St John's Ambulance. By 1981 Telethon had hit the $5 million mark. Along with willing local celebrities, volunteers and a receptive public, it attracted overseas stars: Basil Brush, Entertainment Tonight's Leeza Gibbons and Coronation Street's Christopher Quinton (who famously got together after the 1988 show). "Thank you very much for your kind donation!"
This 1970s talent show was a popular light entertainment programme for new channel TV2. It followed in the television footsteps of New Faces and Studio One, with wannabe stars mostly covering popular classics. The buzzers and tough judges of X Factor are decades away. This final from the 1975 season, filmed at Christchurch’s Civic Theatre, sees contestants cover everything from country and western to cabaret. Promoter Trevor Spitz awards record contracts, and talent co-ordinator Ray Columbus joins host Rhys Jones to announce the winner.
C’mon brought the hits of the day into New Zealand living rooms for three years in a tightly scripted, black and white frenzy of special effects, pop art sets, go-go girls and choreographed musicians while host Pete Sinclair kept the pace cracking with breathless hipster charm. Most of the stars of the day appeared at one time or another but sadly only two episodes have survived. As the 60s finished C’mon fell victim to the fragmenting of the music world and the arrival of darker music that the show could no longer turn into family friendly viewing.