The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown World War I era school kids against a mysterious figure with fire on the brain. Inspired partly by a real-life Nelson arsonist, the five-part gothic adventure was created for television by author Maurice Gee. Peter Hayden plays the town’s unconventional teacher ‘Clippy’ Hedges, while the lead role went to Royal NZ Ballet star Jon Trimmer. The Fire-Raiser won four Listener TV awards, including best overall drama and best writer. Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas. He writes about the show's birth here.
What Now? is a long-running entertainment show for primary school-aged children. Filmed before a live studio audience on weekend mornings, What Now? is a New Zealand TV institution; it was the first TV show to have live phone-ins. The series is known for its challenges that sometimes result in participants being 'gunged'. A roll-call of presenters includes Steve Parr, Danny Watson, Simon Barnett, Jason Gunn, Michelle A'Court, Tamati Coffey, Antonia Prebble, and more. 'Get out of your Lazy Bed' by Matt Bianco is the theme song memorable to generations of Kiwi kids.
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 award-winning Pioneer Women series was producer Pamela Meekings-Stewart’s response to her perception that histories on NZ television, like The Governor, hadn’t adequately recognised the role played by women in shaping the nation. The initial series of six episodes focussed on the lives of Nurse Maude, Ettie Rout, Hera Ngoungou, Princess Te Puea, Elizabeth Colsenso and Ellen Hewett; it celebrated women who not only had to face hardship and deprivation but were charged with raising the next generation. A second series of three episodes screened in 1990.
Shot on location in Wellington, often after dark, Inside Straight helped usher in a new era of Kiwi TV dramas, far from the rural backblocks. This Minder-esque portrait of Wellington’s underworld was inspired by writer Keith Aberdein’s experiences as a taxi-driver and all night cafe worker. Phillip Gordon (soon to win fame as a conman in Came a Hot Friday) stars as the former fisherman, learning the ways of the city from veteran taxi driver Roy Billing. A solid but unspectacular rater over 10 episodes, the show was scuttled by the launch of trucker’s tale Roche.
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.
Made for the Government's Careers Service (now Careers New Zealand) and the National Bank, Pathways was a 20-part video resource for young people, aimed at providing easily digestible advice and inspiration on careers and training. It combined advice from experts, and interviews with young people in various jobs from dance teacher to meat inspector. A series of 'mini-dramas' added levity; the actors included Karl Urban, Katrina Hobbs (Home and Away), and Robbie Magasiva in an early screen role. Gavin Strawhan and Liddy Holloway were among the writers.
With web series The Watercooler, the audience provides the stories (by submitting them online). Each episode sees true tales reenacted, as far-fetched yarns get shared over the office watercooler. The stories range widely, from a nurse engaging in an ill-fated arm-wrestle with a patient, to trouble with “urinal politics”. The Watercooler was created by actor Mike Minogue, who also appears in a number of episodes. The cast features Cohen Holloway, Jonathan Brugh and Abby Damen. For the second season, Minogue's Wellington Paranormal co-star Karen O’Leary was added to the mix.
This series was based on a fund raiser called “Art for Love or Money” run at Dunedin Art Gallery in the early 80s by two local identities: antique dealer Trevor Plumbly and expatriate American gallery owner and basketball commentator Marshall Seifert. Television used them as panellists and added ex-newsreader Dougal Stevenson as host, and a group of regular guests to examine objects brought in by members of the public. Unlike its BBC counterpart Antiques Roadshow, Antiques for Love or Money was a panel discussion, with the owners of the pieces never sighted.
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.