Town and Around was a nightly magazine show, covering everything from current affairs and studio interviews to slapstick to stunts; including a notorious spoof on a farmer who shod his turkeys in gumboots. A popular and wide-ranging regional series, it ran for five years from 1965, and was the training ground for a generation of industry professionals (Brian Edwards, David McPhail, and Des Monaghan amongst many others). Town and Around was made prior to a national network link, and editions came out of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
The feature film Topless Women Talk about Their Lives evolved out of this late night, low budget, TV3 micro-series about the lives, loves and travails of a group of 20-something Aucklanders. It was written and directed by former Front Lawn member Harry Sinclair with a cast including Danielle Cormack and Joel Tobeck. Each four minute episode was shot over a weekend with actors not sighting scripts until just before the camera rolled. Music from Flying Nun bands featured prominently; the women remained fully clothed despite the tantalising titular promise.
Presented by restaurateur and two time Auckland mayoral candidate John Palino, Top Shelf’s The Kitchen Job visited restaurants and cafes around New Zealand that were in need of help. Palino is a self-proclaimed “restaurant fixer”, who brings his experience from working in his native New York. From Invercargill to Onehunga, he takes on and comes to the aid of eateries across the country. While a number are cases of investments gone bad and family businesses on the line, not all the problems are quite so ordinary; as evidenced by one haunted restaurant down south.
Islands of the Gulf was (narrowly) New Zealand’s first locally made TV documentary series — written, presented and produced by the country’s first female producer, Shirley Maddock. Intended as a one-off programme about the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, it ran to five half-hour episodes examining everyday life in the area, at a time when Kiwi faces were still a novelty on screen. Aviation legend Fred Ladd provided aerial footage. Maddock’s tie-in book was extensively reprinted and, in 1983, she revisited the area in a documentary for TVNZ. in 2018 Maddock's daughter presented an updated series.
Heroes followed a band trying to make it in the mid-80s music biz. Teen-orientated, the show marked a first major role for Jay Laga’aia (Star Wars), and an early gig for Michael Hurst (with blonde Billy Idol spikes). Band keyboardist John Gibson co-wrote the series music; he later became an award-winning film composer. Margaret Umbers (Shortland Street, Bridge to Nowhere) was a non-musician in the cast (with Hurst), but since has sung regularly in a jazz band. A second series follow in 1986.
In the Cold War 60s, thrillers peopled with jetsetting spies with shifty figures standing behind pillars in sunnies were all the rage (Danger Man, The Man from Uncle). Kiwi entry The Alpha Plan revolves around a British security agent who finds himself downunder, on the run, investigating strange disappearances amongst a Mensa-like society made up the planet's brightest brains. The ambitious six-part mystery thriller was the first Kiwi TV drama designed to go beyond one episode; positive reaction to the show paved the way for NZBC’s in-house drama department.
Seven stand-alone contemporary dramas, collected together under one umbrella. The stories in this television series showcase a fresh wave of 1980s independent filmmakers. They cross the gamut from gritty kitchen sink dramas and oddball tales of Kiwi heroes, to Jewel's Darl, an acclaimed romance staring future transsexual MP Georgina Beyer. Five of the About Face directors went on to make feature films; 23-year-old Jennifer Ward-Lealand's performance in Danny and Raewyn won a GOFTA award.
After her husband is jailed, matriarch Cheryl West (Robyn Malcolm) decides the time has come to set her family on the straight and narrow. But can the Wests change old habits? So begins the six-series long saga of the Westie dynasty. Hugely popular at home (beloved by public, critics and awards-nights alike), and imitated overseas, Outrageous Fortune has been a flag-bearer for TV3 and contemporary NZ telly drama; the series proved — in all its grow-your-own glory — that genre TV in NZ could be so much more than overseas stories pasted to a local setting.
English-born broadcaster Ian Johnstone had been living in New Zealand for 17 years when TVNZ gave him the opportunity to take the pulse of his adoptive country, in a series of six half-hour documentaries. With a brief to provide his personal perspective on "what's changing, what's worth keeping", Johnstone's Journey saw him touring the country and talking to everyday people (rather than the expected experts) as he examined the Kiwi DIY ethic, Māori and Pākehā attitudes to the land, the family, rural community, the spread of the cities, and the New Zealand identity.
In 2012 television pranksters and funny boys Jono Pryor and Ben Boyce remixed the best elements of their popular shows Pulp Sport and The Jono Project, to concoct Jono and Ben at Ten. Three's satirical news and entertainment series ran for seven seasons. Comedians Guy Williams, Rose Matafeo and Laura Daniel also featured. The series began life on a Friday night at 10pm, before moving to a Thursday 7:30pm slot in 2015 (when the title was shortened to Jono and Ben). Despite a fan petition to 'uncancel', the last episode aired on 15 November 2018.