Section 7 was New Zealand’s first urban TV drama series and followed soon after Pukemanu (which was set in a logging town). Taking its name from the Criminal Justice Act section which placed offenders on probation, it focussed on a Probation Service office and addressed issues of the day including new migrants, ship girls and domestic violence. Expatriate Ewen Solon returned from England to take the lead role in a series very much based on British dramas of the time. More popular with critics than the public, Section 7 was limited to 11 half-hour episodes.
Asia Downunder was a weekly magazine programme for and about the Asian population in New Zealand. The long-running series featured a range of stories from news and issues to profiles, arts, sport, business and travel. Asia Downunder was produced and presented by Korean-born Melissa Lee (later a National Party MP) and a small team of reporters. Asia Downunder began screening on TV ONE in 1994 and ran for 19 seasons, until 2011. Later producers included Chris Wright and Kadambari Gladding.
The Ralston Group was an anarchic early 90s TV3 political chat show. Ringmaster Bill Ralston wrangled a caucus of political and media industry insiders, ranging from broadcaster Derek Fox and writer Jane Clifton to Peter Williams QC and PR man Richard Griffin. The irreverent show offered in the moment opinions on an especially heady era in NZ politics. A 2003 issue of The NZ Herald remembered it as “the best sort of dinner party: noisy and gossipy, the guests well informed, well lubricated with lots of opinions and zero inhibition.”
Speakeasy was an early 80s chat show hosted by broadcaster Ian Johnstone. Each episode explored a theme and invited a trio of subjects “who could talk well about their own experiences and views” (as Johnstone put it in his 1998 memoir Stand and Deliver). Produced by David Baldock, the subjects were “New Zealand events and issues but not news and politics”, and ranged from sports leadership, to returning home from overseas, to race relationships in Aotearoa. Interviewees included cricketer Glenn Turner, singer Howard Morrison and actor Ellie Smith.
Award-winning Māori current affairs show The Hui sets out “to increase understanding and awareness among mainstream New Zealand about the issues facing Māori and the unique aspects of our culture.” The format includes interviews, investigative reports and panel discussions. Fronted by journalist Mihingarangi Forbes, it screens on Sunday mornings on Three. An April 2017 Hui report on the experiences of men who were abused in state boys' homes won acclaim, and led to a government inquiry. The Hui is produced by Great Southern Television.
Attitude is a weekly series that addresses the issues and interests of people living with a disability. The high energy series launched in 2008, with a strong thread of advocacy journalism. Attitude has a number of team members who themselves have a disability, including all the onscreen researcher/reporters. Much of Attitude's content has been loaded onto online hub Attitude Live, which launched in 2013 and later beat 86 countries to win a World Summit Award in the 'inclusion and empowerment' category — plus praise for digital innovation.
This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.
This series saw longtime Radio New Zealand National host Kim Hill foray from behind the microphone to in front of the cameras. The format was 25-min one-on-one interviews with politicians and newsmakers; it was designed to allow "the time to really discuss an issue ... in doing so we're able to get more context and more enlightenment." Interviewees ranged from ex-PM David Lange, Destiny Church supremo Brian Tamaki, comedian John Clarke, feminist author Germaine Greer, and Australian activist-writer John Pilger (with whom Hill had an infamous stoush).
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.
In the one channel days of the early 1970s, the Survey slot was the place to find local documentaries. Topics ranged across the board, from social issues (alcoholism, runaway children) to the potentially humdrum (an AGM meeting) to the surprisingly experimental (music film The Unbelievable Glory of the Human Voice). After extended campaigning by producer John O’Shea, emerging independent filmmakers, including Tony Williams and Roger Donaldson, joined the party — bringing fresh creativity and new techniques to the traditional gentle, narration-heavy doco format.