In an age before Rogernomics, and well before The Office, there was the afternoon tea fund, Golden Kiwi, and four o'clock closing: welcome to the early 80s world of the New Zealand Public Service. Gliding On (1981 - 1985) was the first locally made sitcom to become a bona-fide classic. The series was inspired by Roger Hall's hit play Glide Time and satirised a paper-pushing working life then-familiar to many Kiwis. Gliding On won several Feltex Awards including best male and female actors and best entertainment.
They came, they battered, they bickered. Peter Hudson and David Halls were as famous for their on-screen spats as they were for their recipes. The couple ("are we gay - well we're certainly merry") turned cooking into comedy. Their self-titled show ran for a decade on New Zealand TV and it attracted a cult following when they moved the show to the UK. The duo won Entertainer of the Year at the 1981 Feltex Awards. Microwaves, little roasted nuts and great dollops of innuendo: the sometimes fusty genre of TV culinary demonstration would never be the same.
Wildtrack was a highly successful nature series for children, combining a Dunedin studio set with reporting from the field. Produced by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit, it ran from 1981 until the early 1990s. Producer Michael Stedman sought to produce a series where “children can be excited and entertained with genuine information, while not neglecting adults”. Wildtrack won the Feltex Television Award for the best children's programme, three years running (1982 - 1984).
Contact was introduced as TV2’s slot for local documentaries when TVNZ was established in 1980. At 7pm on Monday nights, it featured 30 minute programmes made both in-house and by independent producers. Multiple episode series within the strand included historian Les Cleveland’s archive based Not So Long Ago, and Ian Taylor Adventures, where the former Spot On presenter tried his hand at various extreme sports. The Contact brand was transferred to TV1 in 1981, as TV2 began to move towards more of an entertainment focus.
Tracy Barr succeeded Andrew Shaw and Richard Wilde (Wilkins) as TV2’s afternoon children’s host — first appearing on Tracy’s GTS (Good Time Show) in 1979. The weekly Tracy ’80 followed a year later — with music from a resident band and guests, competitions and field stories. Tracy drew criticism for her Kiwi accent and lack of rounded vowels (as Karyn Hay would a few years later) and for her wriggling, but viewers didn’t seem to mind. Tracy ’80 was replaced by Dropakulcha in 1981 and then Shazam! (with Phillip Schofield). Tracy Barr now lives in Australia.
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!"
TV3 series Outrageous Fortune had six memorable six seasons. Award-winning prequel Westside takes the West family back to where it all began — to legendary safecracker Ted West (David de Lautour), and his fiery wife Rita (Antonia Prebble from Outrageous). Each episode of series one is set in a particular year of the 1970s. Season two moves to the 1981 Springbok Tour; the third, set in 1982, introduced a teen Cheryl West. Combining romance, crime and West family folklore with real life events, Westside was created by James Griffin and Rachel Lang, the duo behind the original.
In 1978 Eyewitness evolved out of TV2’s After Ten as a twice weekly current affairs show broadcast on Tuesday and Thursday nights. With Philip Sherry as studio anchor, it set out to investigate a single issue from a number of perspectives in each episode. Other foundation staff members included journalists Karen Sims, David Beatson, Dairne Shanahan, Rhys Jones and Neil Roberts. By 1981 it was presented by Karen Sims and had become NZ television’s longest running current affairs show — but it morphed into the nightly Eyewitness News the following year.
With the establishment of TVNZ in 1980, Lookout was introduced as TV1’s local documentary slot featuring 45 minute programmes on Friday nights. The series didn’t have a unifying theme but, instead, featured work made in-house and independently (with the latter including a number of NFU productions). As well as documentaries, Lookout also included a number of episodes of Trial Run where juries of everyday people examined current issues. In 1981, TV1’s documentary strand was renamed Contact but it returned sporadically as Lookout in 1982.
Launched on 5 April 1976, this television series heralded a new age in Kiwi screen drama. Indie talents Roger Donaldson and Ian Mune based their tales of success and failure on New Zealand short stories, after managing to negotiate funding from various government sources. Then the pair took the series to Europe, proving there was strong overseas demand for Kiwi stories. Winners & Losers became a perennial in local classrooms. In the backgrounders, Mune recalls the show's origins. There are also pieces on its place in local screen history, and its restoration in 2018.