In 1987 producer and director Geoff Steven spent six months filming in the United States in a quest to understand what makes such a powerful and influential nation tick. Steven’s intention was to circumvent media stereotypes and the “facades set up by politicians and officials” and to talk to Americans from all walks of life and socio-economic groups. The result was this six part series fronted by journalist and author Gordon McLauchlan who introduces each episode and links the interviews with everyday people shot in their homes, factories and offices.
American current affairs format 20/20 was first introduced to New Zealand on TV3 in 1993, where it screened for a decade. In 2005 it moved to TVNZ, and became TV2’s signature current affairs show. The hour-long slot mixed content taken from the ABC-produced American show, with award-winning local stories; local subjects ranged from infanticide to Nicky Watson. The first host was Louise Wallace, then at TVNZ it was Miriama Kamo, and from 2011, Sonya Wilson. In 2014 local content ceased being made for 20/20. Two years later it moved to TV One, with Carolyn Robinson hosting.
This 80s precursor to Dancing with the Stars put the competitive community spirit of Top Town onto the dancefloor, as ballroom dancers representing different regions twirled and dipped for supremacy. Created by Ron Pledger (a longtime TVNZ go-to person for major event TV — Top Town, This is Your Life, Anzac Day broadcasts), the concept was inspired by Pledger’s wife, a champion Latin American dancer who had connections in the ballroom dancing world. Top Dance ran for three seasons.
Flipping reality television on its head, this 2004 show saw Hawkes Bay vineyard worker Sam Chambers competing on a reality series, unaware he was the only real thing on it. The Kiwi take on American cable TV hit The Joe Schmo Show was produced by Touchdown Productions. Writers and cast (some of whom had never acted before) had to adapt to unexpected alliances and events, while Mark Ferguson revelled in the role of smarmy host, crossing lines of acceptable behaviour with some of the contestants. When the ruse was finally revealed, Chambers got $50,000 in prize money.
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.
Introduced by a pilot called High Country, Jocko was an early 80s attempt by TVNZ to build a series around a travelling swagman character. Jocko (Bruce Allpress) is a maverick musterer and rural jack-of-all-trades in the tradition of the Australian swagman and the American cowboy. But the setting is a contemporary one: in the South Island high country where old and new methods of farming are coming into conflict. Two series were made, written by Julian Dickon (Pukemanu), and co-starring Desmond Kelly as Jocko’s off-sider and travelling companion, China.
When New Zealand’s second channel arrived in 1975, TV One stayed with BBC format Play School as its pre-schoolers’ programme while newcomer SPTV made a local version of American show Romper Room (initially in Auckland, then from the Christchurch studios that later made After School). Participation from a young (and sometimes startled) studio audience was a hallmark of the show. The presenters included Miss Yvonne (they were always Miss) Moore — wife of future Prime Minister Mike Moore. Romper Room disappeared in 1980 when the channels combined.
Lucy Lewis (Thomasin McKenzie) just can’t lose — which is a real problem, since she's determined not to be elected school representative. But with principal Ms Palmer (played by McKenzie’s real life mum Miranda Harcourt) determined to ruin student life at the school, Lucy's position becomes a way to keep Ms Palmer's power in check. The second season of this web series sees the school overrun by Instagram, and the cyberbullying that can come with it. McKenzie later co-starred in American feature Leave No Trace. Director Paul Yates would help launch Wellington Paranormal.
The last drama to be made in-house by TVNZ, The Champion was written by author Maurice Gee at the behest of producer Ginette McDonald after the success of their collaboration on The Fire-Raiser. Set in Henderson, West Auckland over three weeks in early 1943, it centres on 12 year old Rex (Milan Borich — later the lead singer in Pluto) and a black American GI billeted with his family. This tough, accomplished drama looks unflinchingly at racism and prejudice — both imported and local — and is ample testimony to the skills of its writer, cast and crew.
In 2002 American reality show The Osbournes became a global hit. The following year The Family provided Aotearoa with its own reality TV whānau: The Rippins. The show chronicled the lives of matriarch Denise, her second husband (property developer Pat) and her adult children Scott, Maria, Matthew and Victoria. Made by Visionary Productions, the TV3 show won headlines for the family’s cashed-up lifestyle. It made a Stuff 2016 list of New Zealand's worst reality shows. Pat Rippin was declared bankrupt in 2008; he was later convicted of hiding assets during the process.