The Governor was a television epic that examined the life of Governor George Grey in six thematic parts. Grey's "Good Governor" persona was undercut with laudanum, lechery and land confiscation. NZ TV's first (and only) historical blockbuster was hugely controversial, provoking a parliamentary inquiry and "test match sized" audiences. It won a 1978 Feltex Award for Best Drama. Auckland Star reviewer Barry Shaw trumpeted: "It has made Māori matter. If Pākehā now have a better understanding of the Māori point of view [...] it stems from The Governor.
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).
Breakfast first aired in August 1997 on TV One. Screening five mornings a week over a three hour time slot, the programme mixes news and entertainment interviews with updates of news, sport and weather. The format of one male and one female presenter began with original hosts Mike Hosking and Susan Wood, and has included Pippa Wetzell and Paul Henry (who won controversy for Breakfast comments about an Indian politician), and Brit Rawdon Christie and Alison Pugh. A Saturday version of Breakfast was trialled in 2011, but abandoned the next year.
Hour-long prime time current affairs slot Assignment replaced TVNZ's long-running Frontline in 1995, after Frontline had won controversy for a couple of its stories. A number of Frontline veterans moved across to the new series, including Susan Wood, Rod Vaughan, and Rob Harley. Vaughan and Harley would both win local media awards for their Assignment investigations. At the 1996 TV Guide New Zealand Film and Television Awards, Assignment was judged Best News and Current Affairs Programme.
Campbell Live launched on 21 March 2005, in a slot following TV3’s primetime news bulletin. Over the next decade it gathered acclaim, awards (including Best News Investigation in its first year) and the odd controversy. Strongly identified with host John Campbell, the show mixed softer stories with a number of pieces of advocacy journalism, including stories on child poverty in low decile schools, and homeowners affected by the Christchurch quakes. News of Campbell Live’s end in 2015 won extensive media coverage, and an unsuccessful petition to keep the show on air.
For three seasons, The GC followed young Māori living on Australia’s Gold Coast: partying, keeping buff and chasing dreams (from rap stardom to owning a gym). The GC was a ratings success, particularly among Māori viewers, but won controversy over how much Māori content it contained. After two seasons on TV3, a third season screened on Channel Four. Executive produced by Julie Christie, The GC was compared to American reality hit Jersey Shore. Creator Bailey Mackey (Code) told ScreenTalk in 2013 that "The GC doesn’t represent Māori as a whole, it’s just a slice of who we are."
This was New Zealand's first big historical drama after the controversy over the cost of The Governor almost a decade earlier. Over seven episodes — set between 1895 and 1914 — it followed the life of Dunedin barrister Alf Hanlon, focussing on six of his most important cases. British actor David Gwillim played Hanlon, while Australian Robyn Nevin was cast as convicted baby murderer Minnie Dean in the first and most celebrated episode. A major critical, ratings and awards success, it immediately recouped its budget when the Minnie Dean episode spurred a big international sale.
Local news was a staple of pre-network 1960s NZ television, and retained its popularity in the network era. The amalgamation of TV1 and SPTV in 1980 produced regional shows The South Tonight and The Mainland Touch in the South Island, and Today Tonight in Wellington. Top Half covered the area spanning from Turangi to North Cape. It was presented for six years by the "dream team" of John Hawkesby and Judy Bailey (latter succeeded by Natalie Brunt in 1986). Amid some controversy, regional news on TVNZ was eased out by Holmes and the arrival of a new era of TV.
Landmarks was a major 10-part series that traced the history of New Zealand through its landscape, particularly the impact of human settlement and technology. The concept was modelled on the epic BBC series America. Here a bespectacled, Swannie-wearing geography professor, Kenneth B Cumberland, stands in for Alistair Cooke, interweaving science, history and sweeping imagery to tell the stories of the landscape's "complete transformation". It received a 1982 Feltex Award for Best Documentary and the donnish but game Cumberland became a household name.