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.
TVNZ ventured back into country music for the first time since That’s Country with this short series presented by actor and musician Andy Anderson. Very much a down home cousin to its big budget predecessor, it eschewed glitz and glamour to focus firmly on live studio performances (with no retakes allowed). Music director Dave Fraser presided over a crack resident band and guest performers included Midge Marsden, Beaver, Dalvanius, Suzanne, Sonny Day, Hammond Gamble, Brendan Dougan and John Grenell. Five episodes were produced but only four broadcast.
The Country Touch was a widely popular country and western music show from the 60s, that screened on Saturday nights. Produced by Bryan Easte for NZBC the show was filmed on an Auckland hay barn set and featured musical numbers, from folk, fiddles, and banjos to bluegrass, introduced by the legendary Tex Morton. Regulars included The Hamilton County Bluegrass Band, Brian Hirst’s Country Touch Singers (with a team of 20 square dancers), and Kay and Shane. Has Auckland ever been this close to the Appalachians?
National treasures The Topp Twins (aka twins Lynda and Jools Topp) have performed as a country-music singing and yodelling comedy duo for more than 25 years. In the late 90s they created their own TV series which ran for three seasons and showcased their iconic cast of Kiwi characters, including Camp Mother, the Bowling Ladies and cross-dressing Ken and Ken. The series, travelling from a Highland Games to a Tauranga triathlon, won the twins - out-and-proud lesbians - several gongs at the NZ Film and TV Awards and screened on the ABC and Foxtel in Australia.
Following the demise of alternative music show Radio with Pictures, TVNZ tried a new approach to feeding the country’s diverse audience of music fans. Taking over in the same Sunday night time slot as RWP, new show CV began each evening by concentrating on mainstream music, then progressively widened the musical palette as it got later in the evening. After an elaborate animated opening, enthused young presenters Robert Rakete, Larnie Gifford and Mark Tierney offered a new style to the minimalist cool seen on RWP.
By the mid 1970s, Kiwi entertainer Ray Woolf was a regular television presence as a performer and host. After a stint co-hosting chat show Two on One (with Val Lamont and later Davina Whitehouse), the show morphed in 1979 into Woolf’s own singing and talk slot: The Ray Woolf Show, where he interviewed international stars, and sung and filmed clips around the country. After a season the show was reformatted to focus on music as The New Ray Woolf Show, and ran for another two years. In this period Woolf was awarded Best Television Light Entertainer multiple times.
For five seasons, TVNZ7's interview show was presented by journalist and columnist Finlay Macdonald, and produced by Colin Hogg (whose production company also made the digital channel's literary show The Good Word). Supported by an ornate set and title sequence, Macdonald was an affable host as he gently probed notable New Zealanders "not so much about what they do, as what makes them tick". Live music was an important part of each episode, with a rock, jazz, country or classical act (often chosen by the interview guest) playing live in the studio.
Recorded in varied locations across New Zealand, Praise Be mixed choral contributions and biblical readings. Though its siblings Country Calendar and Fair Go are even older, Praise Be ranked among New Zealand’s longest-running television shows. The Sunday worship show played from 1986 to 2016, apart from two years off air in the mid 2000s. Veteran broadcaster Graeme Thomson presented the show for its first two decades, before he passed away in 2008; then the show ws hosted by Chris Nichol, a Presbyterian minister and veteran of TVNZ’s Religious Programmes Unit.
Peppermint Twist’s pastel-tinted portrait of 60s puberty floated onto NZ screens in 1987 and despite winning a solid teen following, only screened for one series. Set amongst a group of teens in small town Roseville (in reality the outdoors set originally used for Country GP), the show’s stylised look and sound had few Kiwi precedents - though its links to US TV perennial Happy Days are clear. Peppermint made liberal, and increasingly confident use of period music, with each episode named after a pop song of the day.
Long-running travel series Intrepid Journeys took Kiwi celebrities (from All Blacks to music legends to ex-Prime Ministers) from the comfort of home to less-travelled paths in varied countries and cultures. The Jam TV series debuted in 2003 on TV One. With its authenticity and fresh, genre-changing take on a travel show (focusing on personal experience rather than objectivity), Intrepid Journeys was a landmark in local factual television. It managed to achieve the rare mix of high ratings and critical acclaim.