The odd couple is a longtime comic staple. In the 1970s Yorkshire emigre Craig Harrison turned the tale of a Māori and a Yorkshireman into novel Ground Level, a radio play, and this ground-breaking TV series. Joe (Stephen Gledhill) is the nervy, university-educated librarian; his flatmate is Koro (Rawiri Paratene) who works in a fish and chip shop. Running for two series, the popular chalk’n’cheese sitcom was a rare comedy amongst a flowering of bicultural TV stories (The Governor, Epidemic). Harrison’s novel The Quiet Earth later inspired a classic film.
Greenstone is the tale of a beautiful, missionary-educated Māori woman (Simone Kessell) whose romantic life is subject to the shifting loyalties of her father, Chief Te Manahau (George Henare). The cross-cultural elements of this ambitious colonial bodice-ripper were reflected off-screen as well: created by Greg McGee in response to a call by TV One for a local drama 'saga', the series saw major English creative input through being developed as a co-production with the BBC. After the withdrawal of BBC funding, the Tainui Corporation helped fund the eight-part series.
This three part mini-series is loosely based on the remarkable tour by the NZ Natives rugby team which played 107 games in Australasia and Great Britain in 1888-89. At its heart is a cross-cultural love story between Pony — the grandson of a chief and one of the side’s stars — and Charlotte: the granddaughter of an English Earl (Ian Richardson of House of Cards fame). The tour provided the first exposure to Māori for many in the UK. The interaction could be uncomfortable but even more so when affairs of the heart threatened the cultural divide.
Screening in primetime at 6pm, People Like Us was built around exploring the spiritual and emotional aspects of people’s lives. Subjects ranged from interviews with leaders — religious and otherwise — to live events and the Red Cross. Mini seasons within the series were devoted to everything from menopause and breaking up, to cultural diversity (the latter fuelling a book as well). Producer Allison Webber managed to win funding from outside of state TV for some of these specials, and the show shared resources on occasion with RNZ’s former Continuing Education Unit.
A flagbearer for Māori storytelling on primetime television, E Tipu e Rea (Grow up tender young shoot) was a series of 30 minute dramas touching on a range of Māori experiences of the Pākehā world — from rural horse-back riding and eeling, to urban hostility and cultural estrangement. It marked the first anthology of Māori television plays, and the first TV production to use predominantly Māori personnel. E Tipu e Rea's mandate and achievement was to tell Māori stories in a Māori way.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular drama series following Detective Sergeant Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper) at work in the town of Cobham. Mortimer plays a city cop returning to his rural roots; Don Selwyn is Sergeant Bob Storey. The series was NZ’s first police drama, and a rare local drama to top ratings. Mortimer's Patch was made when the archetype of the ‘community cop’ everyone knew was still a powerful one, and it was a counterweight to the faceless riot policing of the Springbok Tour. Three series were made.