Epitaphs on gravestones are the starting point for presenter Paul Gittins to unravel skeletons in cupboards, lovestruck suicide pacts, and fatal love letters. The series uses compelling personal stories to retell New Zealand history and effectively combines documentary and re-enactment. An actor and history enthusiast, Paul Gittins became a household name on Shortland Street (as Dr Michael McKenna) before he devised this series for Greenstone. Epitaph ran for three series, and won Best Factual Series at the 1999 NZ TV Awards.
Challenge was a series of six one-hour documentaries for Television One, exploring the theme of adventure. The challenges taken on by Kiwis included a pioneering hot air balloon flight over Aoraki-Mt Cook, an ascent of Kumbhakarna-Mt Jannu in Nepal led by Edmund Hillary and Graeme Dingle, a trek through Death Valley in Nevada, a transatlantic solo yacht race helmed by John Mansell, and a jet boat race in Mexico. The Mexican episode was directed by Challenge's executive producer, Peter Morritt. Other directors included Pamela Meekings-Stewart and Ian John.
Shipwreck told dramatic stories of mystery, heroism and tragedy at sea, as it explored eleven notable shipwrecks in New Zealand's maritime history. In each episode tales of buried treasure, massacre, death and survival are evocatively retold. Wrecks covered included The Boyd,The Ariadne and The Orpheus, the worst martime disaster in the nation's history. Shipwreck was presented by actor Paul Gittins (Epitaph). The Greenstone Pictures production won Best Information Programme at the 2000 Qantas Media Awards.
Competing canines on primetime TV invoke memories of the heyday of A Dog's Show in this TVNZ series. Tux was presented and produced by dog lover Mark Leishman, with his faithful golden Labrador companion Dexter (until the latter's death in 2000). Jim Mora provides a genial and pun-filled commentary as obedience tests and obstacle courses challenge the teams of dogs, and exasperate (and occasionally delight) their owners. Titbits come in the form of dog lore and trivia, advice from pet psychologists and canine funniest home videos.
Duggan stars John Bach as brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse, the show was conceived by Marion McLeod, and scripted by Donna Malane and Ken Duncum. Eleven episodes of the Gibson Group series were made, following on from introductory tele-features Death in Paradise and Sins of the Father. The turquoise waters of The Sounds make for an evocative setting in this sharp, classy Kiwi whodunit. Rachel Davies writes here about Duggan's birth.
The Insiders Guide to Happiness follows the interconnecting lives of eight 20-something characters — one of them dead — as they search for happiness. Dramatic, comic, sexy, surreal, the drama won critical acclaim and was a ratings success. An ambitious chaos theory-derived 'meta' concept is underpinned by strong performances from the ensemble of burgeoning acting talent, and stylishly-shot Wellington city locations. The Gibson Group production won seven awards at the 2005 NZ Screen Awards, including Best Drama and Best Director (Mark Beesley)
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.