Set in a high flying PR firm, Spin Doctors was a topical, fast turnaround satire — in the tradition of John Clarke’s The Games. No client is too grasping, no issue too unsavoury for Giles Peterson and Associates, and a team including a ruthless Australian (Mark Ferguson), a boozy trout (Elizabeth Hawthorne) and the office liberal unsuccessfully battling his conscience (John Leigh). Each episode was written and produced in just five days — allowing the writers (including James Griffin, Roger Hall and Tom Scott) full license with the week’s issues.
With its mix of quirky characters, lush scenery, and medical drama, Mercy Peak proved to be a winning formula. Produced by John Laing for South Pacific Pictures, and starring a host of NZ acting talent (Tim Balme, Jeffrey Thomas, Renato Bartolomei, et al), Mercy Peak follows the highs and lows of Dr Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman), who leaves the big city after discovering her partner’s infidelity. Taking up her new role at the hospital in the tiny town of Bassett, Nicky soon learns that life is full of complexities no matter the population.
Dilemmas sought to give advice to New Zealanders on how to negotiate their day to day lives. Hosted by Australian doctor Kerryn Phelps (and later by Marcus Lush) with a rotating panel of guests, the show covered everything from annoying neighbours to harassment and violence. Guests included Jude Dobson, Philip Alpers, Ginette McDonald and Genevieve Westcott. A regular media commentator in Australia on health matters, Phelps became the first woman elected to head the Australian Medical Association; in 2011 she received an Order of Australia, for services to medicine.
Greenstone Productions are prolific and award-winning makers of observational reality shows (The Zoo, Border Patrol, Coastwatch). This series saw their cameras go behind the scenes of Wellington Hospital's Emergency Department, to showcase the skills and compassion of medical staff as they treat patients ranging from lost diver Rob Hewitt and a near-fatally inebriated man, to the ubiquitous broken bones and beads stuck up nostrils. The 12-part series won the Best Observational Reality (non-format) Award at the 2007 Qantas Television Awards.
The Cult follows two groups: the members of a commune, who have renounced all contact with the outside world, and a loose-knit team of 'liberators', keen to reestablish contact with commune members they care about. The first prime time drama from Great Southern Film and Television won six of its 11 nominations at the 2010 Qantas Film and Television Awards — including for the acting of Lisa Chappell and Danielle Cormack (as a devious doctor). It was nominated for Best Drama. The moody 13-part thriller was created by Kathryn Burnett and Peter Cox.
This 16 episode, 30 minute series from Jam TV (This Town, Intrepid Journeys) gave “courageous, honest, heroic and inspirational Kiwis a chance to tell their tale.” Subjects ranged from broadcaster Mark Staufer to Christchurch Student Volunteer Army founder Sam Johnson, Gisborne mayor Meng Foon, and Northland doctor Lance O’Sullivan. The first episode explored irrepressible former C4 presenter Helena McAlpine’s experiences with terminal breast cancer. Listener critic Diana Wichtel praised the TVNZ show as “an increasingly vital corrective to the rest of prime time".
This miniseries was made for the centenary of New Zealand’s involvement in the Gallipoli campaign. Created by Gavin Strawhan and Briar Grace-Smith, the six one hour episodes explored the impact of World War l on characters connected to a Pākehā family. Each episode was framed around a letter written home. The characters include a nurse and doctor caring for wounded in Egypt, a lawyer turned officer in Gallipoli and his wayward brother, and a Māori preacher turned soldier and his sister. Directed for TVNZ by Peter Burger, the series was produced by Robin Scholes.
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.