City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.
80s show Close Up had a similar brief to earlier current affairs show Compass: to present mini-documentaries on topical local issues. Stories in the primetime hour-long slot were wide-ranging, from hard news to human interest pieces, including a profile of 25-year-old foreign exchange dealer, future-Prime Minister, John Key. The show won Feltex Awards for most of the years that it was on air. Close Up is not related to the post-nightly news show of the same name, which was hosted by Mark Sainsbury until 2012.
Skitz was a popular long-running sketch-based comedy that screened for four series. Populated with memorable characters and catch-phrases, and broad, take-no-prisoners humour, it won Best Entertainment Programme at the 1996 NZ TV and Film Awards. A particular favourite in its arsenal of regular characters was the Semisi family with their 'fresh off the boat' antics inspiring mirth and groans in equal measure. Skitz featured seasoned comedians such as Jackie Clarke, as well as new faces at the time, including Jemaine Clement of future Flight of the Conchords fame.
This long-running, hour-long Māori Television sports show saw presenters and sports stars korero in front of a studio audience. The show won a cult audience thanks to its easy-going style, mixing studio action (music, demonstrations) with light-hearted field shoots (eg Brofessionals). Catchphrase "Mean Māori Mean" entered the culture. Ringleaders included Jenny-May Clarkson (née Coffin), Wairangi Koopu, and Liam Meesam, and superstars like Sonny Bill Williams relaxed on the Code couch. The show won Best Sports Programme at the 2007 Air New Zealand Screen Awards.
Section 7 was New Zealand’s first urban TV drama series and followed soon after Pukemanu (which was set in a logging town). Taking its name from the Criminal Justice Act section which placed offenders on probation, it focussed on a Probation Service office and addressed issues of the day including new migrants, ship girls and domestic violence. Expatriate Ewen Solon returned from England to take the lead role in a series very much based on British dramas of the time. More popular with critics than the public, Section 7 was limited to 11 half-hour episodes.
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.
Qantas-nominated 'dramedy' Rude Awakenings revolved around the conflict between two neighbouring families, living in the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby. Rush family matriarch Dimity (Danielle Cormack) has her eyes on climbing the property ladder, by acquiring the house next door (occupied by solo Dad Arthur and his teenage daughters). Created by Garth Maxwell (movie Jack Be Nimble), the 2007 series was produced by Michele Fantl for TV One. The Listener’s Diana Wichtel welcomed it as a rare contemporary satire on New Zealand television, but it only ran for a single season.
Roving quiz show It’s in the Bag got its first screen incarnation in 1973, after Selwyn Toogood campaigned to bring his popular radio series to television. Competitors answered three questions before picking a bag, hoping it contained treasure. Several of Toogood's catchphrases won enduring fame, including "by hokey!” and ”what’ll it be customers, the money or the bag?”. His co-hosts included Heather Eggleton and Tineke Bouchier. After Toogood retired in 1986, John Hawkesby took over, then Nick Tansley. Māori Television relaunched the show in 2009 (also viewable on NZ On Screen).
Classic sci-fi TV series Under the Mountain follows the adventures of redheaded twins with psychic powers — Rachel and Theo — on their Auckland summer holiday. They meet the mysterious Mr Jones, an alien emissary who enlists them in the battle against the evil Wilberforces, who are plotting planetary destruction. Adapted from the Maurice Gee novel, the series' fx left their slimy imprint on a generation of NZ kids, haunted by the transmogrifying Wilberforces, who changed from humans into giant slugs slithering underneath Auckland’s volcanoes.
Debuting on TV Four as Tūmeke in 1999, children's show Pūkana was pioneering in its use of te reo. Given a new title when it moved to TV3 in its second year, it later began an epic run on Māori Television. Taking contemporary kids' culture cues, Pūkana features game shows, send-ups, talent quests and music. It emphasises ‘street’ rather than marae-style language. Made by company Cinco Cine, it has won three awards for best show in its category, and two nominations for children’s programme. Past presenters include Mātai Smith, Quinton Hita and Te Hamua Nikora.