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.
BMX, skateboards, spacies parlours and home computers — Steel Riders features all the hardware that an 80s-era kid could desire, with a motorcycling baddie to boot. Scripted by kidult master Ken Catran, the series follows a brother and sister who are targeted after inadvertently ending up with the spoils of a jewel heist. Pursued by mysterious (and irate) motorcyclist — The Spook — they enlist the help of a hacker and a BMX rider to help their father, who has been blamed for the theft. Ex-motorcycle racer Phil Thorogood provided The Spook’s stunts.
This two-part mini-series is set in an 80s 'New Auckland' world of mirror glass and murderous corporate conspiracy. British actor James Faulkner (latterly Bridget Jones' Uncle Geoffrey) plays a shady developer with a smash and burn approach to urban planning. Blocking his utopian waterfront scheme is a cafe. The inheritors of the greasy spoon — and a racehorse — are a duo of feisty femmes: working class Tammy (Annie Whittle), and art consultant Joanna (Miranda Harcourt). The Shadow Trader marked an early producing credit for Finola Dwyer (An Education).
Heroes followed a band trying to make it in the mid-80s music biz. Teen-orientated, the show marked a first major role for Jay Laga’aia (Star Wars), and an early gig for Michael Hurst (with blonde Billy Idol spikes). Band keyboardist John Gibson co-wrote the series music; he later became an award-winning film composer. Margaret Umbers (Shortland Street, Bridge to Nowhere) was a non-musician in the cast (with Hurst), but since has sung regularly in a jazz band. A second series follow in 1986.
This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.
This 80s TV series sees real estate agent Selwyn, TV producer Nardia (early turns from Temuera Morrison and Jennifer Ward-Lealand) and art student Ben (Kerry McKay) as a trio of young Wellingtonions drawn together by a mysterious invitation. At an antique shop dinner they discover they share a colourful birth mother, before becoming players in a game for a legacy of $250,000. Conceived by Brian Bell, Seekers was one of a series of teen-orientated dramas made in the mid-80s (along with Heroes and Peppermint Twist). The 16 episodes screened from February 1986.
This 80s relic was a homegrown take on US show That's Incredible!, with spectacular stunts and supernatural happenings replaced with subjects that were more kiwiana kitsch than wow! It was the first show from production company Communicado; presenters included Tim Shadbolt, Neil Roberts, Sue Kedgley, Phil Gifford and Phil Keoghan. In a Vanity Fair interview to illustrate Kiwi's "enormous understatement" Jane Campion famously quipped: "You know, they used to have a program on TV in New Zealand, That's Fairly Interesting. [...] In America, it's That's Incredible!"
The titular kids are a crime-fighting duo of physically-disabled teenagers working for O.W.L. (Organisation for World Liberty) in the battle against the evils of S.L.I.M.E. (Southern Latitude's International Movement for Evil!). With laser beam-firing crutches and computerised wheelchairs at their disposal they inevitably outwit the bumbling crooks. Made in Christchurch, the fondly-remembered kids' show was created by Kim Gabara and screened for two series. Neon alert: Apple aficionados will note the early use of graphics from Apple 2 and Apple 3 computers.
Gloss was a popular Kiwi television drama series made by TVNZ that screened in the late 80s; it combined a wealthy family, the Redferns, with a lucrative high-fashion magazine business. Yuppies, shoulder-pads and méthode champenoise abound in this cult "glamour soap". New Zealanders wanted to see themselves as less bottom of the world and more "here we come and we are sailing" (as the infamous Cup campaign song warbled), and Gloss was just what the era demanded.
Night of the Red Hunter was a 1989 sci-fi series for kids that followed the adventures of runaways Peter (Toby Laing) and Maggie (Toni Driscoll). After falling into a grave of golden light at a farm cemetery, they come into the orbit of the strange Piper family who give an extraterrestrial twist to Kiwi small town gothic. Written by Ken Catran, and produced by Chris Hampson, the TVNZ production was one of the final shows made by Avalon's Drama Department. The series was recut as a telefeature. Laing is now better known as trumpeter for Fat Freddys Drop.