Set on a New Zealand farm, this animated series for young Kiwis follows the escapades of Massey Ferguson the talking tractor, Gracie the farm bike, Rusty the old car, and others (Massey Fergusons are an icon of Kiwi farming). Created by broadcaster Jim Mora (Mucking In) and Brent Chambers from company Flux Animation, the series screened on TVNZ. Mora said the series aimed “to be true to farming life, while giving urban children an idea of the life that exists outside New Zealand’s cities.”
The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after 50 plus years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.
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.
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.
Radio Wha Waho was a pioneering bilingual sitcom about a rural iwi radio station that is close to collapse. Among characters talking back in te reo and getting up to antics on this Māori-style WKRP in Cincinnati are a smoothtalking DJ with delusions of being a ladykiller (a pre-Mrs Semisi Hori Ahipene); a young fireball who wants to graduate to a big station in the city (Greg Mayor, future star of Stewart Main short Twilight of the Gods); and Aunty Doss (Kath Akuhata-Brown), the heart and soul of the whole operation. Produced by TVNZ's Māori department.
Four-part series Revolution mapped sweeping social and economic change in New Zealand society in the 1980s and early 1990s. Described as a “journalist's assembly” by its makers, it collected together interviews with the major players and archive footage. Producer Marcia Russell: “We wanted to make Revolution because we believed that unless we re-run and re-examine our recent history we are in constant danger of forgetting, and forgetting can render us passive about the present and slaves of the future.” It won Best Factual Series at the 1997 Film and TV Awards.
In this Jam TV series, comedian Te Radar ditches 21st Century consumer luxuries and the city rat race to see if he can live sustainably for 10 months on a remote patch of land west of Auckland. His back-to-basics mission requires him to exist on only what he can hunt, grow and fish himself — putting delights like goat salami and home-made feta on the menu. He also explores topical green issues like the viability of solar power and whether simple steps such as composting and starting a worm bin can reduce landfill. The series also bred a book and a live show.
Like the eponymous native plant this children's puppetry programme stuck to the socks of many kiwis of a certain vintage. Produced in Dunedin by TVNZ's Natural History Unit (now independent production company NHNZ) Bidibidi followed the adventures of a sheep on a South Island station for two series. Bidibidi was adapted from the children's book by Gavin Bishop. Each programme interspersed puppet scenes and musical numbers with the expected first-rate NHU-shot footage of birds and other animals that Bidibidi meets en route, from kea to skinks and bitterns.
Web series The Factory is the tale of a South Auckland family and their love of music — and one another. The Saumalus compete at a $50,000 talent contest, on behalf of the textile factory where their father and grandfather Tigi work. But the family are keen to play something more modern than the traditional Samoan music Tigi favours. The 20-part web series features the Kila Kokonut Krew team, who originally created The Factory for the stage. The pioneering Pasifika musical went on to headline the 2013 Auckland Arts Festival, and was performed at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) followed the goings-on of a North Island timber town. The series was conceived by former forester Julian Dickon (who quit the series and was replaced by Listener critic Hamish Keith as writer). Producing two seasons of six episodes was a key step in industry professionalisation, and many of the cast became stars (Ginette McDonald, Ian Mune). It offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; and reviews praised its Swannie-clad authenticity.