South Pacific Pictures series High Country Rescue follows search and rescue volunteers as they respond to crises across Wanaka and Fiordland. Cameras follow the team from briefings at headquarters to daring recovery missions, as adventurers are rescued from remote spots on the surrounding hills. It’s not all serious though: for many the worst injury is to their pride. Neither are the rescuers immune from trouble — one episode sees a rescuer getting a ute stuck up a hill, and having to be saved by a bloke who recently put his truck in a river.
Introduced by a pilot called High Country, Jocko was an early 80s attempt by TVNZ to build a series around a travelling swagman character. Jocko (Bruce Allpress) is a maverick musterer and rural jack-of-all-trades in the tradition of the Australian swagman and the American cowboy. But the setting is a contemporary one: in the South Island high country where old and new methods of farming are coming into conflict. Two series were made, written by Julian Dickon (Pukemanu), and co-starring Desmond Kelly as Jocko’s off-sider and travelling companion, China.
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.
Man. Dog. Sheep. This was an unlikely formula for Kiwi TV gold. Showing sheepdog trials from around the country, A Dog’s Show ran from 1977 to 1992. In each trial a farmer, armed with an array of whistles and commands, instructed a sheepdog to wrangle a flock of recalcitrant sheep along a course or into a pen while the bearded, sagacious, Swannie-clad John Gordon provided the commentary. Trivia: the opening tune is a version of the Statler Brothers song ‘Flowers on the Wall’, also used in movie Pulp Fiction.
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.
The five-part series told the story of colonial outlaw James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would bear his name. His escapades on the lam elevated him to folk hero status. Like producer John McRae’s prior series, Hunter’s Gold, the South Pacific Television ‘prestige’ drama was made with export in mind. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production — with Scottish TV, where the opening episode was shot — imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft.
This six-part Māori Television series documents the experiences of six Māori language students from around the country, on a three-week cultural field trip to Beijing, China. The teenagers take their own cameras to record their experiences. They attend a local high school, live with Chinese families, and take in the local sites and sounds. The series is in Te Reo Māori, with English sub-titles.
Long-running travel series Intrepid Journeys took Kiwi celebrities (from All Blacks to music legends to ex-Prime Ministers) from the comfort of home to less-travelled paths in varied countries and cultures. The Jam TV series debuted in 2003 on TV One. With its authenticity and fresh, genre-changing take on a travel show (focusing on personal experience rather than objectivity), Intrepid Journeys was a landmark in local factual television. It managed to achieve the rare mix of high ratings and critical acclaim.
Attitude is a weekly series that addresses the issues and interests of people living with a disability. The high energy series launched in 2008, with a strong thread of advocacy journalism. Attitude has a number of team members who themselves have a disability, including all the onscreen researcher/reporters. Much of Attitude's content has been loaded onto online hub Attitude Live, which launched in 2013 and later beat 86 countries to win a World Summit Award in the 'inclusion and empowerment' category — plus praise for digital innovation.
Popular Greenstone series The Zoo aired for over a decade. The show went behind the bars at Auckland Zoo to meet monkeys, rhinos, kiwi, humans, and more. A family-friendly hit, initially for TV2, it sold widely overseas. The show spawned a number of spin-offs and best of DVDs, including two Zoo Babies specials, Trent's Wild Cat Adventures — plus Two by Two at the Zoo (2005) and The Zoo: This is Your Life (2011), which each featured one animal per episode. The Zoo won the viewers' vote for Favourite Documentary Series at the TV Guide Awards, seven years running.