In this satire series presenter Jeremy Wells — channelling Kenneth B Cumberland (of Landmarks fame) — examines NZ history in a mock-revisionist manner, poking fun at the pretence of the past. From the makers of Eating Media Lunch, the show is self-described as “the most important series in the history of history”. Each episode tackles the big issues, including ‘Crime’, ‘Visitors’, ‘Trouble’ and ‘Evil’. The show draws its material mostly from television archive basements, with the odd piece of fakery and animation thrown in. Michael King this defiantly ain't!
In TVNZ’s Journeys Across Latitude 45 South, writer and presenter Peter Hayden traverses east to west from Otago’s Waitaki Plains to George Sound in Fiordland. Hayden walks, hitches, cycles, paddles a mōkihi (a traditional Māori canoe made of reeds) and white water rafts along the 45 south line. Along the way he builds a social, industrial and natural history of latitude 45 south. From the lonely wilds of Fiordland to the tourist Mecca Queenstown, Hayden encounters the quixotic and gruff, and pioneer species of the past, present in a changing world.
Wildtrack was a highly successful nature series for children, combining a Dunedin studio set with reporting from the field. Produced by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit, it ran from 1981 until the early 1990s. Producer Michael Stedman sought to produce a series where “children can be excited and entertained with genuine information, while not neglecting adults”. Wildtrack won the Feltex Television Award for the best children's programme, three years running (1982 - 1984).
In this five part series presenter Peter Hayden travels through some of New Zealand's most varied, awe-inspiring and spiritual environments. Though there is superbly filmed flora and fauna, geology and other standard natural history documentary staples, it is the history of people's relationship with these sublime landscapes and a genial New Zealand passion for the environment, that makes a lasting impression. At the 1988 Listener Film and TV Awards Hayden won Best Writer in a Non-Drama Category for the series.
Why is New Zealand's landscape and flora and fauna so unique? In four-part series Moa's Ark, renowned English naturalist David Bellamy, with his impassioned enthusiasm and trademark beard (of "old man's beard must go" fame) goes on a journey to discover the answer. Directed and produced by Peter Hayden, this 1990 TV series was produced by Television New Zealand's award-winning Natural History Unit (now independent production company NHNZ). Read more about the series here.
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.
This four-part series from 1996 presents the game of rugby as a mirror for New Zealand social history. Written by Finlay Macdonald, it sets out to explain how rugby became such an intrinsic part of New Zealand's identity. Each episode visits iconic paddocks (from schools to stadiums) and players (from amateurs Nepia, Meads, and Shelford, to professional star Lomu); and observers muse on the influence of the inflated pig's bladder on Kiwi culture, including historian Jock Phillips, writer Ian Cross and journalist TP Mclean.
This six-part series about Aotearoa's flora and fauna marked the first set of documentaries to be made by the BCNZ's freshly born Natural History Unit. The 15 minute episodes showcase White Island, bird life in Ōkārito, the flightless takahē, Waipoua Forest in Northland, wetlands near Dunedin and winter wildlife in Central Otago. Many of the filmmakers went on to make a mark — including directors Neil Harraway and Robin Scholes, and cameraman Robert Brown (The Living Planet). Hidden Places - Ōkārito was named Best Documentary at the 1979 Feltex Television Awards.
TVNZ’s Natural History Film Unit was founded in Dunedin around 1977. The first Wild South documentaries began filming a year later. The slot's initial focus was on New Zealand’s perilously endangered birds, eg the Chatham Island black robin (then the world’s rarest bird). The results won local and international notice, and a loyal audience. Wildtrack was a sister series showcasing natural history for young viewers. Wild South ended in 1997 when the Natural History Unit was purchased by Fox Studios; it later became internationally successful production company NHNZ.
Five-part series The New Zealand Wars took a new look at the history of Māori vs Pākehā armed conflict. It was presented by historian James Belich, who with his arm-waving zeal proved a persuasive on-screen presence: "we don't need to look overseas for our Robin Hood, our Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, or Gandhi". The popular series reframed NZ history, and its stories of Hōne Heke, Governor Grey, Tītokowaru, Te Whiti, Von Tempsky and Te Kooti, easily affirmed Belich's conviction. The New Zealand Wars was judged Best Documentary at the 1998 Qantas Media Awards.