In the one channel days of the early 1970s, the Survey slot was the place to find local documentaries. Topics ranged across the board, from social issues (alcoholism, runaway children) to the potentially humdrum (an AGM meeting) to the surprisingly experimental (music film The Unbelievable Glory of the Human Voice). After extended campaigning by producer John O’Shea, emerging independent filmmakers, including Tony Williams and Roger Donaldson, joined the party — bringing fresh creativity and new techniques to the traditional gentle, narration-heavy doco format.
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.
On a holiday to Mt Tarawera with her scientist parents, teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs) finds an odd shard of metal. By touching it she unwittingly awakens 'Drom' — a survivor of an alien mission to deactivate a planet-annihilating space gun (aka the volcano!). Local kids Tessa and Lloyd also own key pieces; if Drom and the teen trio can't defeat the gun-toting mechanoid ... human and alien species extinction is imminent! The internationally successful six part series was a South Pacific Pictures and Canadian co-production; it screened in 1991.
Good Day was launched in March 1978 to succeed Today at One with producer Tony Hiles promising "an entertaining magazine programme with the magazine aspect spread over the whole week". The Avalon based show, which ran for two years, aired at 1pm on weekdays and featured regular reports and human interest stories from around the regions, studio interviews, book and film reviews, and consumer, arts and gardening segments. Political journalist Simon Walker was an early staffer while Dylan Taite contributed reports from Auckland.
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.
A foundation TV3 programme in 1989, The Early Bird Show was devised by What Now? founder Rex Simpson and followed that show’s formula in its mix of overseas cartoons and locally made inserts. Originally broadcast Monday to Friday from 7-9am, it moved to Saturday and Sunday mornings when TV3 dropped weekday morning programming in February 1990. The original puppet line-up of Russell Rooster, Kiri Kea, Dawn Chorus and Quack-ups was given a human presence in the form of Suzy Cato from mid-1990 and she remained with the show until it ended in early 1993.
Aimed at children, anthology series Freaky showcased tales of horror and the fantastic. Each episode was generally broken up into three stories, from aliens controlling humans like rats in a maze, to a terrifying water slide that transports riders to a prehistoric world. The tweenage Twilight Zone tales spawned a cult following, plus a wiki page detailing each story. Freaky creator Thomas Robins would refine the three stories in one approach with his 2006 anthology series The Killian Curse. He also co-created pioneering web series Reservoir Hill.
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.
Landmarks was a major 10-part series that traced the history of New Zealand through its landscape, particularly the impact of human settlement and technology. The concept was modelled on the epic BBC series America. Here a bespectacled, Swannie-wearing geography professor, Kenneth B Cumberland, stands in for Alistair Cooke, interweaving science, history and sweeping imagery to tell the stories of the landscape's "complete transformation". It received a 1982 Feltex Award for Best Documentary and the donnish but game Cumberland became a household name.
Condemned as "designer news" before it had even been to air, Newsnight was TV2's foray into late night news for a younger audience (with one eye on the success of TV3's Nightline). Strongly influenced by the celebrity and human interest focus of women's magazines, it received an unsuccessful BSA complaint for not covering a major story (a teacher's strike). Simon Dallow made his TV debut alongside Lorelei Mason and then Alison Mau — while Marcus Lush's idiosyncratic take on the world earned the show a degree of cult (if not always critical) success.