Inspired by the work of Spring Hill Prison music therapist Evan Rhys Davies, Julian Arahanga convinced the Department of Corrections to allow him to film inmates making songs at Rimutaka and Arohata prisons — with mentoring from musicians Anika Moa, Warren Maxwell, Maisey Rika, and Ruia Aperahama. In later seasons Moa was joined by Don McGlashan, Annie Crummer, Laughton Kora, Ladi6, Scribe and Troy Kingi at other prisons. The Māori TV show won Best Reality Series at the 2017 NZ Television Awards, and international interest. It also spawned two albums.
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.
Tangata Whenua was a groundbreaking six-part documentary series that screened (remarkably in primetime) in 1974. Each episode chronicled a different iwi and included interviews by historian Michael King with kaumātua. These remain a priceless historical record. The Feltex Award-winning script was by King and director Barry Barclay. The NZBC said the series had "possibly done more towards helping the European understand the Māori people, their traditions and way of life, than anything else previously shown on television". Paul Diamond writes about Tangata Whenua here.
A flagbearer for Māori storytelling on primetime television, E Tipu e Rea (Grow up tender young shoot) was a series of 30 minute dramas touching on a range of Māori experiences of the Pākehā world — from rural horse-back riding and eeling, to urban hostility and cultural estrangement. It marked the first anthology of Māori television plays, and the first TV production to use predominantly Māori personnel. E Tipu e Rea's mandate and achievement was to tell Māori stories in a Māori way.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular drama series following Detective Sergeant Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper) at work in the town of Cobham. Mortimer plays a city cop returning to his rural roots; Don Selwyn is Sergeant Bob Storey. The series was NZ’s first police drama, and a rare local drama to top ratings. Mortimer's Patch was made when the archetype of the ‘community cop’ everyone knew was still a powerful one, and it was a counterweight to the faceless riot policing of the Springbok Tour. Three series were made.
The Governor was a television epic that examined the life of Governor George Grey in six thematic parts. Grey's "Good Governor" persona was undercut with laudanum, lechery and land confiscation. NZ TV's first (and only) historical blockbuster was hugely controversial, provoking a parliamentary inquiry and "test match sized" audiences. It won a 1978 Feltex Award for Best Drama. Auckland Star reviewer Barry Shaw trumpeted: "It has made Māori matter. If Pākehā now have a better understanding of the Māori point of view [...] it stems from The Governor.
National treasures The Topp Twins (aka twins Lynda and Jools Topp) have performed as a country-music singing and yodelling comedy duo for more than 25 years. In the late 90s they created their own TV series which ran for three seasons and showcased their iconic cast of Kiwi characters, including Camp Mother, the Bowling Ladies and cross-dressing Ken and Ken. The series, travelling from a Highland Games to a Tauranga triathlon, won the twins - out-and-proud lesbians - several gongs at the NZ Film and TV Awards and screened on the ABC and Foxtel in Australia.
Asia Downunder was a weekly magazine show for and about the Asian population in New Zealand. The long-running series featured a range of stories covering news, profiles, arts, business and travel, with occasional specials devoted to a single topic. The show was produced and presented by Korean-born Melissa Lee (later a National Party MP) and a small team of reporters. After debuting on TV One in 1994 as Asia Dynamic, it was retitled Asia Downunder in 1999. Altogether the show ran for 19 seasons. Later producers included Chris Wright and Kadambari Gladding.