No-one else has dominated the NZ political landscape the way Sir Robert Muldoon did — or been subjected to the level of TV scrutiny he was in this controversial two part series made by Neil Roberts. It was produced with his company Communicado’s customary style: brooding music, big slow motion close-ups and a malevolent rotating bust — and Roberts, much like his subject, took no prisoners as he explored Muldoon’s career and relationship with power. Complaints of unfairness from Dame Thea Muldoon and son Gavin were later partially upheld by the BSA.
Like many other current affairs shows in the 70s, Tonight had a short-lived existence: in 1975 the newly-elected National government was determined to streamline television's high number of news and current affairs shows. However, the show made its mark with its infamous interview between PM Rob Muldoon and Simon (future Royal PR man) Walker, in which Walker has the temerity to ask questions not on Muldoon's sheet: "I will not have some smart alec interviewer changing the rules half way through." Tonight did well to survive two years before getting axed.
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.
Indie production house Communicado made their name with a stable of television shows that celebrated Kiwi culture. After the success of late-80s show That’s Fairly Interesting, the company began work on Magic Kiwis, a show devoted to heroes of popular culture. Mostly the cavalcade of Kiwi celebs were stars of entertainment (Howard Morrison, Split Enz) and sports (Susan Devoy, John Walker), with the odd politician thrown in. Over three series, the half hour shows combined classic clips and interview footage, all tied together in trademark upbeat style.
Hosted by television all-rounder Neil Roberts, It’s Only Wednesday was a short-lived TVNZ chat show in the late 80s. It was characterised by Roberts’ energy as host, and performances by Grant Chilcott’s swing band Wentworth-Brewster & Co. The It's Only Wednesday format saw guests staying on after their interviews, leading to some eclectic company sharing the couch. The guests included former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, and pop group When the Cat’s Away.
After turning "Jeez Wayne" into a national catchphrase with the sketch show A Week of It, comedy duo David McPhail and Jon Gadsby (plus third writer AK Grant) followed with McPhail & Gadsby, which aired on TVNZ for seven seasons — plus a reprise in 1998 and 1999. After a sometimes controversial debut season in which each episode was devoted to a specific theme (religion, sex etc), the show settled into a steady diet of political satire, spoofs and impersonations of public figures — including McPhail's famous caricature of PM Robert 'Piggy' Muldoon.
On the heels of Issues (1990), More Issues offered more of the same satirical takes on local and international current affairs. It pokes fun at the advent of news-presenting personalities like Judy Bailey, Richard Long and Paul Holmes - such a prominent feature of NZ TV at the time. Politicians Ruth Richardson and Robert Muldoon also featured regularly, and celebs such as Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Hunter made appearances. Issues of the day included Martin Crowe's upcoming nuptials, the first Gulf War, and Māori land claims.
An interview based current affairs show, Newsmakers debuted in late 1979 at 5pm on Sundays but was quickly moved to prime time. Presenter Ian Fraser was the successor to interviewers like Bryan Edwards and Simon Walker, who were unafraid to ask hard questions and determined to get answers at any cost. Subjects included celebrities and politicians (but not PM Robert Muldoon who was refusing to speak to Fraser at the time). Newsmakers made the headlines itself following rugged encounters with National Party ministers Ben Couch and Derek Quigley.
The nightly Eyewitness News debuted in 1982 having evolved out of TV2’s twice weekly current affairs show of the same name. Screening at 9.30pm, it moved to TV One before being axed in 1990 in favour of a later One News bulletin. Two of the key moments in the political turmoil of 1984 played out in front of its cameras — PM Robert Muldoon’s calling of the snap election and his devaluation interview which sparked an economic and constitutional crisis. Reporter Rod Vaughan also received his infamous bloody nose from Bob Jones while on an Eyewitness story.
Town Cryer was New Zealand's first live talk show to play to a national audience (Peter Sinclair had earlier hosted a late night regional chat show). Although enthused, local audiences took a while to believe it wasn't prerecorded. Over 64 episodes, Max Cryer persuaded both local and international names to join him, including actors, sports stars, Robert Muldoon — and an emotional appearance by singer Larry Morris, hours after finishing a prison sentence for drugs. In 1977 Town Cryer morphed into an afternoon show, shorn of its musical performances; by year's end it was gone.