When television began broadcasting in Auckland in 1960, the news consisted of a days old bulletin from the BBC in London. A locally-compiled bulletin began before the end of the year, with occasional locally-filmed items. From 1962 to 1969 a five minute news summary screened at 7pm, with the longer NZBC Newsreel following at 8. TV news expanded rapidly through the 60s, with the NZBC setting up a network of newsrooms in the main centres. November 1969 marked the first time a shared news broadcast played nationwide, with the launch of the NZBC Network News.
Section 7 was New Zealand’s first urban TV drama series and followed soon after Pukemanu (which was set in a logging town). Taking its name from the Criminal Justice Act section which placed offenders on probation, it focussed on a Probation Service office and addressed issues of the day including new migrants, ship girls and domestic violence. Expatriate Ewen Solon returned from England to take the lead role in a series very much based on British dramas of the time. More popular with critics than the public, Section 7 was limited to 11 half-hour episodes.
This popular series was an early NZBC "pictorial magazine" show that explored "New Zealand’s backyard". Synonymous with producer Conon Fraser, the it was a staple of Sunday night 60s TV. Subjects ranged from Chatham Islands lobster fisheries, to Central Otago frost fires, to Miss New Zealand contestants. The show was praised in a 1968 NZ TV Weekly review as breaking new ground in relying more on imagery and interviewees' reflective voice-overs than (then usual) omniscient narration: "one of the few pure Television productions to have originated within the NZBC."
Star English interviewer David Frost was international television royalty when he jetted into New Zealand in 1973 to host a series of six hour long shows which were produced by Des Monaghan and directed by Kevan Moore (the longest duration he’d worked on). In the NZBC’s most ambitious undertaking up until then, the six episodes were recorded in just four days. The series began with political leaders — Prime Minister Norman Kirk and Leader of the Opposition Jack Marshall. The other subjects were abortion, obesity, champion athletes, marriage and children.
In the heady days of Beatlemania, Let's Go was the first viable successor to In The Groove (NZ's first TV pop music show in 1962). It was devised and produced by Kevan Moore — with DJ Peter Sinclair in his first big presenting role. Recorded in Wellington at the NZBC's Waring Taylor Street studio (with its notorious sloping floor a challenge for the big cameras), it featured a resident band — first The Librettos and then the Pleasers. Let's Go only lasted two years, but in 1967 Moore and Sinclair teamed up again for the hugely successful C'mon.
Landscape was made by ex-National Film Unit producer Bob Lapresle (six episodes were made in 1968 and six the following year). The focus of each half-hour programme was on people and personalities rather than on scenery, which was then being covered by the NZBC’s popular Looking at New Zealand. Beginning with ‘Friday in a Country Town’, the Landscape series went on to cover such varied topics as a family shearing gang, muttonbirders exercising their customary rights, the day to day life of a policeman, and the growing awareness of New Zealanders towards the arts.
In the Nature of Things saw Christchurch zoologist Ron Walton deliver science lessons to children. Walton (along with Night Sky presenter Peter Read) made made science pop, and was one of NZ’s best known broadcasting personalities of the 60s and 70s, fondly remembered by a generation of Kiwi kids. His fame saw him endorse everything from microscopes to Pye TV sets. From a gentler time, well prior to the pyrotechnics of MythBusters, Things was one of the few NZBC products from the era that screened internationally, selling to the US and a host of other countries.
Before he was a British MP, Austin Mitchell spent time downunder, where he was a political science lecturer and wrote 1972 classic The Half Gallon Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise. He was also a well known NZBC broadcaster in the 60s, fronting current affairs show Compass, and this parliamentarian interview series, which analysed Kiwi politicians, “in a manner that New Zealand audiences had never seen before” (Robert Boyd-Bell, New Zealand Television - The First 25 Years). The six subjects included PM Keith Holyoake; it was produced by future Hutt mayor John Terris.
In the Cold War 60s, thrillers peopled with jetsetting spies with shifty figures standing behind pillars in sunnies were all the rage (Danger Man, The Man from Uncle). Kiwi entry The Alpha Plan revolves around a British security agent who finds himself downunder, on the run, investigating strange disappearances amongst a Mensa-like society made up the planet's brightest brains. The ambitious six-part mystery thriller was the first Kiwi TV drama designed to go beyond one episode; positive reaction to the show paved the way for NZBC’s in-house drama department.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) followed the goings-on of a North Island timber town. The series was conceived by former forester Julian Dickon (who quit the series and was replaced by Listener critic Hamish Keith as writer). Producing two seasons of six episodes was a key step in industry professionalisation, and many of the cast became stars (Ginette McDonald, Ian Mune). It offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; and reviews praised its Swannie-clad authenticity.