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."
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.
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.
Before he was a British MP, Austin Mitchell spent time downunder, where he was a political science lecturer and a well known NZBC broadcaster in the 60s. On heading north he wrote classic 1972 book The Half Gallon Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise, a satirical commentary on all things Kiwi from an ‘outsider’s’ perspective. In this three-part series, he returned on a length of the country tour to see how things are going in Godzone. “Cook discovered New Zealand, I discovered my pavlova paradise and now I’m going back there to see how it’s changed 40 years on.”
Nationwide replaced Gallery as part of the NZBC’s first foray into nightly current affairs. In 1974 and 1975, it ran for 20 minutes on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays (with Inquiry on Wednesdays and World Scene on Fridays). It was produced by Rod Vaughan; The reporters included Ian Fraser, Keith Aberdein, David Beatson and conservationist Guy Salmon. Prime Minister Norman Kirk famously took great offence at a series of skits featuring Fraser and John Clarke involving remits at the 1974 Labour Party conference. Nationwide was replaced by the equally short-lived Tonight in 1976.
From a pre-Mythbusters era when science didn’t need explosions to merit primetime Saturday night screening, but after NZBC's blackboards and pointers, this series took a current affairs approach to reporting contemporary scientific research. Produced in Christchurch’s Studio 4, it was presented by Ken Ellis; Allanah James was a long-time reporter. Subjects ranged from volcanoes, underwater welding, talking lifts, STDs, mutant spiders, mussel extracts, and nude rats to the mysteries of tuatara and concert hall acoustics. The series was succeeded by Fast Forward.
The Country Touch was a widely popular country and western music show from the 60s, that screened on Saturday nights. Produced by Bryan Easte for NZBC the show was filmed on an Auckland hay barn set and featured musical numbers, from folk, fiddles, and banjos to bluegrass, introduced by the legendary Tex Morton. Regulars included The Hamilton County Bluegrass Band, Brian Hirst’s Country Touch Singers (with a team of 20 square dancers), and Kay and Shane. Has Auckland ever been this close to the Appalachians?
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.