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 1973 the focus of NZBC’s current affairs programming was under pressure to be reshaped (from the new Labour Government). Long-running show Gallery was to provide follow-up and explanation of current events, and Inquiry was to be a weekly film programme that provided more in-depth treatment of topical issues. Inquiry programmes had a three week turnaround for research, editing and broadcasting; Geoff Walker, Alan Brady and Joe Coté were the initial reporters. Topics covered included a wide-ranging 1974 survey of women in politics: ‘Nothing Venture, Nothing Gain’.
NZBC series On Camera was an afternoon magazine show. It screened separately on each of the regional channels, but shared items and interviews. Subjects ranged from Rolf Harris and Alfred Hitchcock to VSA and ballet, and topics “of particular appeal to women”. Presenters included Julie Cunningham (Christchurch), Irvine Lindsay (Wellington) and Sonia King (Auckland), with Max Cryer reporting from Hollywood. Future head of TVNZ Māori programming Ernie Leonard (reporter) got early experience on the show, and future Quiet Earth composer John Charles was a director.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.