Ambitious Jonathan Gunson-created children's series Space Knights pitched the King Arthur myth into a zany sci fi universe of Knights of the Round Space Station, Vader-esque villains, and laser lance jousting. The distinctive look of this early South Pacific Pictures series — like a picture book come to life — was developed by Listener cartoonist Chris Slane, and achieved by using actors in life-size puppet suits and blue screen effects. The series was 22 half hour episodes and screened internationally. The memorable 'Space Junk' theme song was by Dave Dobbyn.
Late night music show Space launched on TV2 in 2000, with a pair of hosts introducing live performances, interviews, music videos and occasional silliness. The show marked the first ongoing screen gig for Jaquie Brown, who appeared with future X Factor New Zealand host Dominic Bowden. When Bowden left in 2002, he was replaced by Hugh Sundae. The final season was helmed by Jo Tuapawa and ex Space researcher Phil Bostwick. Space was made by production company Satellite Media, whose credits include many shows involving music (Ground Zero, Rocked the Nation).
New Zealand TV and the space race grew up hand in hand. For 11 years, self-taught astronomer and enthusiast Peter Read explained each new development and talked about what could be seen in the heavens on his monthly show Night Sky. A commercial artist by training, Read painted the set’s early backdrops. He made several trips to the USA to witness launches, interviewed visiting astronauts and, with models in hand, broadcast live on the night of the first moon landing. When it was cancelled in 1974, Night Sky was the country’s longest running show.
The titular kids are a crime-fighting duo of physically-disabled teenagers working for O.W.L. (Organisation for World Liberty) in the battle against the evils of S.L.I.M.E. (Southern Latitude's International Movement for Evil!). With laser beam-firing crutches and computerised wheelchairs at their disposal they inevitably outwit the bumbling crooks. Made in Christchurch, the fondly-remembered kids' show was created by Kim Gabara and screened for two series. Neon alert: Apple aficionados will note the early use of graphics from Apple 2 and Apple 3 computers.
Freaky creator Thomas Robins’ second horror anthology for kids makes use of a sophisticated story structure. Years ago Room 21 at Killian High was cursed by its satanic school founder. A new principal dismisses warnings and opens the space, unleashing the curse onto new students. Each episode is split into three parts as three students battle demons. The number 21 plays an important role; the 21 students of Room 21 must overcome an eclectic range of demons or else the evil Killian claims their souls ‘forever’. A second season followed in 2008.
Studio One belongs to a long line of talent shows stretching back to the earliest days of NZ television. In two parts, it featured an original song competition which attracted leading songwriters; and 'New Faces'. The latter was for newcomers to TV, and it introduced novelty acts and brass bands, but was also instrumental in launching the careers of Split Enz, Shona Laing and Space Waltz. Later judges including Howard Morrison, Nick Karavias and Phil Warren could be brutal when they wanted to be — and their catch-cry of "no lurex" became a national mantra.
On a holiday to Mt Tarawera with her scientist parents, teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs) finds an odd shard of metal. By touching it she unwittingly awakens 'Drom' — a survivor of an alien mission to deactivate a planet-annihilating space gun (aka the volcano!). Local kids Tessa and Lloyd also own key pieces; if Drom and the teen trio can't defeat the gun-toting mechanoid ... human and alien species extinction is imminent! The internationally successful six part series was a South Pacific Pictures and Canadian co-production; it screened in 1991.
In 2005 director Stuart McKenzie brought a camera crew into the studios and rehearsal spaces of Toi Whakaari, New Zealand's top drama school, to follow the progress of its first-year acting students. The class included future names like Dan Musgrove and Sophie Hambleton (Westside) and Matt Whelan (Go Girls). Tough Act was nominated for Best Reality Show at the 2007 Qantas Television Awards and the 2007 NZ Screen Awards. The concept was custom-made for reality TV: tough auditions to find 22 diverse young people, who chased the same dream and faced a multitude of challenges.
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.