In 1987 producer and director Geoff Steven spent six months filming in the United States in a quest to understand what makes such a powerful and influential nation tick. Steven’s intention was to circumvent media stereotypes and the “facades set up by politicians and officials” and to talk to Americans from all walks of life and socio-economic groups. The result was this six part series fronted by journalist and author Gordon McLauchlan who introduces each episode and links the interviews with everyday people shot in their homes, factories and offices.
Weddings was a real life romance series from Julie Christie’s reality TV powerhouse Touchdown Productions. It followed couples on their way to the altar — from abstinent Christians, nudists and cross-dressers, to a Days of Our Lives devotee. Among the challenges faced were obstinate mother-in-laws, and finding the cash to pay for the function. Presented by Jayne Kiely, Weddings proved a ratings success for TV2. Follow-up series Weddings: Happily ever after? (2001) caught up with couples to see if married life was wedded bliss, or something else.
Coming Home chronicled Kiwi successes abroad, by profiling New Zealanders living and working overseas, then following them back to Aotearoa when they made a return visit. Each episode of the Touchdown Productions series was grouped roughly geographically, with two or three expat New Zealanders featured per episode. Among those reminiscing upon home and opportunity were businesswoman Mary Quin, motor racing legend Steve Millen, journalist Peter Arnett, model Kylie Bax, psychologist John Money, law lecturer Judith Mayhew and singer Patrick Power.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.
Treasure Island was an early local example of a reality show staple — contestants endured the great outdoors, and each other. Over nine seasons the series went through multiple variations, including a Couples at War season, and another featuring favourites from the past. During the 2004 season of Celebrity Treasure Island, contestant Lana Coc-Kroft was airlifted from Fiji, after she cut her foot on coral and got a life-threatening blood-poisoning disease. On 2002's Treasure Island: Extreme, Barrie Rice — an ex SAS soldier — dealt with being eliminated by hiding in the jungle.
What Now? is a long-running entertainment show for primary school-aged children. Filmed before a live studio audience on weekend mornings, What Now? is a New Zealand TV institution; it was the first TV show to have live phone-ins. The series is known for its challenges that sometimes result in participants being 'gunged'. A roll-call of presenters includes Steve Parr, Danny Watson, Simon Barnett, Jason Gunn, Michelle A'Court, Tamati Coffey, Antonia Prebble, and more. 'Get out of your Lazy Bed' by Matt Bianco is the theme song memorable to generations of Kiwi kids.
Auckland's home of stand-up comedy, The Classic theatre in Queen Street, is the subject of this "behind the scenes" mockumentary TV series. Anchored by MC Brendhan Lovegrove, episodes follow a night's performances; onstage routines are intercut with action from the green room and front of house. The line between reality and self-deprecatory fiction is blurry, with the participants happy to send themselves up. Show biz glamour is in short supply and, at times, it's preferable to look just about anywhere except the screen. A second series screened in 2012.
Created by Outrageous Fortune’s James Griffin and Rachel Lang, this South Pacific Pictures-produced TV3 dramedy is about a family of Norse gods who wash up in 21st Century New Zealand. Emmett Skilton stars as Axl aka Odin, who must restore his brothers' lapsed superpowers and find his wife Frigg ("no pressure, then"). But he is thwarted by Norse goddesses and Māori deities. The combo of fantastical plot and droll Kiwi bloke banter won loyal fans, who successfully campaigned for a third (and final) season. Johnsons screened on the SyFy channel in the US in 2014.
A Twist in the Tale was one of a series of kidult shows launched by The Tribe creator Raymond Thompson, after he relocated to New Zealand. The anthology series spins from a storyteller (Star Trek's William Shatner) introducing a story (often fantastical) to a group of children, some of whom appear in the tales. The show featured early appearances by many young Kiwi thespians, including Antonia Prebble, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Dwayne Cameron and Michelle Ang. Although the writing team were British, some of the directors and most of the crew were New Zealanders.
Screening each weekend after TV One's primetime news, Sunday mixes New Zealand stories with reports from overseas. The local contributions have ranged from celebrity interviews, to reports that took months to put together (including award-winning pieces on the 2008 Chinese poisoned milk scandal, and how patients were treated at Porirua Hospital). Over the years, Sunday's roster of journalists has included veterans John Hudson, Janet McIntyre, Ian Sinclair, and current presenter Miriama Kamo. The show has played in both hour and half-hour formats.