The award-winning Pioneer Women series was producer Pamela Meekings-Stewart’s response to her perception that histories on NZ television, like The Governor, hadn’t adequately recognised the role played by women in shaping the nation. The initial series of six episodes focussed on the lives of Nurse Maude, Ettie Rout, Hera Ngoungou, Princess Te Puea, Elizabeth Colsenso and Ellen Hewett; it celebrated women who not only had to face hardship and deprivation but were charged with raising the next generation. A second series of three episodes screened in 1990.
In this fascinating social experiment, a 21st century Kiwi family is transported back in time to live as a typical family would have — 100 years ago. Their house and garden is restored to its 1900 state with electrical fittings, modern plumbing and all traces of modern living removed. The family have to deal with the challenges of turn of the last century manners, dress, morals, work and a lack of conveniences (including a regular outside trip to the long drop toilet). Based on a UK format, the series was followed in New Zealand by Colonial House (2003).
Islands of the Gulf was (narrowly) New Zealand’s first locally made TV documentary series — written, presented and produced by the country’s first female producer, Shirley Maddock. Intended as a one-off programme about the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, it ran to five half-hour episodes examining everyday life in the area, at a time when Kiwi faces were still a novelty on screen. Aviation legend Fred Ladd provided aerial footage. Maddock’s tie-in book was extensively reprinted and, in 1983, she revisited the area in a documentary for TVNZ. in 2018 Maddock's daughter presented an updated series.
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.
This seven-part documentary series examines New Zealand as a nation of migrants. The original idea behind the show was to concentrate on upbeat personal stories. But many of the completed episodes go wider, balancing modern day interviews with a broader historical view of each group's immigrant experience down under. Immigrant Nation saw camera crews travelling to Europe, China, Sri Lanka and Samoa. Stories of escape, longing and prejudice are common - along with a feeling of having a foot in two worlds. An Immigrant Nation screened on TV One.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years, middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977, nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series, which was co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac. They initially only agreed to make it on condition they got approval for The Governor. The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen; the demands of creating a regular show helped develop the skills of Kiwi actors and crew.
London-born Graham Kerr’s first appearance on NZ telly was in 1960 as an Air Force catering adviser. The RNZAF omelette demonstration was the beginning of a career that would see Kerr become an internationally pioneering TV chef, liberally mixing personality — a patient, slightly naughty uncle, always ready with a risqué quip — and butter, cream or wine-soaked recipes. The Graham Kerr Show was the last series he made in NZ before galloping off overseas, and his worldly sophistication introduced Kiwis to horizons beyond the confines of their own insular cuisine.
This 'docu-soap' put six 20-somethings into a rented house for three months — including a beauty contestant and a live-in cameraman. It was one of a series of 90s reality shows observing homelife which were soon to become a phenomenon, thanks to Big Brother. But without a lockdown or 24-7 surveillance, Flatmate's charms were more quaint, offering a homespun twist on MTV's pioneering The Real World (which debuted in 1992). The show was broadcast on now-defunct channel TV4, and made a minor celebrity of outspoken flattie Vanessa.
Debuting on TV Four as Tūmeke in 1999, children's show Pūkana was pioneering in its use of te reo. Given a new title when it moved to TV3 in its second year, it later began an epic run on Māori Television. Taking contemporary kids' culture cues, Pūkana features game shows, send-ups, talent quests and music. It emphasises ‘street’ rather than marae-style language. Made by company Cinco Cine, it has won three awards for best show in its category, and two nominations for children’s programme. Past presenters include Mātai Smith, Quinton Hita and Te Hamua Nikora.
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.