With its mix of quirky characters, lush scenery, and medical drama, Mercy Peak proved to be a winning formula. Produced by John Laing for South Pacific Pictures, and starring a host of NZ acting talent (Tim Balme, Jeffrey Thomas, Renato Bartolomei, et al), Mercy Peak follows the highs and lows of Dr Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman), who leaves the big city after discovering her partner’s infidelity. Taking up her new role at the hospital in the tiny town of Bassett, Nicky soon learns that life is full of complexities no matter the population.
Off the back of the success of A Week of It and McPhail and Gadsby, Jon Gadsby was given his own gig, as writer of this gentle, rural based sitcom series. His comic partner David McPhail was not involved, but writer AK Grant was on board as script editor. Gadsby’s onscreen involvement was limited to cameo appearances, as a highly competitive rugby coach. Set in the rural backwater of Rabbit Flats, the series drew on Gadsby’s experiences as a barman in the Southland town of Dipton, and allowed him to revisit the bar-based skits of A Week of It.
Country GP was a major 80s drama series that charted the post-war years 1945 to 1950 in a rural central South Island town. Using fast-turnaround techniques that anticipated later series like Shortland Street, 66 episodes of Country GP were shot in 18 months at a specially built set in Whiteman’s Valley, Lower Hutt. It was groundbreaking as the first NZ series to cast a Samoan in a title role (Lani Tupu as Dr David Miller); but it also provided a nostalgic look back to an apparently kinder, gentler time than mid-80s New Zealand with its major social reforms and upheavals.
Homeward Bound was TV3’s bid for New Zealand on Air funding for a local soap opera. Set around the lives of the rural Johnson family, 22 episodes were produced for the then-nascent network (the series ultimately lost out to TVNZ’s Shortland Street). Created by Ross Jennings and written by Michael Noonan, it represented a move back to a small town way of life after the Gloss-y urban excesses of the 1980s; it also explored pressures facing country communities following the stock market crash. The cast included Liddy Holloway, Peter Elliott and a young Karl Urban.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular drama series following Detective Sergeant Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper) at work in the town of Cobham. Mortimer plays a city cop returning to his rural roots; Don Selwyn is Sergeant Bob Storey. The series was NZ’s first police drama, and a rare local drama to top ratings. Mortimer's Patch was made when the archetype of the ‘community cop’ everyone knew was still a powerful one, and it was a counterweight to the faceless riot policing of the Springbok Tour. Three series were made.
Radio Wha Waho was a pioneering bilingual sitcom about a rural iwi radio station that is close to collapse. Among characters talking back in te reo and getting up to antics on this Māori-style WKRP in Cincinnati are a smoothtalking DJ with delusions of being a ladykiller (a pre-Mrs Semisi Hori Ahipene); a young fireball who wants to graduate to a big station in the city (Greg Mayor, future star of Stewart Main short Twilight of the Gods); and Aunty Doss (Kath Akuhata-Brown), the heart and soul of the whole operation. Produced by TVNZ's Māori department.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
In this Jam TV series, comedian Te Radar ditches 21st Century consumer luxuries and the city rat race to see if he can live sustainably for 10 months on a remote patch of land west of Auckland. His back-to-basics mission requires him to exist on only what he can hunt, grow and fish himself — putting delights like goat salami and home-made feta on the menu. He also explores topical green issues like the viability of solar power and whether simple steps such as composting and starting a worm bin can reduce landfill. The series also bred a book and a live show.
The magpie quardle oodled and the narrator uttered, "Welcome to Woolly Valley", in the intro to this children's TV classic. The low-tech puppet show with its rustic charm was familiar to a generation of kids who grew up in the 80s. It follows the lives of woolly-haired farmer Wally and his long-suffering wife Beattie, who live with talking ewe Eunice. Also featured is hippie Tussock, voiced by Russell (Count Homogenized) Smith. Woolly Valley marked an early piece of screenwriting by children's writer Margaret Mahy.
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?