Off the Rails was a 12-part journey through the railway memories of New Zealand, with raconteur Marcus Lush at the wheel. With a trainspotter's reverence for ways rail, the beautifully shot, and gently wry travelogue guided viewers around (with thanks to the Raurimu Spiral) the heart of Aotearoa. Off the Rails’ award-winning achievement was to show that energetic storytelling (Super 8 footage, contemporary pop score and snappy editing), combined with the homespun charms of local subject matter, could make for high-rating television.
When this popular TV One comedy-drama about misbehaving real estate agents debuted in 2013, it copped flak from real estate bosses for perpetuating negative stereotypes about the industry. Agent Anna follows Anna Kingston (played by Robyn Malcolm, who also came up with the series idea), whose husband has left her and their two teenage daughters. Needing work, Kingston turns to selling houses in Auckland's cutthroat market. The programme ran for two seasons. Theresa Healey (Shortland Street), Adam Gardiner (movie Hopeless) and Roy Billing (Old Scores) co-star.
Nothing Trivial was a dramedy that kept score on the lives and loves of five friends in a pub quiz team called Sex on a Stick. The cast of City Lifers shifted to the suburbs and nearing middle age was led by Shane Cortese, Tandi Wright, Nicole Whippy, Debbie Newby-Ward and Blair Strang. Created by Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan, (the veteran writers behind Go Girls, Maddigan’s Quest, and Mercy Peak) the popular South Pacific Pictures production screened for three seasons on TV ONE. A fan-driven campaign saw NZ On Air fund a tele-movie to wrap up the series.
The W Three Show (aka 'W3') was a quiz show for intermediate school children that took its name from the first letter of the questions asked: What, Which, Who, Where or When. Lockwood Smith (future Speaker of the House) was the first quizmaster – he was completing his doctorate in Adelaide at the time and was flown over to do the show. NZ’s grand old man of quiz shows, Selwyn Toogood, and Peter Hawes took over from Smith from the fourth series, while original scorer Annie Whittle dropped out after the first and was replaced by radio broadcaster Relda Familton.
Popstars was a key part of the late 1990s reality television explosion. The series followed the creation and development of all-female pop band TrueBliss (Carly Binding, Keri Harper, Joe Cotton, Megan Alatini and Erika Takacs). The five singers went on to record several chart-topping singles, and a platinum-selling album. Also a hit was the series format, which sold around the world and helped inspire Pop Idol/American Idol, the franchise that would dominate reality television for years to come. Popstars was named Best Entertainment Programme at the 1999 NZ Television Awards.
The second, but prequel, series to The Insiders Guide to Happiness is chaos theory in action: seven young strangers whose lives intersect are linked together by a bizarre incident. Produced by the Gibson Group, The Insiders Guide mix of meta-tangle story-telling with fresh shooting and faces, saw Love become a hit with the same youth demographic as Happiness. The show went on to win a clutch of Screen Director's Guild Awards and most of the major drama gongs at the 2006 Qantas Film and TV Awards, including Best Drama, Director, Script, Actor and Actress.
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.
National treasures The Topp Twins (aka twins Lynda and Jools Topp) have performed as a country-music singing and yodelling comedy duo for more than 25 years. In the late 90s they created their own TV series which ran for three seasons and showcased their iconic cast of Kiwi characters, including Camp Mother, the Bowling Ladies and cross-dressing Ken and Ken. The series, travelling from a Highland Games to a Tauranga triathlon, won the twins - out-and-proud lesbians - several gongs at the NZ Film and TV Awards and screened on the ABC and Foxtel in Australia.