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.
Letter to Blanchy was a gentle back-blocks comedy co-written by A.K. Grant, Tom Scott and comedy duo, McPhail and Gadsby (who also starred). Each episode centred on the bumblings of a trio of mates living in a fictional small town: intellectual Derek (McPhail), rough-diamond Barry (Gadsby) and tradesman Ray (Rowley). The show's narration comes from a letter written to Blanchy, a friend living in the relative sophistication of Christchurch. The series was adapted for a theatre tour in 2008.
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.
In this early 2000s teen series skaters Jeff and Noodle stumble upon an alien conspiracy in the town of Middledon. Terry Teo’s slacker successors are the only ones who can resist being mind controlled, save the town, and stop their beloved skate park being 'wasted' and turned into a mall. In the Ritalin-fuelled caper, future World fashion designer Benny Castles plays Jeff, Rawiri Paratene is Gran (!) Pekapeka, and Antony Starr's Stevo channels teen slacker icon Jeff Spicoli. The Screenworks production featured dream segments from Animation Research Limited.
Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, Jackson’s Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank (the town cop) and Ben Jackson (a big smoke lawyer). Returning with his family, golden boy Ben has controversially inherited the local pub from his recently deceased father. Produced by South Pacific Pictures, the one hour popular drama screened for two seasons. Writer James Griffin and director Niki Caro worked on the show, alongside much of the talent who would later create Mercy Peak and Outrageous Fortune.
Beloved quiz show It's in the Bag was relaunched on Māori Television in a bilingual version, on 31 May 2009. Hosts Pio Terei and Stacey Daniels Morrison took the series to small towns across Aotearoa, from Waimamaku to Masterton. Over five seasons, the classic format remained largely the same, although the hosts were given more of an equal footing than had been the case in the past. Contestants from the audience answered three questions, before picking either the money or the bag — hopefully avoiding the booby prize, which might be a sack of kina or some bread.
The Elegant Shed was a six part doco series looking at NZ architecture since 1945. The influential series (and accompanying book) redefined Kiwi’s relationship to their built environment, celebrating the homespun and DIY (bach and boatshed, tramping huts, suburbia, small town main streets) as inspirations for a distinctly local architecture. Architect David Mitchell plays tour guide (replete with bohemian goatee and polyester suit), interviews key players (The Group, Ian Athfield) and surveys buildings from bespoke cribs to modernist towers.
Night of the Red Hunter was a 1989 sci-fi series for kids that followed the adventures of runaways Peter (Toby Laing) and Maggie (Toni Driscoll). After falling into a grave of golden light at a farm cemetery, they come into the orbit of the strange Piper family who give an extraterrestrial twist to Kiwi small town gothic. Written by Ken Catran, and produced by Chris Hampson, the TVNZ production was one of the final shows made by Avalon's Drama Department. The series was recut as a telefeature. Laing is now better known as trumpeter for Fat Freddys Drop.
Peppermint Twist’s pastel-tinted portrait of 60s puberty floated onto New Zealand television screens in 1987. Despite winning a solid teen following, it only lasted for one series. Set amongst a group of teens in small town Roseville (in reality the outdoors set on the edge of Wellington, originally used for Country GP), the show’s stylised look and sound had few Kiwi precedents — though its links to American perennial Happy Days are clear. Peppermint made liberal, and increasingly confident use of period music, with each episode named after a pop song of the day.