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 two-part mini-series is set in an 80s 'New Auckland' world of mirror glass and murderous corporate conspiracy. British actor James Faulkner (latterly Bridget Jones' Uncle Geoffrey) plays a shady developer with a smash and burn approach to urban planning. Blocking his utopian waterfront scheme is a cafe. The inheritors of the greasy spoon — and a racehorse — are a duo of feisty femmes: working class Tammy (Annie Whittle), and art consultant Joanna (Miranda Harcourt). The Shadow Trader marked an early producing credit for Finola Dwyer (An Education).
The Cult follows two groups: the members of a commune, who have renounced all contact with the outside world, and a loose-knit team of 'liberators', keen to reestablish contact with commune members they care about. The first prime time drama from Great Southern Film and Television won six of its 11 nominations at the 2010 Qantas Film and Television Awards — including for the acting of Lisa Chappell and Danielle Cormack (as a devious doctor). It was nominated for Best Drama. The moody 13-part thriller was created by Kathryn Burnett and Peter Cox.
The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown World War I era school kids against a mysterious figure with fire on the brain. Inspired partly by a real-life Nelson arsonist, the five-part gothic adventure was created for television by author Maurice Gee. Peter Hayden plays the town’s unconventional teacher ‘Clippy’ Hedges, while the lead role went to Royal NZ Ballet star Jon Trimmer. The Fire-Raiser won four Listener TV awards, including best overall drama and best writer. Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas. He writes about the show's birth here.
Set amidst the 'friendly' 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Alongside the young heroes the series featured John Bach as a grunting villain, a youthful Elizabeth McRae, and SFX jumping sheep. It was NZ telly’s first children’s serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.
Two 14-year-old girls discover that they have a lot in common in this two-part 1995 children's fantasy drama. They live in the same street, same house, same bedroom, but 76 years apart. An antique mirror/portal leads them on a time travel adventure involving nerve gas, a Russian Tsar and an English soldier. Created by Australian Posie Graeme-Evans (who devised TV hits Hi-5 and McLeod's Daughters) this award-winning trans-Tasman co-production between the Gibson Group and Millennium Pictures was sold to more than 60 countries. A second series followed in 1997.
In this 13 episode series by veteran TV scriptwriters Rachel Lang and James Griffin (creators of Outrageous Fortune, The Almighty Johnsons) Outrageous stars Antonia Prebble and Siobhan Marshall are cast east into Auckland's CBD, where they team up to solve a murder. Along the way the odd couple (office temp and victim's best friend) unite to unravel dubious goings-on in the post-crash Auckland financial world, and team up the people working behind the scenes against the corruption. The 2013 series was produced by Chris Bailey for South Pacific Pictures.
The "kids stumble on crims" premise of this kidult thriller series was practically an NZ TV staple in the 80s (Terry and the Gunrunners, The Fire-Raiser); here it's realised with a script by author Margaret Mahy and the director/producer team of Peter Sharp and Chris Bailey (vying with a schedule disrupted by Cyclone Bola). Mahy creates a world of masks, disguises and intrigue for a young cast including Martin Henderson (his screen debut), Hamish McFarlane (fresh from Vincent Ward’s The Navigator), Joel Tobeck (an early role) and deaf seven-year-old Sonia Pivac.
Doves of War is a political thriller revolving around a group of ex-Kiwi soldiers and their involvement in a war crime committed 10 years prior. A discovery of a mass grave in Bosnia forces ex-SAS Sergeant Lucas Crichton (Aussie actor Andrew Rodoreda) to revisit a past he and his comrades would rather bury. Also on the trail is ambitious Hague prosecutor Sophie Morgan. Action travels from Europe to upmarket Auckland, Wellington nightclubs, West Coast bush, and central Otago. Written by Greg McGee (Fallout, Erebus), it screened for one season on TV3.
Keith Aberdein devised Epidemic after being given the brief to write a drama about “disease coming into New Zealand”. Set in a small North Island town where race relations are strained to breaking point, this four part virus outbreak thriller revolves around Māori tāpū and an archaeological dig which locals are worried will disturb the graves of their ancestors. An accomplished cast (Martyn Sanderson, Don Selwyn, Cathy Downes) helped the series break bicultural-themed TV drama ground as European education and culture, and Māori tradition and spirituality collide.