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.
Town and Around was a nightly magazine show, covering everything from current affairs and studio interviews to slapstick to stunts; including a notorious spoof on a farmer who shod his turkeys in gumboots. A popular and wide-ranging regional series, it ran for five years from 1965, and was the training ground for a generation of industry professionals (Brian Edwards, David McPhail, and Des Monaghan amongst many others). Town and Around was made prior to a national network link, and editions came out of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
While convalescing down under Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) schemes to build a thermal spa in the town of Wainamu c.1900. Conflict ensues as the spa’s planned location is on Māori land. The action is seen through the eyes of youngsters: hotelier’s son Tom, and Pemberton’s granddaughter Sarah Jane; who — along with an erupting volcano — eventually impart on Sir Charles a lesson about colonial hubris. The 13-part series was a marquee title from a golden age of Kiwi kidult telly-making: it won multiple Feltex awards, and screened on the BBC in 1980.
Made for the Government's Careers Service (now Careers New Zealand) and the National Bank, Pathways was a 20-part video resource for young people, aimed at providing easily digestible advice and inspiration on careers and training. It combined advice from experts, and interviews with young people in various jobs from dance teacher to meat inspector. A series of 'mini-dramas' added levity; the actors included Karl Urban, Katrina Hobbs (Home and Away), and Robbie Magasiva in an early screen role. Gavin Strawhan and Liddy Holloway were among the writers.
From 1996 to 1998 broadcaster Ian Fraser took time out from hosting current affairs, to MC this popular musical talent quest (Fraser, a trained pianist, also tinkled the ivories himself during the series). There were two finals: one assessed by studio judges, and one from viewers' votes. The performers ranged from covers bands to opera singers, from country and western to soul. Future Opshop members Jason Kerrison and Shay Muddle were judged runners-up in 1996 (as Akustik Fungi). Other contestants included Lisa Tomlins, opera tenor Shaun Dixon and actor Stig Eldred.
New Zealand TV and the space race grew up hand in hand. For 11 years, self-taught astronomer and enthusiast Peter Read explained each new development and talked about what could be seen in the heavens on his monthly show Night Sky. A commercial artist by training, Read painted the set’s early backdrops. He made several trips to the USA to witness launches, interviewed visiting astronauts and, with models in hand, broadcast live on the night of the first moon landing. When it was cancelled in 1974, Night Sky was the country’s longest running show.
Led by choreographer and Young New Zealander of the Year Parris Goebel, South Auckland hip hop dance crew Royal Family have won global fame, choreographing and dancing for acts from Jennifer Lopez to Nicky Minaj. This seven part Māori Television reality series follows four dancers as they train with the crew, en route to the 2015 Hip Hop world champs. Made by Charlotte Purdy of Rogue Productions, the series was shot by Jared Leith from Hamilton's Taktix Films, who also shot and edited The Palace’s video for Justin Bieber hit 'Sorry' (watched on YouTube two billion + times).
After several years working for TV3, animator and creature creator Cameron Chittock decided to create his own children's series. Plans for a live action show involving puppets proved unfeasible; instead Oscar and his two imaginary friends were brought to life with a mixture of stop motion and traditional animation. Chittock worked with veteran Euan Frizzell, and enlisted Aardman legend Richard Starzak (Shaun the Sheep) to help train up the Kiwi animation team. The 26 five-minute episodes screened in New Zealand and abroad, including the UK, USA and Australia.
American scientist Jared Diamond described Aotearoa’s animal life as the “nearest approach to life on another planet” because of its distinctive evolution. With few mammals, New Zealand before people was ‘birdland’. This 2009 series sees presenter Jeremy Wells (Eating Media Lunch) train his binoculars on birds, and meet the flocks of human Kiwis (twitchers, bird nerds, conservationists) who follow them. Produced by company Great Southern Television, Birdland screened in a primetime slot on TV One. Steve Braunias (author of How to Watch a Bird) was one of the scriptwriters.
This 2012 comedy series follows city slicker lawyer Will (Toby Sharpe) who inherits guardianship of his half-sister Lily, a stately house, a greyhound (the notoriously named Lundydixonwatson) and its live-in trainer Marty. Will’s life goes to the dogs as he enters the low-rent world of greyhound racing. The Downlow Concept production won wide acclaim; On the Box’s Chris Philpott thought it New Zealand's best scripted TV comedy to date, as did the Herald's Chris Schulz. Hounds won Best Comedy at the 2012 NZ TV Awards. The six-part season screened at 10pm Fridays on TV3.