Landmarks was a major 10-part series that traced the history of New Zealand through its landscape, particularly the impact of human settlement and technology. The concept was modelled on the epic BBC series America. Here a bespectacled, Swannie-wearing geography professor, Kenneth B Cumberland, stands in for Alistair Cooke, interweaving science, history and sweeping imagery to tell the stories of the landscape's "complete transformation". It received a 1982 Feltex Award for Best Documentary and the donnish but game Cumberland became a household name.
The Marching Girls is the seven-part story of a Taita social marching team who decide to have a crack at the North Island Championships. This pioneering series was conceived by actor-writer Fiona Samuel out of frustration over the dearth of challenging female roles: she declared that it was about time the Kiwi "alienated macho dickhead" shared some screen time with women. Synth-rock soundtracks, ghetto blasters, Holden Kingswood taxis and chain-smoking abound in this feminist-Flashdance-in-formation 80s classic.
Holmes was a long-running current affairs programme that followed the news each weeknight on TV ONE. Presented by veteran broadcaster Paul Holmes, the show was as famous for his showmanship as it was for examining the issues of the day. Holmes interviewed the day's newsmakers; often championing the underdog 'kiwi battler'. In 2004 Paul Holmes defected from TVNZ to Prime TV to set up a rival 7pm current affairs programme, Paul Holmes. That lasted a few months before being axed (due to low ratings).
In the early 80s Ready to Roll was NZ’s premier TV pop show. It emerged in the pre-music video boom mid-70s hosted by Roger Gascoigne (and later Stu Dennison) with bands and dancers live in the studio. By the early 80s it was a seamless video clip Top 20 countdown — introduced by the Commodores pumping ‘Machine Gun’ — and appointment Saturday evening viewing for music fans (and a regular in the week’s Top 10 rating shows). It then evolved into a brand, spawning a number of RTR offshoots (Mega-Mix, Sounz and New Releases), before disappearing in the mid-90s.
The last drama to be made in-house by TVNZ, The Champion was written by author Maurice Gee at the behest of producer Ginette McDonald after the success of their collaboration on The Fire-Raiser. Set in Henderson, West Auckland over three weeks in early 1943, it centres on 12 year old Rex (Milan Borich — later the lead singer in Pluto) and a black American GI billeted with his family. This tough, accomplished drama looks unflinchingly at racism and prejudice — both imported and local — and is ample testimony to the skills of its writer, cast and crew.
The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after 50 plus years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.
Man. Dog. Sheep. This was an unlikely formula for Kiwi TV gold. Showing sheepdog trials from around the country, A Dog’s Show ran from 1977 to 1992. In each trial a farmer, armed with an array of whistles and commands, instructed a sheepdog to wrangle a flock of recalcitrant sheep along a course or into a pen while the bearded, sagacious, Swannie-clad John Gordon provided the commentary. Trivia: the opening tune is a version of the Statler Brothers song ‘Flowers on the Wall’, also used in movie Pulp Fiction.
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.
Well-known Kiwi chef Jo Seagar trained as a cordon bleu chef in London and France, before returning home to promote a culinary style involving “maximum effect, minimum effort.” Her 1997 best-selling book You Shouldn't Have Gone To So Much Trouble, Darling caught TVNZ’s attention and Real Food marked her TV debut. The two series covered recipes from sushi to pecan pie. In a 2012 interview with Avenue, Seagar mentioned that the show rated highly, despite Television New Zealand initially telling her that a food show would never screen in primetime.
Tracy Barr succeeded Andrew Shaw and Richard Wilde (Wilkins) as TV2’s afternoon children’s host — first appearing on Tracy’s GTS (Good Time Show) in 1979. The weekly Tracy ’80 followed a year later — with music from a resident band and guests, competitions and field stories. Tracy drew criticism for her Kiwi accent and lack of rounded vowels (as Karyn Hay would a few years later) and for her wriggling, but viewers didn’t seem to mind. Tracy ’80 was replaced by Dropakulcha in 1981 and then Shazam! (with Phillip Schofield). Tracy Barr now lives in Australia.