The immortal Count Homogenized, a vampire with a white afro and cape and a lust for milk, lodged himself in the hearts of a generation of Kiwi kids. After first portraying the vampire in A Haunting We Will Go, actor Russell Smith took centre stage in 1983's It is I Count Homogenized. This follow-up series transfers proceedings from the haunted house trappings of the original to a suburban dairy, where Homogenized continues his mission to get his teeth into what matters: the milk. Trivia: the series was made in association with the NZ Milk Promotion Council.
After School was a hosted links format that screened on weekday afternoons. Its initial host was Olly Ohlson, who was the first Māori presenter to anchor his own children's show. After School also broke ground in its use of te reo Māori on screen, as well as sign language. The show and Ohlson are remembered by a generation of New Zealanders for the catchphrase (with accompanying sign language) "Keep cool till after school". After School was later hosted by Jason Gunn and Annie Roache, and was where puppet Thingee achieved small screen fame.
Punk rock was breaking and musical styles changing, but in New Zealand country music was appointment viewing at 7pm on Saturday. That's Country ran from 1980 to 1984. Hosted by one-time pop singer Ray Columbus, the show featured both local and international talent including Suzanne Prentice, Patsy Riggir, Emmylou Harris and George Hamilton IV. An American offer to buy the show and install a US presenter were resisted. Instead the show was sold to a Nashville cable TV network, in a New Zealand first; That's Country soon had an audience of 30 million in the States.
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.
Off the back of the success of A Week of It and McPhail and Gadsby, Jon Gadsby was given his own gig, as writer of this gentle, rural based sitcom series. His comic partner David McPhail was not involved, but writer AK Grant was on board as script editor. Gadsby’s onscreen involvement was limited to cameo appearances, as a highly competitive rugby coach. Set in the rural backwater of Rabbit Flats, the series drew on Gadsby’s experiences as a barman in the Southland town of Dipton, and allowed him to revisit the bar-based skits of A Week of It.
TVNZ’s long running quiz show was based on the BBC series which pitted four-member teams from the country’s universities against each other. Otago lecturer Charles Higham was the initial quizmaster but veteran frontman Peter Sinclair (C’mon, Happen Inn) took over a year later and remained with the series until it ended in 1989. Otago produced the most champion teams — winning on six occasions (followed by Canterbury who won three times); and members of winning teams included musician Bruce Russell, writer Jolisa Gracewood and MP Charles Chauvel.
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, got retitled RTR Countdown, and spawned multiple RTR offshoots (Mega-Mix, Sounz and New Releases), before disappearing in the mid-90s.
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.
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.
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.