In 1987 producer and director Geoff Steven spent six months filming in the United States in a quest to understand what makes such a powerful and influential nation tick. Steven’s intention was to circumvent media stereotypes and the “facades set up by politicians and officials” and to talk to Americans from all walks of life and socio-economic groups. The result was this six part series fronted by journalist and author Gordon McLauchlan who introduces each episode and links the interviews with everyday people shot in their homes, factories and offices.
The Kiwi edition of Sale of the Century is perhaps best remembered for Steve Parr’s opening slide to the podium. Prize-winners may have different recollections. “New Zealand’s biggest bargain sale” dangled the possibility of new cars and overseas travel. The show debuted in the United States in 1969, but had its greatest success after a 1980 relaunch by Australian company Grundy. The Aussie version ran almost 30 years, spawning versions in multiple countries. The NZ edition played for four seasons on TVNZ, before a short rebirth on TV3.
This quirky, upbeat comedy-drama looked at teen life through the eyes of 15-year-old Eve (Fleur Saville). Something of an amateur teen anthropologist, Eve questions everything in her world, musing on life to the camera. The series' fresh, self-aware style appealed directly to media-savvy teenagers. The TV3 series launched Saville's TV career, fostered young directing and producing talent, won many awards (including Best Drama Series at the 2002 NZ TV Awards) and was nominated for an International Emmy. It sold to over 40 territories, including the United States.
This four-part 1986 series offered a lively musical survey of the history of soul. Each episode focussed on a United States city, and its influence on the evolution of the genre. Presented by Dalvanius, the show was built around performances of soul classics by Kiwi performers (Bunny Walters, Peter Morgan, The Yandall Sisters), filmed in a nightclub style setting at Auckland’s Shortland Street Studios. The series writer was Rip It Up editor and future record label owner Murray Cammick (Southside, Wildside).
Ventriloquist David Strassman has appeared on talk shows and TV specials in Aotearoa, Australia, the United Kingdom and his native United States. Strassman's first TV series debuted in Australia in 1998; the next year Strassman played on British network ITV. The basic formula of a chat show hosted by a man and a shameless puppet was then carried over to New Zealand. Strassman's alter egos include the irascible Chuck Wood and the cuddly Ted E Bare. Among his local guests were Kiwi TV personalities (Mike King, Robyn Malcolm) and the occasional musician and politician.
Over two years, The Candle Wasters – a troupe of young Wellingtonians – attracted 4.5 million YouTube views to their modernised vlog reimaginings of Shakespeare’s plays (Much Ado About Nothing, Love's Labour Lost). In 2015 they won NZ On Air and Kickstarter funding to create a web drama series loosely inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream – set at a teen house party. Each of the 10 episodes focussed on a different character. Produced with Bevin Linkhorn, Bright Summer Night was uploaded in August 2016. It won Best Drama at the 2017 Hollyweb Festival in the United States.
Dating game show Blind Date ran for more than a decade in the United Kingdom and the United States. At two seasons, the Kiwi version proved less of a long-stayer. The show’s format prioritises the importance of clever answers, over impressive looks: the person taking the hot seat asks questions of a trio of unseen contestants, before choosing who to take on a blind date. The series was presented by Dave Jamieson and Suzy Aiken (before she became Suzy Clarkson).
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.
Homegrown Profiles was a spin-off from music channel C4's local music series Homegrown. Screened in 2005, the interview-based show featured episodes devoted to the Finn Brothers, Dave Dobbyn, Bic Runga, Anika Moa, Shihad and Che Fu. The hour-long programmes were based around an extended interview with each artist, intercut with music videos and other performance material— all held together with a well-scripted narration by researcher/ interviewer/ director Jane Yee. Yee writes about making the show here.
Popstars was a key forerunner of the late 1990s reality television explosion. The series followed the creation and development of an all-girl pop band called TrueBliss (Carly Binding, Keri Harper, Joe Cotton, Megan Alatini and Erika Takacs), who went on to record several NZ chart-topping singles and a platinum-selling album. Also a hit was the series format, which sold around the world and helped inspire Pop Idol/American Idol, the franchise that would dominate reality TV for years to come.