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.
Famous as New Zealand television's first ever sitcom, Buck House was a rollicking and relatively risqué series that centred on the comings and goings of university students in a dilapidated Wellington flat — the eponymous 'Buck House'. Stars of the show included John Clarke, Paul Holmes, and Tony Barry (Goodbye Pork Pie). Despite (or more likely because of) its bawdy humour, occasional coarse language and alcohol abuse, the pioneering comedy sated the needs of many Kiwi viewers desperate for TV with identifiable local content and flavour.
This 'docu-soap' put six 20-somethings into a rented house for three months — including a beauty contestant and a live-in cameraman. It was one of a series of 90s reality shows observing homelife which were soon to become a phenomenon, thanks to Big Brother. But without a lockdown or 24-7 surveillance, Flatmate's charms were more quaint, offering a homespun twist on MTV's pioneering The Real World (which debuted in 1992). The show was broadcast on now-defunct channel TV4, and made a minor celebrity of outspoken flattie Vanessa.
Mastermind was big brother to W3 and University Challenge in the pantheon of TVNZ's 80s quiz shows. The format (based on its creator's experience of being interrogated by the Gestapo) was licensed from the BBC and an ice cold Peter Sinclair asked the questions (with none of the bonhomie he allowed himself on University Challenge). Contestants faced two minute rounds on general knowledge and an array of sometimes mind-boggling specialist subjects ranging from Shakespeare, opera and gastronomy, to Winnie the Pooh, tantric yoga and sulphuric acid production.
This web series follows Auckland University law student Audrey, fresh from Wellington and facing the challenges of student life and a conservative legal fraternity. Dislawderly is written by actor and real life law student Georgia Rippin (who also stars). The show's key creators are all female. Series one was praised by The NZ Herald’s Karl Puschmann for providing "a new spin" on cringe comedy. The satire of sexism in series two was partly inspired by a 2016 survey of Auckland University law students, which reported sexist attitudes and "a strong lad culture and old boys' club".
The odd couple is a longtime comic staple. In the 1970s Yorkshire emigre Craig Harrison turned the tale of a Māori and a Yorkshireman into novel Ground Level, a radio play, and this ground-breaking TV series. Joe (Stephen Gledhill) is the nervy, university-educated librarian; his flatmate is Koro (Rawiri Paratene) who works in a fish and chip shop. Running for two series, the popular chalk’n’cheese sitcom was a rare comedy amongst a flowering of bicultural TV stories (The Governor, Epidemic). Harrison’s novel The Quiet Earth later inspired a classic film.
Tangata Whenua was a groundbreaking six-part documentary series that screened (remarkably in primetime) in 1974. Each episode chronicled a different iwi and included interviews by historian Michael King with kaumātua. These remain a priceless historical record. The Feltex Award-winning script was by King and director Barry Barclay. The NZBC said the series had "possibly done more towards helping the European understand the Māori people, their traditions and way of life, than anything else previously shown on television". Paul Diamond writes about Tangata Whenua here.
Launched on 5 April 1976, this television series heralded a new age in Kiwi screen drama. Indie talents Roger Donaldson and Ian Mune based their tales of success and failure on New Zealand short stories, after managing to negotiate funding from various government sources. Then the pair took the series to Europe, proving there was strong overseas demand for Kiwi stories. Winners & Losers became a perennial in local classrooms. In the backgrounders, Mune recalls the show's origins. There are also pieces on its place in local screen history, and its restoration in 2018.
A flagbearer for Māori storytelling on primetime television, E Tipu e Rea (Grow up tender young shoot) was a series of 30 minute dramas touching on a range of Māori experiences of the Pākehā world — from rural horse-back riding and eeling, to urban hostility and cultural estrangement. It marked the first anthology of Māori television plays, and the first TV production to use predominantly Māori personnel. E Tipu e Rea's mandate and achievement was to tell Māori stories in a Māori way.
National treasures The Topp Twins (aka twins Lynda and Jools Topp) have performed as a country-music singing and yodelling comedy duo for more than 25 years. In the late 90s they created their own TV series which ran for three seasons and showcased their iconic cast of Kiwi characters, including Camp Mother, the Bowling Ladies and cross-dressing Ken and Ken. The series, travelling from a Highland Games to a Tauranga triathlon, won the twins - out-and-proud lesbians - several gongs at the NZ Film and TV Awards and screened on the ABC and Foxtel in Australia.