50 Years of New Zealand Television: 3 - Let Us Entertain You

Television, 2010 (Full Length Episode)

This edition of Prime TV’s history of New Zealand television looks at 50 years of entertainment. The smorgasbord of music, comedy and variety shows ranges from 60s pop stars to Popstars, from the anarchy of Blerta to the anarchy of Telethon, from Radio with Pictures to Dancing with the Stars. Music television moves from C’mon and country, to punk and hip hop videos. Comedy follows the formative Fred Dagg and Billy T, through to Eating Media Lunch and 7 Days. A roll call of New Zealand entertainers muse on seeing Kiwis laugh, sing and shimmy on the small screen.

Don’t Get Caught - Cadbury Creme Egg

Commercial, 1985 (Full Length)

In this 1985 Colenso commercial, a Creme Egg is a guilty pleasure behind raised desk lids for two school kids. Courtesy of some smooth copywriting, the narrator lets on that the cherubic girl and devious boy are doomed by the “smooth shell of Cadbury dairy milk chocolate and the irresistible creamy flowing yolk that will ultimately give them away!” The Murray Grindlay composed chorus “don’t get caught" (with egg on your face) entered Kiwi pop culture. Variations of the commercial ran until 1996; in 2016 stuntwoman Zoe Bell later shared her fondness for the product on Instagram. 

Blue Willow

Short Film, 2005 (Full Length)

Veialu Aila-Unsworth directs this re-imagining of the ubiquitous blue and white ‘willow china’ ceramic pattern (designed by Thomas Minton in the late 18th Century). Aila-Unsworth’s exquisite animation uses the design as a tableau for a tragic tale. It tells the story — supposedly derived from an ancient Chinese folktale — of lovers fleeing an angry father. The doomed pair are ultimately transformed into birds by the gods, finally escaping from oppression ... and bangers and mash. Blue Willow was selected for the Berlin Film Festival (Kinderfest section).

Water

Short Film, 2004 (Full Length)

Procrastination and denial taken to absurd lengths hammer home a point about global warming in this technically ambitious black comedy. A family living in a gully are too wrapped up in their own worlds to heed impending doom. Daughter Mary (seven-year-old Paige Shand-Haami) is the only one who sees the future. Water was shot over 14 days — with cast and crew spending 10 of them waist deep in water — on a set in a Wellington swimming pool. It was directed by Chris Graham, and partly funded from a SPADA Young Filmmaker Award won by producer Karl Zohrab.

Such a Stupid Way to Die

Short Film, 1971 (Full Length)

This educational video was made by the NFU for the National Mountain Safety Council to promote awareness of bush safety. After a blackboard science lesson (check out a bearded Ray Henwood) things get interesting. A fictional trip into the bush turns into a Stubbies-clad 70s Kiwi version of the Blair Witch Project as we're told that one of the group will not survive the night, picked off by that fearsome killer: exposure. The message is serious, but the doom-laden tone induced titters in school classrooms and scout halls throughout NZ.

Eyewitness - Punk

Television, 1978 (Full Length Episode)

TVNZ journalist (and future Communicado founder) Neil Roberts does an ethnomusicologist turn in this edition of "established media tries to explain what the young people are doing". His subject is NZ's fledgling punk scene which is already on its way to extinction. Much of the focus is on Auckland but Doomed lead singer (and future TV presenter/producer) Johnny Abort (aka Dick Driver) flies the flag for the south. The Stimulators, Suburban Reptiles and Scavengers play live and punk fans pogo and talk about violence directed at them (from "beeries").   

The Black Stilt

Television, 1983 (Full Length)

This film tells the story of the world’s rarest wading bird, the black stilt (kakī). With its precise beak and long pink legs the stilt is superbly adapted to the stony braided riverbeads of the McKenzie Country, but it is tragically unable to deal with new threats (rats, ferrets, habitat loss). An early doco for TVNZ’s Natural History Unit, the magnificently filmed drama of the stilt’s struggle for survival makes it “stand out as a classic of its genre” (Russell Campbell). It won the Gold Award at New York’s International Film & TV Festival (1984).

The Robin's Return

Television, 1982 (Full Length Episode)

“These three birds are over half the world population of their species.” Peter Hayden’s narration lays bare the stakes for the Chatham Island black robin, and the Wildlife Service team (led by Don Merton) trying to save them. Merton’s innovative methods include removing eggs from nests – to encourage the last two females to lay again – and placing them in riroriro (grey warbler) foster homes. The black robin documentaries helped forge the reputation of TVNZ's Natural History Unit. Paul Stanley Ward writes about the documentaries here, and the mission to save the black robin.

Seven Black Robins

Television, 1981 (Full Length)

By 1976 there were only seven Chatham Islands black robins left. It was the world's rarest bird. In a bid to save the species, the surviving birds were taken from one island to another more hospitable island in a desperate rescue mission. This was part of an incredible conservation success story led by Don Merton and his NZ Wildlife Service team. Seven Black Robins and Project Takahē captured viewers' imaginations as part of an acclaimed series of 'rare bird' films that screened on TV series Wild South. They helped forge the reputation of TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).

The Black Robin - A Chatham Island Story

Television, 1989 (Full Length)

In the mid 1970s the Chatham Island black robin was the world's rarest bird. With only two females left, the conservation ante was extreme. Enter saviour Don Merton and his Wildlife Service team. Their pioneering efforts ranged from abseiling the birds (including the 'Eve' of her species, 'Old Blue') down cliff faces, to left-field libido spurs. This 1988 Listener Film and TV award-winner united two earlier Wild South documentaries, and updated the robin’s rescue story to 1987. It originally screened on Christmas Day 1987, before being modified for this 1989 edition.