NZ On Air began funding local content in 1989. Timing in with the launch of a new funding system, this collection looks back at the 20 most watched NZ On Air-funded programmes over the years (aside from news and sports). Ratings information is only available from 1995, so this is how things have shaped up from 1995 to 2016 — plus some bonus titles. Most of the Top 20 has been captioned. Ex NZ On Air exec Kathryn Quirk tells us here how the complete list rated, while original NZOA boss Ruth Harley remembers how it all began.
Independent television network TV3 launched its prime time news bulletin on 27 November 1989, a day after the channel first went to air. Veteran broadcaster Philip Sherry anchors a reporting team that includes future politician Tukoroirangi Morgan (probing kiwi poaching), Ian Wishart (investigating traffic cop-dodging speedsters) and future newsroom boss Mark Jennings (torture in Timaru). Belinda Todd handles the weather, and Janet McIntyre reports on TV3's launch. The Kiwi cricket team faces defeat in Perth (although history will record a famous escape there).
The opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television travels from an opening night puppet show in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ On Air, Sky and Māori Television). Many of the major players are interviewed. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within the story.
Programmer John McCready has had a significant impact on the television industry in New Zealand. After extended time in music and radio he joined TVNZ in 1989 as Manager of Presentation and Promotion, just as TV3 came on air. The following year McCready became TVNZ's Director of Programming, and revamped both TV1 and TV2 over a four year period. He headed overseas for a while, before returning to New Zealand as Director of Programming and Marketing for Sky TV. Before retiring in 2007, McCready successfully launched The Living Channel and Food TV on Sky.
Journalist and academic the late Paul Norris had a major role in changing the landscape of television news and current affairs in New Zealand. He cut his teeth with the BBC, but moved back to New Zealand to run TVNZ’s News and Current Affairs division in 1987. In that role, he revamped the evening news on TV One, and launched the Holmes show in 1989. Norris left TVNZ in 1996 to head the New Zealand Broadcasting School in Christchurch. Norris died in February 2014.
John Knowles began his broadcasting career as a television reporter in the 1960s. Later he ran TV One operations in Christchurch, and did stints managing TVNZ operations in both Dunedin and Auckland, before becoming the organisation’s Head of Sport. Knowles oversaw coverage of many major live events including the Commonwealth Games and sesquicentennial celebrations. Upon leaving TVNZ, Knowles spent several years managing the J-Sports channel in Japan.
Tom Parkinson is a veteran television producer and director who has worked on iconic Kiwi TV shows such as Hunter’s Gold, Hudson and Halls and Telethon. Parkinson was a key force behind many of our hit comedies in the 70s and 80s, including Billy T James’ shows, A Week of It, Issues, and Letter to Blanchy. Parkinson is also a former Head of Entertainment Programmes at TVNZ, and helped launch TV3.
One shaggy dog, dozens of humans, and a smorgasbord of Kiwi scenery: viewers were glued to the screen for this TV One promotional campaign, which began screening in August 1991. The six-part promo followed a lovable sydney silky poodle cross travelling the country by car, train and paw. En route, roughly 50 Kiwis make blink and you'll miss it appearances: including sporting figures, local townspeople, and 20+ TV personalities (see backgrounder for more info, and clues on who is who). The popular promos were directed by Lee Tamahori, before he made Once Were Warriors.
In the course of a 32-year career, Rod Cornelius experienced seismic changes within New Zealand’s television industry firsthand. From his first job with the NZ Broadcasting Corporation through the turbulent remakings of state television in the late 80s and 90s, Cornelius held several key management roles — including TVNZ Controller of Programming and Managing Director of Avalon Studios.
Rodney Bryant was one of the stars of the heyday of regional television news. In the early 70s he became a Canterbury institution fronting The South Tonight with Bryan Allpress, and returned to host The Mainland Touch in the early 80s. He moved on to TV talkback, then children’s current affairs with The Video Dispatch, before leaving TV for a twenty year run in communications for the Dunedin City Council.