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.
The Grand Final of this 1996 musical talent quest series Showcase was hosted by Ian Fraser. The nine finalists perform songs from Mozart on guitar, to 'Everything’s Gonna Be Alright'. The opening act is Akustik Fungi: Jason Kerrison, one half of the duo, would later find fame as singer for chart-topping band Opshop, and return the favour as a judge on New Zealand’s Got Talent. The Showcase judges are Sir Howard Morrison, actor Rima Te Wiata, Dame Malvina Major (who performs) and Eddie Rayner (who got his break on TV talent show New Faces, while part of Split Enz).
From 1996 to 1998 broadcaster Ian Fraser took time out from hosting current affairs, to MC this popular musical talent quest (Fraser, a trained pianist, also tinkled the ivories himself during the series). There were two finals: one assessed by studio judges, and one from viewers' votes. The performers ranged from covers bands to opera singers, from country and western to soul. Future Opshop members Jason Kerrison and Shay Muddle were judged runners-up in 1996 (as Akustik Fungi). Other contestants included Lisa Tomlins, opera tenor Shaun Dixon and actor Stig Eldred.
Writer-director Barry Prescott’s third short film might have been entitled Strictly Legless. Alge (Joe Taylor) is a double amputee with a photo of Fred Astaire above his bed, whose dreams of dancing appear unlikely until he gets some inventive help from his sister (Emma Kinane) and dance teacher (John Bach, in a nosy prosthetic). Featuring cameos from veteran actors Donna Akersten and Alice Fraser, the black comedy treads on some sensitive toes for humorous effect, while remaining warm-hearted. It won awards at festivals for the differently-abled worldwide.
A couple of years before Backstreet Boys ruled global pop charts, there was Purest Form. This 1994 cover of the Split Enz song was the biggest hit for the New Zealand vocal harmony group (who a year earlier had gained amusement park immortality, by lending their smooth sounds to a Rainbow’s End commercial). Co-produced by ex-Split Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner, ‘Message’ peaked at number two, and won Single of the Year at the 1995 NZ Music Awards. The song’s no-frills music video sees the crooners walk and cartwheel down a beach in a catalogue of 90s fashion.
Made for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, this video mixes Kiwi landscapes with images of disabled athletes and performers, showing what they are capable of. The song’s lead vocalists, Natalie Te Paa and Cam Dawson, are both blind. Helping out behind the scenes are Callum Martin (The Checks), Leza Corban (Strawpeople) and ex-Split Enz members Eddie Rayner and Mike Chunn. As well as being an unofficial anthem for the Rio Olympics, the song aims to raise awareness of the 25% of New Zealanders who live with some form of disability.
Few Kiwi acts have made the immediate impact that glam rock band Space Waltz did as they exploded into living rooms on TV talent show Studio One in 1974. The judges were wary (to say the least) but the exposure rocketed their debut single ‘Out on the Street’ to the top of the charts. An album followed but failed to replicate that initial success. Space Waltz was largely Alastair Riddell’s project but band members also included Mike Chunn and Eddie Rayner (from Split Enz) and drummer Brent Eccles, who later joined Australian rockers The Angels.
With its swirling keyboards and dark lyrical concerns (in keeping with the fraught year New Zealand was then embarking on), 'Jumping Out a Window' has become a classic, including a slot in APRA's Nature's Best Top 100. The third Pop Mechanix single, it shows the influence of the friends the band was starting to make —it was produced by Split Enz' Eddie Rayner and the debut release on Mike Chunn's boutique XSF label. The TVNZ made clip is firmly of its time and one of the broadcaster's more literal efforts (no mean feat in itself) — featuring windows and jumping.
After Neil Finn-penned single ‘I Got You’ took Split Enz to number one, another Neil Finn song was chosen to announce follow-up album Waiata (aka Corroboree). The video — which screened in the early days of music channel MTV — is surprisingly understated, while retaining touches of familiar Enz weirdness. After walking past coloured silhouettes of the rest of the band, Neil arrives on a set designed on a theme of black, etched with lines of colour. Tim mimes enthusiasm while sitting on the floor, keyboardist Eddie Rayner moonwalks, and the Enz step on out of there.
Reflecting the nautical themes found on chart-topping album Time and Tide, the classic 'Six Months in a Leaky Boat' demonstrated that Tim Finn was far from out of good ideas, even though he was soon to leave the band he had sailed with for so long. Opening with scene-setting Eddie Rayner instrumental 'Pioneer' and images of boats at sea, the video soon reveals Tim Finn and band below deck, in sailor's garb. Finn's much-loved line about refusing to be overcome by "the tyranny of distance" was likely inspired by the 1966 book by Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey.