New Zealand Television Drama

by Dunleavy, Trisha

Abstract (Summary)
Restricted Item. Print thesis available in the University of Auckland Library or available through Inter-Library Loan. This thesis documents the emergence and development of New Zealand television drama production in the first three decades of the medium. More generally, it provides a case study of television drama production in a small country in which there has been a constant push-and-pull between cultural, economic, political and technological forces. Despite its 30-year tradition and many creative achievements, the genre has never been documented in detail. Accordingly, the thesis required much primary research to locate and list the dramas and to interview key writers, producers, directors, programmers and administrators. Wanting to explore the complexity of institutional, political and economic forces that have shaped the dramas, the thesis uses a multi-dimensional approach. The resulting study incorporates the following main elements: l. An institutional history of New Zealand television until 1990, including its various restructurings and the debate between 'public' and 'commercial' approaches; 2. The analysis of broadcasting policy and changing management priorities, with particular reference to local content policy; 3. An institutional history of 'in-house' drama production and its sometimes troubled relations with the independent industry; 4. Detailed discussions of milestone drama programmes and a record of their production processes; 5. Analysis of the problems for television drama production in a situation such as New Zealand's; 6. Explorations of the genre's relationships with New Zealand culture and its links with local film, literature and theatre; 7. A tracking of scheduling practices and channel 'brands' as they evolved from a highly regulated one-channel television service to a minimally regulated multichannelled television 'market,' and their impact on drama; 8. Lessons for the future in terms of the implications of legislation and policy on drama as a genre at-risk, yet important in fostering a sense of local 'cultural identity.' The advantage of undertaking a case study of drama production in a country like New Zealand, is that, because of the limited size of its television system, it has been possible to combine discussions of text and context, genre and institution, within one history. In a larger country, the sheer volume of channels, programmes and producers would conspire against this kind of approach. Observing drama's development through both 'generic' and 'institutional' lenses, I have found it subject to the play of five oppositions (or tensions), four of which remain influential: l) commercialism versus public service; 2) long form production versus shorter forms; 3) in-house versus independent production; 4) popular versus 'serious' drama; and 5) 'localness' versus exportability. The thesis acknowledges the importance of ideas of 'local authenticity' in the development of New Zealand television drama. Working in a system of mixed public and private investment in production, drama producers have needed to reconcile their ideas about 'holding up a mirror' to New Zealand with the often conflicting priorities of commercialism. This issue has also been important to New Zealand viewers. Bringing their own expectations of 'authenticity' and 'relevance' to local dramas, they have often articulated their responses to the dramas in those terms. The thesis was motivated not only by an academic interest in: l) documenting a largely forgotten tradition of television drama, and 2) experimenting with a multidimensional approach to the analysis of television history; it was also driven by a commitment to cultural politics that has led me to learn many lessons for the present and the future in the history that is documented here. As I began to write the thesis, three situations loomed large, all posing potential dangers for the tradition of television drama: l) the likelihood that New Zealand's public network and its many assets may soon be privatised; 2) the possibility, in the event of this sale, that the historical collection of New Zealand drama programmes may become foreign-owned; and 3) a decline in the level of public funding for television production, which has left the drama genre more exposed than ever. Although the thesis ends in 1990 (the year that followed profound changes in the New Zealand television environment) it includes a postscript discussing the implications of these changes for the future.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The University of Auckland / Te Whare Wananga o Tamaki Makaurau

School Location:New Zealand

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:01/01/1999

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