Shortland Street celebrates 20 years

LONG RUN: The cast of Shortland Street celebrate the show's 20th anniversary.
LONG RUN: The cast of Shortland Street celebrate the show's 20th anniversary.

Michael Galvin has never been asked to help out in a medical emergency despite playing Dr Chris Warner, five nights a week for more than 15 years.

But people still assume he's a doctor, just not a very good one.

 "There was a spate of a few months, where everyone I operated on died and every week I'd say 'the operation didn't go as well as we thought it would' - because they died on the table - yet in the same sentence almost someone would say 'Chris is actually the best surgeon in New Zealand'... maybe that's why no one asks me to step in, they don't want to die."

DR CHRIS WARNER: Michael Galvin.
DR CHRIS WARNER: Michael Galvin.

Galvin is the official Godfather of Shortland St. During a recent set visit, we toyed with the title Great Uncle or the rather unflattering Granddad, but Godfather seems to fit nicely. When we meet, he's bearded, which is all rather un-Warnery. Is it a sign of a trouble in Chris' future? Yes, quite possibly, but out of character, Galvin is in celebratory mode. After all, it's not every day your TV show turns 20. Especially not in New Zealand.

That's right; Shorty has reached its second decade, the big 2-0.

"It's great for the industry and it's great that people are hearing Kiwi voices - in a dramatic context. They are seeing Kiwi stories told with Kiwi voices every night," Galvin says of the shows success.


"People look at it and they see themselves up there. People watch it and it feels like them and the stories are good, the stories are watchable, the characters are watchable and the stories keep people interested."

And the cast and crew are pulling out all the watchable-stops to mark the big occasion.

While the official milestone isn't until Friday, tonight a 90-minute episode will no doubt stop the nation. We've already heard there will be helicopter crashes, the return of some old faces and more drama than you can poke a stick at.And new kid on the block Chris Tempest says it was quite the introduction to soap life.

"To walk in to the 20th anniversary episode, where I'm immediately thrown in the deep end, doing loads of things - explosions and things were going on around me - it was an amazing experience just to walk straight into that. Now I'm kind of settling into the everyday role here at Shortland St and I'm loving it."

English-born Tempest plays Josh Gallagher, a doctor who left his homeland for personal reasons (surely code for "drama that will come back to haunt him somewhere down the line"), and who Tempest describes as a bit of a stirrer and "loose cannon".

Surprisingly, Gallagher knew all about the Kiwi soap before moving here 10 years ago - in England, Shortland Street was played in the middle of the day after Coronation Street and Emmerdale re-runs. It was the perfect fodder for "sick days".

But now it's a bit of a shock to be a part of the show he watched while skipping school.

"It doesn't even feel real to be honest. Especially coming over here and seeing how much Shortland Street is part of the Kiwi culture and how high a regard people hold it. It hasn't settled in yet."

Galvin, an obvious old hand, has to be the one to break it to the newbie - parts of it, especially the medical jargon, never will.

"It doesn't get any easier either, even after 20 years. It helps if you can understand what you are saying, but sometimes you just don't have time to learn about the medical procedure's just gobbledegook sounds."

"YouTube and Wikipedia have been my friends for the past six weeks. You go on and watch procedures and find out about all these tools you're using now," Tempest says.

 "Oh good on you. It is funny by osmosis how much eventually sinks in. It takes a while, but I'm surprised how many medical terms I do actually know through familiarity."

Just not enough, it seems, to ever be called upon for real.

Shortland Street's 20th anniversary episode screens May 21, 7pm on TV2

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