Shortland Street - New Zealand's highest-rated scripted show, and the only local scripted production not relying on funding from NZ On Air (a pretty special feat in itself) - celebrates its 20th birthday this week, starting with a feature-length (well, 90-minute) special episode last night, and ending with the official anniversary of the show on Friday.
To mark the occasion at On the Box, I decided to try to figure out the Top 20 Moments over the course of those 20 years - we took nominations back in March, and I asked you all to vote in April - and now I'm able to give you the official 20 Greatest Moments in Shortland Street History (as voted by On the Box readers).
So here are Moments #20 to #11, complete with commentary from some of the cast and crew involved in bringing these memorable events to the small screen.
20) 1994: Stuart (Martin Henderson) stands up and declares his love for Kirsty (Angela Dotchin) at her wedding to Lionel (John Leigh) in the final episode of the year. A fun fact, courtesy of long-time producer Steven Zanoski: "The Shortland Street acting coach, Shirley Duke, played the celebrant in this storyline. Fifteen years later she resurrected her celebrant character when she married Gerald and Morgan."
19) 1997: Ellen (Robyn Malcolm) and David (Peter Elliott) lose baby Rose to cot death. "Baby Rose was played by the real-life baby of our medical adviser at the time," says producer Steven Zanoski. "The whole reason we got David and Ellen pregnant was to do the cot death story, but we got cold feet when two of our storyliners were pregnant in real life as we were writing. Then when the medical adviser's baby played Rose, we couldn't bring ourselves to do the story. It was more than a year later that we committed to going with it and did a cot death story in the last viable week before the baby was too old. The scene in which Ellen found the baby, it was played by the living baby. Robyn Malcom picked her up out of the crib quickly and we cut out of the shot before the baby moved. Robyn Malcolm received her first award nomination for this story."
18) 1999: Greg (Tim Balme) and Caroline (Tandi Wright) ride off into the sunset, on the back of Greg's motorbike. The role of Greg Feeney had an interesting side-effect for actor Tim Balme: "It was no secret Greg Feeney had a drug history. 1994 and Michael Galvin and I were doing a publicity gig in Dunedin. Got off the plane with a massive fever. Got the taxi from the airport to stop at a chemist. Asked for the strongest cold tablets they had to get me through. This was back when pseudoephedrine was freely available. But I was refused. The chemist clearly thought I (Greg) was on the hunt for P. she said 'Mr Feeney, I know what you types are after. It may be acceptable in Auckland but this is Dunedin.' I was sent on my way with a packet of Throaties. Driving off with Caroline put an end to the mistaken-identity episodes."
17) 1996: Carla (Elisabeth Easther) kills husband Bernie (Tim Bartlett) by smacking him with a candlestick, after an earthquake strikes Ferndale - and Bernie is only dazed, not dead. Fun fact: this was the first murder on Shortland Street to take place entirely on-screen - though executive producer Simon Bennett jumps to Carla's defence: "This was episode 1000 in 1996 and the first block of Shortland Street I directed. I remember doing the earthquake scenes with lots of shaky cam and objects rigged by the art department to fall from the walls. Bernie had it coming. His last words to Carla: 'Move your fat butt!'"
16) 1995: Darryl (Mark Ferguson) dies after falling overboard while attempting to murder Kirsty on board her house-boat, the Toroa; she was confronting him about faulty drugs he had provided to patients. Darryl's body is later washed up on a beach, and for a short time Kirsty believes she may have been the one who killed him. (Spoiler: she didn't.)
15) 2006: Maia (Anna Julienne) and Jay (Jaime Passier-Armstrong) celebrate their civil union at Parnell Rose Gardens, as protesters from Serenity Church congregate nearby. "We designed and made two wedding dresses in three weeks, says costume designer Nicola Newman. "The wardrobe team put in some pretty big hours to get them made and ready for the big day. And then you only see them on screen for one episode!"
14) 2011: Sarah (Amanda Billing) gives birth to Tillie on the side of a country road, after going into labour during the wedding of ex-boyfriend TK (Ben Mitchell) and Roimata (Shavaughn Ruakere). "It was pretty nerve-wracking having to do justice to a birth scene in a ditch on the side of a road," recalls Amanda Billing. "A little-known fact is that the baby that we used for these scenes was actually a little boy called Nathan. He filmed with us for a few weeks but then he started to get too old and looked a bit too much like a boy so we had to swap him out for a girl child."
13) 1993: Darryl spikes Chris's drink and locks him in a barn, following a stag night ahead of Chris's second attempt at marrying Alison (Danielle Cormack), causing Chris (Michael Galvin) to miss the wedding and Alison to leave the country. "Darryl was the show's first great villain," says long-time star Michael Galvin, "and Mark Ferguson did a great job channelling his inner Satan. I remember shooting the scene where he drugs Chris pre locking him up and Chris collapses on the table. He was just supposed to glare down at me villainously as I slumped, but when it came to the take he looked down at me as per rehearsal then disdainfully pushed me off the table with his boot. I fell out of shot and on to the floor and managed not to start laughing until they called cut. All I remember about the barn/underwear scene was that I had to wear underwear under my underwear so you couldn't see the details, as it were. Spartacus was decades away."
12) 2011: Jill (Natalie Medlock) is accidentally killed and Daniel (Ido Drent) badly injured after they try to stop Hunter (Lee Donoghue) from going through with a robbery at a nearby chemist. Says Drent: "The storyline was really exciting to play out and incredibly challenging in terms of the arc it created for my character, so I was really stoked to be involved in that cliffhanger."
"It proved really difficult to find a chemist that would allow us to shoot in their premises," says production designer Ana Miskell, "so with a week to spare the producer decided to build a chemist set! I spent a few long nights in that set getting it all prepared. We had to create all the drug brands for the chemist because we couldn't show real products. Our graphic design team were pretty frantic. I was pretty pleased with the final product - I hear even the editing team couldn't tell it wasn't a real chemist."
11) 1998: A pregnant Tiffany (Alison James) falls from the roof of a building after talking a suicidal man down; the accident leaves her brain-dead and forces Johnny (Stelios Yiakmis) to decide whether to try to save the baby by keeping her on life support. Fun-fact: the suicidal character was named Tim.
Check back on Friday as we count down from #10 to #1.
In the meantime, what did you think of last night's 90-minute special?
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