Extra-hot Latta but no sugar, thanks
It doesn't take much to work Nigel Latta up. As soon as we meet for the customary cafe-interview, he immediately latches on to the fact I should not be drinking hot chocolate.
"There's so much sugar in that stuff," he says. "That's something I just learned only recently... it's bad for you."
I imagine Latta's natural state is caffeinated. Our 20-minute interview was almost breathless.
Latta's new six-episode series, simply titled Nigel Latta, tackles the big themes - inequality (The New Haves And Have Nots), education (The School Report), alcohol (The Trouble With Booze), child abuse (Killing Our Kids), the justice system (Behind Bars) and, yes, sugar (Is Sugar The New Fat?).
Latta had been a clinical psychologist for more than a decade, before his book, Beyond The Darklands, was adapted into a television series in the early 2000s. The series, which profiled notorious New Zealand criminals from invariably 'troubled' backgrounds, was often bleak.
His next shows - The Politically Incorrect Guide To Parenting, The Politically Incorrect Guide To Teenagers, and Surviving Teen Driving - had Latta giving "practical advice".
"When I'm making a television series, I don't think about the tone," he says. "The stories tell themselves. The idea for the latest series arose because these were particular issues which wound me up. I wanted to fight through all the numbers and the bollocks and everything else."
These topics are political fodder in an election year, Latta concedes.
"We have to ask better questions of the people in charge. On my smartphone, there is an app that lets me watch the Curiosity space shuttle on Mars. Changing the tax rate so corporations pay their fair share might be difficult, but it's not as difficult as putting a robot on Mars. It's not even as difficult as Year 12 physics or maths."
Latta's clout means people rarely decline an opportunity to appear on his shows. So he was surprised former finance minister Roger Douglas refused to be interviewed for this series.
"Douglas' reforms in the 1980s fundamentally changed our country, and I thought he had a responsibility to explain himself," Nigel says. He was also incensed by the liquor companies' refusal to be interviewed.
"What they (liquor companies) are doing is absolutely criminal. They're peddling products such as RTDs to children. They've learnt from the tobacco companies and tried to brand themselves as responsible."
Latta is grateful that TV allows him to get out of his comfort zone. In this series, he goes back to school, spending time in the classrooms at two contrasting Auckland public schools: the decile 10 Pakuranga College, and the decile one Pt England Primary School in Glen Innes.
Did his two children make funof him going back to school?
"Not really," Nigel says. "They just see it as part of my job. Dad's going to work, he's going to be goofy on television. If I told them I was going to build them a tree-hut, they would fall off their seats."
They were more impressed with the fact he got to fly to a private island on a helicopter as part of the inequality episode. And it was fun.
"They were really jealous. I made a point of telling my children as they went off to school that I was going to spend a day in luxury accommodation being waited on hand and foot."
He says the helicopter flight had a purpose: to show viewers the divide between the haves and have nots.
"As a country, we underwent a complete attitude change to money about 30 years ago," Latta says.
"It became the politics of 'Me first and screw everyone else'. It hasn't worked, except for a very small number of people. The wealth is trickling up, it's not trickling down."
This has been arguably Latta's biggest project. It has taken more than a year to film the six episodes.
Does he get wary of being a "go-to" expert on New Zealand life?
"People think I'm great, until I say something they disagree with."
TV One, Tuesday, 9.30pm