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As Maori youth show Mai Time comes to an end, its first and last presenters talk to Karen Tay about its legacy.
Oliver Tukino Coddington was 12 when he first appeared on Mai Time. "The crew was filming in Raglan one day and I just jumped in front of the camera."
It was the first year Mai Time went to air as a stand-alone show and the little boy from Raglan was awe-struck at seeing his own young, brown face on TV.
So it is no surprise that, 11 years later, the 23-year-old Maori presenter chose Mai Time as the launchpad for his television career.
Coddington and fellow presenter Gabrielle Paringatai will host the last episode of the iconic TV2 Maori youth series on Saturday morning. The 12-year-old show has been canned by TVNZ to make way for a new series that is still in the works.
The series first appeared as a segment on the TV One Maori current affairs programme Marae, before going on to get its own timeslot on TV2. It won praise over the years for its emphasis on the use of te reo and its positive portrayal of Maori culture and role models all back when Maori TV was still just a twinkle in someone's eye.
The final episode, says Paringatai, will involve "glitz, glam, red carpet, highlights of the past 12 years, old presenters, new presenters, Mai Time history".
Coddington has been with the show two years and Paringatai, a former a primary school teacher, just a year. Both are sad to see the end of the show, and not just because they will lose their jobs.
"It's probably one of the few shows where you could see positive Maori stories. Maori don't always come off the best in the media, but you watch Mai Time and Maori are always on top," Coddington says.
Paringatai is more philosophical: "It was a shock," he says. "But all great eras must come to an end eventually, and this time around it just happens to be Mai Time."
The show came to be known for its eerie knack of picking out local talent way before they become celebrities. Former presenter Stacey (then Daniels) Morrison who was with Mai Time for nearly eight years and is now a radio host on Flava FM is presenting a small segment on the final episode on this very topic.
"We do seem to have interviewed a lot of people just before they become really, really famous," Morrison says. "When you're not at a primetime show, you're not top of the list when you want to interview people. So you have to get creative about it and grab people before they're too cool for school.".
One of those tall poppies is former All Black Carlos Spencer "people were like, who's this guy with the funny haircut? We interview him and next minute he's humongous".
Then there were people like Brendon Pongia and Melody Robinson; both appeared on the show before they went on to the Tall Blacks and Black Ferns. There were so many athletes that after a while, the running joke became "you wanna be an All Black, come on Mai Time," Morrison quips.
She was one of the show's five original presenters, along with Teremoana Rapley, Quinton Hita, Mike Haru and Bennett Pomana. All have gone on to successful media careers and still keep in touch. Hita, who was the youngest member of the Maori Language Commission, had a brief acting stint on Shortland Street and now makes short films with his own company Kura Productions. Haru is a DJ with his own show on Base FM. Rapley is a producer and hip-hop artist and Pomana a DJ at Flava FM.
Hita admits he would still be a smalltown boy if not for Mai Time.
"It was my foray into television. In terms of my longer-term career trajectory, it was the catalyst for me to come to Auckland, which opened up the door for me."
He credits the show with helping him clarify what he wanted out of life.
"Two things stand out for me. One is the presenters. What was really great about Mai Time is everybody got along, which doesn't happen all the time. And back in the day, Mai Time offered Maori youth an opportunity to participate in national television," says Hita.
Mai Time never attracted huge numbers of viewers (its early Saturday morning slot was perhaps a deterrent), but even so, Paringatai and Coddington grew up watching it. Morrison and Haru still have people approach them about their time on the series.
Haru feels the show became a victim of its own agenda. It didn't stay relevant to today's rangatahi.
"With all the technology that's available to the youth today, the show really has to have some kind of learning curve. It's got to be something that's going to make me want to sit down and watch Mai Time. To me, it's just catering for young little kids."
He uses Maori TV as an example of what good Maori programming should be about.
"When I look at it, it's really professional and they play good programmes. I don't think they just box themselves into one style."
For Hita, Mai Time was an opportunity to work towards the bigger picture rather than a chance to watch hip-hop videos, undoubtedly why many youth tuned in. The series was the first to bring hip-hop into the mainstream during the 1990s, before it became chart music.
"We [Maori youth] were renegotiating our identity at the time. Things have changed since but Mai Time was an important vehicle. So in that sense a lot of these new shows targeted at Maori youth is Mai Time's legacy. So even though we played hip-hop music, which helped to hook in the younger Maori generation, more importantly, there were a lot of field items in there and it was always from a Maori perspective."
- The final Mai Time screens on TV2, Saturday, 10.30am.
- Sunday Star Times