The long running television soap opera, Shortland Street is a New Zealand television icon and remains the most important programme screened on TVNZ’s Channel 2.

Named after the central Auckland street where the TV studio was located in the 1990s, Shortland Street was initially a flop with audiences but Television New Zealand had committed to a year of the show so they were stuck with what they considered a dog but as the year progressed, word got around that the show was worth watching. By the end of that first year, Shortland Street had found an audience.

“Shorty Street” as the show is affectionately called, is one of New Zealand’s longest running locally produced TV shows (along with Fair Go and Country Calendar). In fact, it has just celebrated 25 years on screen.

First broadcast on the 25th May 1992, it has far outlived other soaps that have come and gone such as Close to Home that ran out of steam after 8 years on screen. First screened in 1975, Close to Home was New Zealand’s first locally made TV soap and was a family drama shot in the Avalon TV studios in Wellington. At that time, Kiwi TV producers were unfamiliar with the soap formula and the show looked patchy. Writers lost their way and audiences grew tired of the various dramas with the Hearte family.

Set in 1950s rural New Zealand, Country GP replaced Close to Home and had a more professional look. It ran for 66 episodes before fading into history. Gloss was the next local soap to hit the screens and ran from 1987 to 1990. Like its predecessors, the story lines grew tired but by now the production crews had a better understanding of the television soap opera formula. Many of the actors who went onto appear in Shortland Street, started on Gloss. I watched a few episodes and remember how over-the-top it was with its un-relaxed acting and frantic cutting to try and make the show look as sophisticated as the characters were supposed to be. With the recent arrival of colour television, Gloss dazzled the viewer with garish sets and highly coloured costumes.

By the time Shortland Street went into production, writers, directors and producers, as well as actors, understood how to weave the individual character’s stories into one another and how to create plot points and how to end each episode with an impending crisis/drama/revelation to keep the audience hooked. Unlike a drama series, television soaps don’t have contained stories in each episode. Instead, they carry the audience along from one drama to another, day after day, week after week and year after year. Television soaps provide dramatic events on a regular basis with a cliff hanger at the end of every episode to keep the audience hooked as each character’s story line unfolds.


It’s amazing that a New Zealand soap opera should find an audience in Britain as it is home to the world’s longest running and most popular soaps. Eastenders has been screened in Britain and across Europe as well as the Commonwealth since 1985. In fact, New Zealand was the first country outside Britain to screen this popular British soap. Emmerdale arrived in 1972 and is still going strong with around 8 million British viewers per episode. It also screens in selected countries around the world.



Of course, the mother of all soaps, Coronation Street, is the most popular TV soap in the English speaking world. It was first broadcast in Britain on 9th December 1960 and is still going strong. Coronation Street has become an important part of many people’s lives in not only Britain, but also in Canada, South Africa, Australia, the northern states of the USA and New Zealand. In 2015, a middle aged couple in Manchester turned down a world cruise they had won in a competition because they would miss too many episodes of Coronation Street!

Shortland Street used to screen on ITV but was dropped in 2003. Last year it returned to Britain with the episode featuring Coronation Street star Adam Rickitt. A spokesman for UK’s Living Channel said, “Viewers can learn what has kept TV fans in New Zealand hooked for so long, as some of the most exciting episodes reintroduce the intense and emotional show to British audiences.”


A number of internationally successful actors began their careers on Shortland Street. After earning critical acclaim for his lead in Once Were Warriors Temuera Morrison who played Dr Hone Ropata on Shortland Street, left the show in 1995. He went on to land roles in major Hollywood productions including Speed 2: Cruise Control and Star Wars. He voiced the recent Disney hit Moana and appears in the blockbuster Aquaman.

Martin Henderson was Shortland Street‘s original teen heartthrob. He has acted in 19 movies and 14 television productions including The Ring, Bride and Prejudice and Grey’s Anatomy. He also played Britney Spear’s boyfriend in her steamy music video for Toxic. He is currently gracing international screens in the American horror flick, The Strangers: Prey at Night

Since Karl Urban left Shortland Street, he has starred in 29 international films including 2 Lord of the Rings titles as well as 2 Star Trek instalments. He also had a part in Thor:Ragnorak. He played alongside Matt Damon in Hollywood’s 2004 spy thriller, The Bourne Supremacy. His 16 television appearances included 3 episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess and 3 episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

K.J. Apa is the latest ex-Shortland Street actor to find work in Hollywood. I’ve already written about him in a previous blog but just to re-cap, he is being called a ‘heartthrob’ and last year he was nominated ‘Choice Breakout TV Star’ at the Teen Choice Awards for his role in the Warner Brothers TV series Riverdale. He won ‘Breakthrough Performance’ and was also nominated ‘Best Performance by a Younger Actor in a Television Series’ at the 2017 Saturn Awards for his role in the same show.

Michael Galvin is the longest serving soap actor in New Zealand. He has appeared almost continuously on the show since its first episode. Although Michael has never appeared in any big screen movie, he has acted in 12 other TV series during the time he took time off from Shortland Street but audiences missed him and he returned to the show in 2000 and continues to appear in most episodes as Dr. Chris Warner.

With its long, successful run, Shortland Street is a TV show to celebrate. I’m sure the actors I’ve mentioned above will agree.

Ceidrik Heward

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