Story: Television

Page 9. The rural and natural world on television

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Rural television

Country calendar, which first screened in March 1966 and was still on screen in 2022, is New Zealand’s longest-running television programme. Its hundreds of episodes covering every aspect of farming have been enjoyed by urban dwellers as much as those in the country.

No personalities allowed!

The popularity of genial Fred Barnes, Country calendar’s first frontperson, challenged the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation rule that there were to be no ‘personalities’ in New Zealand television. Despite viewer protests, Barnes was put behind the cameras to direct the new, less engaging presenters.

The concept was suggested by Gilbert Stringer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation director general in the mid-1960s, and developed by programmer and presenter Fred Barnes. Barnes later described the show as New Zealand’s version of rural programmes then screening in other Commonwealth countries.

While Country calendar is New Zealand’s best known rural television show, there were many others. A dog’s show, which ran from 1977 to 1992, put sheepdogs and their masters through their paces. The 1990s Heartland documentary series explored out-of-the-way parts of New Zealand, including many small towns and rural areas. Rural delivery supplemented Country calendar. The country or small towns were sometimes the settings for locally made dramas, including Pukemanu (1970s), Jocko, Mortimer’s patch, Country GP (all 1980s), Jackson’s wharf (1990s) and Mercy Peak (2000s).

Rural content became available on pay television when a rural television station, the Country Channel, began broadcasting on the Sky network in 2008. A number of websites, such as, embedded video.

The natural world

From 1970 many New Zealanders watched the Undersea world of Jacques Cousteau with fascination; in 1977 a Natural History Unit was set up in Dunedin to make local natural-history programmes. The unit cut its teeth on Wild places (1978), a six-part series about seldom visited parts of New Zealand, including White Island, the Sinclair Wetlands and the Mackenzie Country. The unit’s programmes, including series Wild south (1980–96) and Wildtrack (1981 to early 1990s), were enjoyed by New Zealand viewers and won international awards.

With the setting up of NZ On Air in 1989 and greater availability of public funding, independent production houses began making natural-history programmes. The Natural History Unit was sold in 1997 to Fox TV Studios, and then, in 2012, to David Haslingden, who had been a Fox executive. Known as Natural History New Zealand (NHNZ), it continued to flourish, making and selling documentaries internationally and winning numerous awards. In the 2000s about 10% of the programmes it produced were made in and about New Zealand.

In 2014 programmes with natural-history content continued to be popular.

How to cite this page:

Trisha Dunleavy, 'Television - The rural and natural world on television', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 July 2024)

Story by Trisha Dunleavy, published 22 Oct 2014