The long and short of Short­land Street

Weekend Herald - - NEWS - Joanna Hunkin

It promised to be “bolder and slicker than Neigh­bours” and “closer to real- life than Gloss”.

That was how the New Zealand Herald de­scribed the up­com­ing se­ries Short­land Street in May 1992.

The de­but episode was praised for its quick pace and saucy sex­ca­pades — which saw Michael Galvin’s char­ac­ter Chris Warner of­fi­cially dubbed Dr Sleaze — but it took Ki­wis a while to em­brace Short­land Street as their pre­ferred 7pm view­ing.

Rat­ings from AGB McNair showed the pro­gramme de­buted on May 25, 1992 to a 24 per cent share with view­ers aged 5+. The fol­low­ing days and weeks would see that num­ber drop to around half that, with the rat­ings con­tin­u­ing to lan­guish for the first three months.

By late July, the Herald be­gan re­port­ing rat­ings were “on the up and up” and by Jan­uary 1993, head­lines pro­claimed “Street at top of the heap” as Short­land Street be­came the num­ber one pro­gramme in the 7pm time slot. Just over a year later, 619,000 view­ers ( aged 5+) were sit­ting down to watch the Street’s ex­ploits, with the cast be­com­ing bona fide Kiwi celebs.

The full data for those early years is no longer avail­able, with Nielsen tak­ing over the TV rat­ings con­tract in 1995.

Anec­do­tally, in­sid­ers main­tain 1994 was the golden age of Short­land Street, at­tract­ing more than 20 per cent of the to­tal view­ing au­di­ence — or more than 600,000 view­ers.

But with the data that is avail­able — from 1995 to present day — we’ve tracked the highs and lows* of Short­land Street and the sto­ries that gripped the na­tion. * Based on av­er­age au­di­ence aged 25- 54, as mea­sured by Nielsen.

MAY 1995

For many fans, 1995 re­mains a stand­out year in Short­land Street his­tory for its dra­matic Christ­mas cliffhanger, which saw a truck plough through the clinic, killing Car­men. Un­like the mod­ern cliffhanger, which plays a few days be­fore Christ­mas, the 1995 fes­tive spe­cial screened on Christ­mas Day, leav­ing fans weep­ing into their Christ­mas pud.

But in­ter­est had re­ally been piqued ear­lier that year, as rat­ings spiked in May 1995. Not even the de­par­ture of Street faves Martin Hen­der­son ( in Jan­uary) or Te­muera Mor­ri­son ( in April) could dampen Ki­wis’ en­thu­si­asm for the soap, with an av­er­age of 660,000 view­ers tun­ing in each night.

As pro­duc­ers cel­e­brated the soap’s third birth­day in May, it was of­fi­cially deemed a suc­cess with the Herald re­port­ing that Short­land Street was pre­dicted to last an­other 10 years. It was also the year Shorty de­clared fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence, an­nounc­ing it no longer needed Gov­ern­ment money, hav­ing re­ceived a to­tal of just un­der $ 9 mil­lion from New Zealand on Air be­tween 1991 and 1995.

NOV 1996

The suc­cess of 1995 wasn’t to last and the fol­low­ing year saw a steady de­cline in view­ers, with Novem­ber 1996 see­ing an av­er­age just 190,000 view­ers ( aged 25- 54) tune in. On screen, Rangi and Rachel fi­nally broke up and David and Ellen dis­cov­ered they were ex­pect­ing a baby. But off screen, Blair Strang ( who played Rangi) found him­self in the midst of a real- life drama when he was charged with as­sault fol­low­ing a drunken night out at Crow Bar.

Strang pleaded guilty to as­sault, af­ter a bar­man re­fused to serve the ine­bri­ated ac­tor and re­funded his $ 5. Strang re­port­edly hit the server with an open hand. Christ­mas came early on the Street as pro­duc­tion shut down in Novem­ber and took its long­est sum­mer break on record, re­turn­ing in Jan­uary 1997. The Christ­mas cliffhanger saw a drunken Rachel pin a wheel­chair- bound Rangi against the wall of her garage, be­fore pass­ing out with the en­gine run­ning.

MAY 1999

With 344,000 Ki­wis ( aged 25- 54) tun­ing in each night, May 1999 re­mains the high­est rating pe­riod on record — and with good rea­son. For many view­ers, the sto­ries that un­folded in early 1999 de­fine Short­land Street and re­main some of the most mem­o­rable on record.

On screen, Fern­dale was still reel­ing from the dis­ap­pear­ance of Lionel Skeg­gins, who had re­cently been swept off a rock while try­ing to es­cape his schem­ing wife MacKen­zie. De­spite Lionel’s dis­ap­pear­ance, Macken­zie was still up to no good and was now drug­ging her step- son Luke to keep him un­der her con­trol. Caro­line and Greg grew sus­pi­cious of her behaviour but it would be sev­eral more months be­fore they man­aged to bring her down.

The show’s sev­enth birth­day saw Fergus be­ing kicked out of home by his fa­ther, David, and Caro­line brought Os­car back to Fern­dale to rat­tle Macken­zie ( who had pre­vi­ously tried to kill him).

NOV 2006- MAY 2007

Novem­ber 2006 marked the be­gin­ning of a dark pe­riod for Short­land Street, with the soap ex­pe­ri­enc­ing its soft­est rat­ings on record. Jan­uary 2007 saw an av­er­age au­di­ence of 166,000 view­ers tune in — less than half the num­ber who watched the se­ries at the peak of its pop­u­lar­ity.

Be­hind the scenes there was plenty of drama, as Aus­tralian ac­tress Lau­rie Foell left the se­ries, with pro­duc­ers re- cast­ing the role of Jus­tine Jones — a move they de­scribed at the time as “a mu­tual de­ci­sion”. In Novem­ber 2006, Lucy Wig­more was cast as Jones 2.0, be­com­ing the first char­ac­ter in Short­land Street his­tory to be played by mul­ti­ple ac­tors.

As the se­ries ap­proached its 15th an­niver­sary in May 2007, things were look­ing bleak — forc­ing pro­duc­ers to bring in the big guns. There’s noth­ing Shorty view­ers love more than a wed­ding and in May 2007 they got one of the Street’s most in­fa­mous — Dr Sarah Potts fi­nally mar­ried TK Sa­muels. But not be­fore she con­sid­ered ditch­ing him for Craig Valen­tine. May also saw the re­turn of Guy Warner, played by Craig Parker, who had left Fern­dale 10 years ear­lier when his part­ner Car­men trag­i­cally died from a brain haem­or­rhage af­ter a mad man drove his truck into the hospi­tal ( a classic Christ­mas cliffhanger). Af­ter flee­ing to Amer­ica with baby Tues­day, Warner re­turned with his daugh­ter, and the rat­ings re­turned in kind.

Long- term, the writ­ers set about in­tro­duc­ing their most out­landish plot yet — Shorty’s own se­rial killer, the Fern­dale Stran­gler. Joey Hen­der­son was in­tro­duced in mid- 2007 build­ing to one of the se­ries’ most talked about cliffhang­ers — and giv­ing rat­ings a much- needed shot in the arm.

AUG 2010

Au­gust 2010 saw Short­land Street screen its first ever 90- minute episode, mark­ing a golden pe­riod for the soap’s rat­ings. On av­er­age, 344,000 view­ers ( 25- 54) tuned in each night, match­ing the all- time se­ries’ high rat­ings of 1999.

The fea­ture- length episode saw the dra­matic exit of Kieran Mitchell — played by for­mer Coro star Adam Rickitt. Fea­tur­ing ex­plo­sions, kid­nap­pings and car- jack­ings, pro­duc­ers went all out to de­liver a ma­jor rat­ings boost.

Se­rial phi­lan­derer Dr Love ( Chris Warner) got a taste of his own medicine when he caught his girl­friend Zoe cheat­ing on him — with his cousin — spell­ing the end of their ro­mance. He also dis­cov­ered he had fa­thered a child with his ex- wife Ali­son ( Danielle Cor­mack) back in the 90s, when Phoenix ar­rived unan­nounced in Fern­dale.

MAY- JUN 2012

As Short­land Street cel­e­brated its 20th an­niver­sary, pro­duc­ers were de­ter­mined to outdo any pre­vi­ous ef­forts, con­coct­ing a fea­ture- length episode to out­shine all oth­ers.

As the hospi­tal’s new he­li­copter crashed into the carpark, Bella and Ni­cole were left fight­ing for their lives.

Gerald un­der­went a heart trans­plant ( the heart mirac­u­lously sur­vived said crash and be­ing flung into a nearby tree) and the das­tardly Cal­lum Mackay fi­nally left Fern­dale. To mark the oc­ca­sion, sev­eral old cast mem­bers re­turned to the Street, in­clud­ing Short­land Street’s orig­i­nal re­cep­tion­ist Marj ( El­iz­a­beth McRae). Rat­ings spiked as a re­sult with an av­er­age au­di­ence of 339,000 get­ting their 7pm fix.

DEC 2016

As Short­land Street ap­proaches its quar­ter­century cel­e­bra­tion, rat­ings are not what they once were. De­cem­ber 2016 saw view­ers drop to an av­er­age of 189,000 ( 25- 54) each night — the low­est num­bers since 2007’ s dark days.

De­spite end­ing the year with an un­der­ground pros­ti­tu­tion ring, mur­der and kid­nap­ping, rat­ings have been slow to im­prove with an av­er­age of 196,000 view­ers ( 25- 54) tun­ing in each night through­out March.

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