Shortland Street's secrets

With soap Shortland Street back on screens tomorrow, we discover the 10 things you probably don't know about it.

Ingenious use of Weetbix to create scabs and roaring-sound effects added realism to last year's end-of-season fire. Photo / Supplied
Ingenious use of Weetbix to create scabs and roaring-sound effects added realism to last year's end-of-season fire. Photo / Supplied

1. Shortland Street is New Zealand's longest-running serial drama. It has screened for 930 weeks with a grand total of 4650 episodes. On May 25 it will celebrate its 19th year on New Zealand television screens. Over the past 18 1/2 years there have been 38 deaths of core and major guest cast characters and 16 babies.

2. Versatility is a requirement for Shortland Street make-up artists. Not only are the make-up team responsible for keeping the 20-30-strong cast looking good, they also do all the medical make-up. Scars, bruises, tattoos, open wounds - you name it, they can fake it. Continuity is extremely important so scars and bruising have to heal convincingly over a number of days. The make-up team use a fake-blood recipe that includes golden syrup for the right texture. Weetbix and cornflakes create masterful scabs; rice bubbles double as warts or cold sores, honey is convincing as pus, and babies are covered in strawberry jam for birth scenes. In fact, the special effects make-up is often more edible than the prop food. If you've ever wanted to make your own fake vomit, a Street favourite is made from canned tropical fruit salad. A quick blend (not too much or you'll lose those chunky bits) and you are ready to go. Savoury vomit is usually chicken soup.

3. The Nurses' House set (currently Dr TK Samuels' house) is the only set to have existed since the beginning of the show. It was moved to Henderson, Auckland, when the studios relocated from Browns Bay in 2000. The Nurses' House (aptly named because a bunch of nurses lived there when the first episode screened), is the only set that the storyliners have passed on from character to character for 18 1/2 years.

4. The word placenta was not allowed in the first episode of the show as it was considered to be too risque for a 7pm timeslot. Given that a major storyline of the first episode revolved around a woman giving birth, this was a tricky word to avoid. The line "You're not in Guatemala now Dr Ropata" was also originally cut from the first script because it was deemed "too silly", but then it was put back in at the last minute - and is now an iconic piece of New Zealand television history.

5. Before the show was launched, it was called The Shortland Street Project because the plan was to shoot the show in a studio TVNZ owned on Shortland St in central Auckland. However, after working out an initial floor plan, the production crew realised that the space in Shortland St was going to be far too small to accommodate the sets that they required and they moved to a warehouse space in Browns Bay. After running through several name options, including A&E, the network execs agreed that the original idea was the one to go for and Shortland Street was born.

6. In last year's cliffhanger, which saw Callum McKay (Peter Mochrie) throw himself on Chris (Michael Galvin) and Rachel (Angela Bloomfield) to protect them from a fiery explosion, the Shortland Street crew accidently completely destroyed one studio set, necessitating a new build forthis year. This is because all of the scenes were shot in studio using real fire which charred the walls and floors of the studio. Crew on set had to wear masks when filming that day as the smoke was so intense that it became difficult to breathe. And to fully enhance the dramatic effect of those final moments, the sound engineer added roaring lions into the mix among the fire noise. If you listen carefully, you can hear the separate sounds that have been mixed together for added depth and personality - the magic of television.

7. A graphic designer has created all the liquor labels used on the show as "real" alcohol brands are not permitted on primetime TV. Whenever you see an actor drinking alcohol on the show, it's never the real deal, otherwise they would never remember their lines. Sparkling wine is L&P (with a smattering of sugar crystals to make it go extra fizzy), white wine is flat L&P or apple juice, red wine is cranberry juice and beer is the 1 per cent variety.

8. In 2009, for the first time in the show's history, scenes had to be reshot due to international circumstances. Despite the fact that filming takes place 10-12 weeks before screening, by some uncanny coincidence Shortland Street had a character returning from Samoa the week after the devastating tsunami. In the original story the character discussed enjoying the sunshine and having drinks at the beach, but because of the sensitivity of the situation, a decision was made to reshoot. It was a particularly complex business to undertake because the episodes were already completed and sitting at TVNZ waiting to be screened. The writing team had to ensure that the scenes was exactly the same length as the original ones, the continuity team had to ensure that all the props were back in the same position and the clothing that was worn originally had to be re-worn for all the scenes.

9. The hugely popular serial killer storyline of 2007 which featured the psychotic nurse, Joey Henderson (Johnny Barker) on a rampage through Ferndale for several months was such a top secret storyline that not even the actors who were brought on to the show as suspects during the plot knew whether they were the killer or not. Even Barker was blissfully unaware that his character was the culprit until just before the cliffhanger scripts were released to the actors (although by this stage he did have his suspicions). Security around the cliffhanger episode, which was to finally reveal the identity of the killer, was so tight that four endings involving four outcomes were shot to create confusion.

10. Shortland Street has featured some of New Zealand's best acting talent, including a surprising number of members of the same family. Calum Gittins, who played teen Jake Valentine, remembers watching his father Paul Gittins star as Michael McKenna in the early years of the show. Nurse Brenda Holloway is played by Kathy McRae, daughter of Elizabeth McRae who left her mark on the New Zealand public as iconic receptionist Marj. Emmeline Hawthorne, who played the ill-fated Anne Kahu, was the second member of the distinguished Hawthorne family to star in the soap. Her mother Elizabeth had played hospital head Julia Thornton earlier in the series. Emmeline's father, Raymond, made a guest appearance as Anne's birth father, the manipulative Rex Treherne. Siblings Rebecca, Katrina, and Chris Hobbs all had starring roles in the series. Chris played Frank Malone, Katrina played Janet Maxwell, and Rebecca achieved a rare double by playing two major characters, Annie Flynn and Kate Larsen. More recently there have been cousins Kiel McNaughton (James "Scotty" Scott) and Harry McNaughton (Gerald Tippett) working together and newcomer Geordie Holibar (Phoenix Raynor) is the third generation of a New Zealand acting dynasty - his grandmother was the late Liddy Holloway (Alex McKenna) and his uncle is well-known Kiwi actor, Joel Tobeck, who also did a small stint on the show a few years back.

Shortland Street returns today, 7pm.

- Herald On Sunday / View

- NZ Herald

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