Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Terry Teo: Why the '80s Kiwi icon is all grown up

The 80s crime-solver kid has moved on, writes Chris Schulz.
Kahn West, who plays the new Terry Teo, is said to be a natural in front of the cameras.
Kahn West, who plays the new Terry Teo, is said to be a natural in front of the cameras.

He'd just auditioned for the biggest role of his career - but Kahn West had no idea who Terry Teo was.

"I came home and told my family I'd auditioned for it and they started jumping up and down," West says.

"They knew who Terry Teo was. They even started singing the theme tune. I was like, 'What the hell?"'

His family have fond memories for good reason.

Only six episodes of Terry and the Gunrunners screened in 1985, but its humble concept and expansive shots of rural New Zealand have become emblematic of simpler times.



As well, the show's fan base has turned its 12-year-old skateboarding star into something of a Kiwi icon.

As scriptwriter Gerard Johnstone says: "He was this Maori kid who rode a skateboard and solved crime. It just felt like the coolest thing ever. We hadn't seen anything like that."

Johnstone was working on the second season of The Jaquie Brown Diaries when the idea of a Terry Teo reboot first came to him.

"We don't do action here and the 80s was all about Knight Rider, MacGyver and The A-Team. The idea of a reboot just bought a smile to my face," he says.

His first problem was getting the rights to the show. After finishing work on the 2014 horror-comedy Housebound, Johnstone and his producing partner Luke Sharpe tracked down Stephen Ballantyne and Bob Kerr, the creators of the 1982 graphic novel. They got a positive response. Result.

Then they had to get a network on board. The pair originally pitched a more mature version of Terry Teo to TV3, before taking it to TVNZ and securing $1.3 million in NZ on Air funding. Another result - but one that has come with its own set of problems (see right).

Their next problem was finding the right person to play Terry. After an unsuccessful nationwide hunt, they asked West to audition for a second time - and he blew them away.

"We needed a Michael J. Fox or a Will Smith or Shia LaBeouf - South Auckland's Ferris Bueller. Cheeky but a real motormouth," says Johnstone.

"Most kids are really solemn and shy but West is just wired for it."

Sharpe agrees, calling West a natural in front of the cameras.

"He's one in a million. As soon as we started shooting, there was just no doubt."

Video

He might not have been showing it, but West was definitely freaking out.

Despite a minor role in the 2012 horror comedy Fresh Meat, Terry Teo was West's first leading role - and he was feeling the pressure.

"That first day on set was probably the most nerve-racking moment of my life," he admits.

"My first-ever scene, I was so scared, I was mucking up my lines."

It didn't help that the show's crew kept piling on the pressure.

"All these different people who were working on set would come up to me telling me how much they loved the show when they were little.

"I was like, 'There's a bit of pressure starting to brew'."

Kahn West as Terry Teo in the reboot of the classic '80s show.
Kahn West as Terry Teo in the reboot of the classic '80s show.

West soon found his feet. But there was one last problem the show's producers had to solve. Skateboarding is an integral part of the show, and West couldn't ollie or kickflip to save himself.

In fact, he was scared of the sport.

"I have one really bad memory of skateboarding: I ended up bombing down a hill on my stomach and cutting open my thumbnail," says West.

"I never really went near a skateboard after that."

Determined to do his own stunts, West "picked up a skateboard and ran out the door" when he learned he'd won the part.

But his skills didn't quite meet the standard, with a stunt double required for some scenes.

Sharpe laughs: "There wasn't as much skating as there might have been ... there might be more [if we get] a second season."

Hanna Tevita as Polly and Kahn West as Terry Teo in the new look series.
Hanna Tevita as Polly and Kahn West as Terry Teo in the new look series.

West is hopeful that happens, and says it depends on whether or not fans of the original warm to his version of the iconic character.

"Terry Teo was a bit of an icon back in the day - I have big boots to fill."

The problems with Terry

You should be watching the new-look Terry Teo on TV2 in a 6pm time slot. But for now, it will be streaming on TVNZ OnDemand.

Why? TVNZ says the show is too mature for younger viewers. "The language is more gangsta than we were expecting and there are guns and violence in it," TVNZ's general manager of commissioning, production and acquisitions, Andrew Shaw, says.

"Our appraiser advised it would not get a G rating and could not be shown in a 6pm slot, so we asked the producers to make some cuts and changes."

Producers Luke Sharpe and Gerard Johnstone say the show was always going to be a darker, edgier, more mature reboot of the show.

"We pitched it as a revamped Terry Teo for an older audience ... as PG," says Johnstone. "There's a dick joke in the first minute - and it was in a script [they read]. It's just fun."

Sharpe: "They had a square peg and wanted to put it in a round hole."

TV2 says it will consider screening the show in the future, but in a later time slot.

What: New-look Terry Teo, a reboot of classic 80s kids show Terry and the Gunrunners
Where and when: Streaming on TVNZ On Demand from Tuesday

- Weekend magazine

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