So many episodes, so many stories - and to answer which were the best ones we brought in an expert. STEVEN ZANOSKI was a storyline and dialogue writer on the show for six years and is now the head of development at South Pacific Pictures. Here he names what he considers the Street's best stories.
Nick has a zit on his big date. Nick gets trapped in a coffin. Nick is busted by Fair Go ... Every Nick story is fantastic to write, made more so by the reliability of Karl Burnett's performance. It's a case of a character evolving to capitalise on the unexpected qualities of the actor. Nick was conceived as a drug-taking bad boy. As Karl revealed his comic potential, that original character note was abandoned and underdog Nick Harrison emerged as an icon of New Zealand television. Much of the comedy and pathos we got from Nick over 10 years defined the Shortland Street style, setting it apart from other fast-turnaround tele-drama.
There were some in production who said it would never work. Beauty and the beast - who would believe that Kirsty could be attracted to Lionel? But we did it and it worked. They became a classic soap archetype: the couple the audience know should be together even when the characters don't know it themselves. This worked to such great effect that we were able to get a season cliffhanger on Kirsty and Lionel's first kiss after a year of estrangement.
Darryl Neilson was bad to the bone. His slithery influence disrupted almost the entire cast. Beyond that, the introduction of despicable Darryl grew Marj's role on the show. Marj was previously seen as mainly a comic character. But through Darryl, the audience shared Marj's grief, sympathising with her for being stuck with a no-good son. She became one of Shortland Street's most popular characters. And Darryl's one redeeming feature? He loved his mum. Otherwise, his dirty deeds set a strong precedent for many villains to follow.
It seemed like a good - and economical - write-out at the time. Tom told Marj he was going to buy milk. He never returned. It gave a good ongoing missing-person story. What wasn't expected was viewer reaction. The most-asked Shortie question became "Where's Tom?" In the end we had to bring Tom back to explain. It was an interesting writing lesson: the audience needs closure. They must get a satisfactory goodbye or, if the character dies, see the body. Otherwise, in the world of soap, they're still out there, waiting to come back. By the way, has anyone seen Lionel Skeggins lately?
The nurses' strike of' 92, students marrying for bigger loans, neo-Nazis lurking in the suburbs ... time and time again stories dreamed up 16 weeks beforehand go to air just as the same event occurs in real life. It's not any storyliner soothsaying - it's writers looking at trends in the news and saying, ÔIf this is happening now, what's the future outcome likely to be?' We've even predicted trends in health and medical ethics this way. Admittedly, there have been some spooky coincidences. A small earthquake occurred in Hawkes Bay the same night as Shortland Street's quake. It wasn't our fault!
Christmas Cliffhanger 1995. The big, end-of-season cliffs are always fun to write, putting story pegs in place several months before. This year, we didn't go off air for the holidays, so the aftermath played on Christmas Day. We set up an expectation that Kirsty would be injured (she only had amnesia - one of our soapier moments) but it was Carmen who suffered the consequences in this particular story. She died 7.30pm Christmas night, ruining Christmas dinner in homes across the country.
This relationship hadn't occurred to us when Donna was introduced as a love interest for Rangi. When the sibling relationship was mooted, it instantly suggested years of story. First we had to set up the possibility. After the reveal there was ongoing angst and estrangement. Finally, we got to unravel the shared paternity, allowing them to get married. Because, even through months of shock, thinking they had been incestuous, Rangi and Donna still loved each other. The audience understood and wanted their dilemma solved. To this end we were able to construct a story in which they slept together again, still thinking they were related. We expected a barrage of complaints. We didn't receive any.
Rachel's such a great character. Independent, feisty and always quotable. Not to mention, exceptionally played by Angela Bloomfield. The "reversal" in soaps is an oft-used story device. The character (and audience) expect one thing but get something completely different. Discovering she had nits at the most chi-chi hairdressers in Ferndale was a small but memorable clunk for Rachel, humorously pulling the rug from under her and the viewer. These small stories play to Shortland Street's ability to tackle large issues while still finding wacky delight in the minutiae of daily life.
Over a long character arc, Caroline Buxton went from ditzy receptionist to one of the show's most popular heroines at the time. Then we set ourselves a challenge to change her sexuality. We wanted the audience to believe Caroline was better off with Laura than Al, who was everything she should have wanted. Once Caroline and Laura were together and the audience accepted our first sustained lesbian relationship, we threw in a further twist. Caroline broke Laura's heart by running off with bad boy Greg Feeny.
The storyliners' mission after the cast shake-up over a year ago, was to introduce new characters who were intrinsically linked. Anne looking for her birth mother was standard soap story. But when the revelation came that it was Judy, the jigsaw of intermeshed cast was complete. The consequences of such close ties between a small group of people weights every move with tense emotional nuance. It raises stakes - every story is potentially explosive. Coming up is a big Shortland Street wedding (regular viewers will probably guess whose), where all these emotional chickens come home to roost.