The woman credited with making reality television a ubiquitous presence on New Zealand's small screens says the format is here to stay, and she couldn't be prouder.

Julie Christie was today made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to governance and the television industry.

Over her nearly 30 year television career, Christie estimates she has been involved with some 150 to 200 individual titles - including Dragons' Den, Changing Rooms and Treasure Island.

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But it's not all been reality TV (she prefers the term unscripted television), having made numerous documentaries, executive-produced four feature films and created a TV drama series.

Christie has since stepped aside from the frantic, cut-throat world of programme-making.

Her last such role was about four years ago as director of the first season of The Block NZ.

Christie, 55, is well known for her relentless work ethic, ambitious goals and - for a time at least - her apparently unquenchable desire for success.

Her attitudes towards life, work and money, she says, stem largely from her mother, who was widowed when Christie was 5, and left to raise seven children on her modest income in the family's Greymouth home.

"She was a great example and she had an incredible work ethic. I think that's what I got from her - I've always worked, really, really hard," she says during an interview in her apartment overlooking Auckland's Viaduct Harbour.

"I have a fear of poverty. I can see that it aged my mother, when my father died, and she struggled for so many years."

The only "luxury" item in her childhood home was a black and white television, with which Christie became entranced.

But she didn't immediately recognise this passion could translate into a career, instead becoming a "pretty ordinary" newspaper journalist before being made redundant.

Landing a job as a researcher with production company Communicado, she quickly worked her way up to producer, creating some of the company's most successful shows.

"I just found that all those years of only having television ... I had that common touch for what people wanted to watch. I guess within a couple of months of being in television I knew I'd found my thing," she says

Christie's big break came when she landed interviews with A-list celebrities Rod Stewart and Rachel Hunter, producing the successful doco Rachel Hunter: Cover Girl.

"For me the great coup was getting Rod to talk. Everyone said, 'No way he'll talk to you' ... I talked him into it," she says.
"When it went so big I went and asked for a pay increase but they said no. So I said 'I'll go it by myself then'."

She set up her own company, Touchdown Productions, which helped launch media careers for the likes of Marc Ellis, Matthew Ridge, April Ieremia, Bernadine Oliver-Kerby and Jeremy Corbett.

She became a pioneer for producers obtaining intellectual property rights to their own shows and gained a great deal of satisfaction seeing shows like Treasure Island being replicated overseas.

She is also proud of having worked with Ellis and Ridge on Game of Two Halves for 11 years "and keeping my sanity".

"But if I have a favourite, I guess I loved This is Your Life," she says.

"It was hard: you spend three months delving into someone's life and trying to keep it a secret and then you do a live broadcast. It was very hard but I loved it."
And the flops?

"[There were] plenty of flops, gosh," she laughs. "You only learn from failure. And you know what? I can't even remember the names of them".

Her commitment to her career was exemplified when she was pregnant with her first child, Timothy. When his birth exceeded the due date, she had him induced and was back in the office the following day.

"That was silly. I would not do that now ... but yes, that's how driven I was."

Christie has been criticised by some for reducing the amount of public-interest content on television and saturating it with populist programmes. However, she loses no sleep over her detractors.

"I've been able to make people laugh, make people cry, make people care. And that's what's so fantastic about it as a career really. And that's what's great about unscripted television: It's real, people are going through these things and you get to witness it."

Christie has gone on to become a director of MediaWorks at a time of uncertainty in the company.

She was on the 2011 Rugby World Cup board, the flag consideration panel and continues to be a member of the NZ Rugby Union's commercial committee.

Christie has two children, Timothy, 22, and Lexi, 21, and a partner who she's been with for the past four years.

As for being made a Dame, Christie says it came as a huge surprise.

"It's also a sad time because I know my mother would have been incredibly proud and she only died a couple of years ago. So it's a mixture of emotions."