For a show I've never intentionally set out to watch, I've seen more hours of David Lomas' popular docu-series Lost & Found than is probably healthy.

Famous for reconnecting Kiwis with lost family members, the series is one I often stumble across while channel-surfing of an evening and then can't tear myself away from, such is its mastery in manipulating a viewer's emotions.

Over the course of four seasons of Lost & Found, as well as the show's earlier incarnations, Missing Pieces and Family Secret, Lomas has perfected a winning on-screen formula.

There's the opening montage, complete with old childhood photos, where we learn about the episode's hopeful contender and the journey they've already been on while searching for a lost piece of their family puzzle.


Lomas then ramps up the suspense, helped along by a classic commercial break cliff-hanger or two, as he takes the audience through the twists and turns of finding these missing people and convincing them to appear on his primetime TV show.

And then we get that emotional release as these disconnected family members are finally reunited, sometimes joyfully, sometimes awkwardly, but almost always in a picturesque park somewhere.

I have been known to cry at least twice while this whole process unfolds on screen.
Yet, the show's concept and execution still trouble me at times, with this latest season's opener a good case in point.

David, a husband and father in his mid-40s, is searching for his birth mother, Jeannie. He tells Lomas that while his adoptive parents surrounded him with love, he still wants to meet and thank the woman who gave him a shot in life.

After a mere Google search (I'm not kidding), Lomas discovers Jeannie is a nurse in Wellington and is soon winging his way to the capital to hear her side of the story.

It is during this meeting, at a streetside table outside a café no less, that we discover Jeannie's baby was conceived during an assault by a pack of men in New Plymouth. She goes on to tell Lomas she never did have another baby – or a relationship – after those traumatic events.

It seems cruel and a little bizarre to have Jeannie reveal all this to a stranger with a TV camera on a footpath, but to his credit, Lomas has a long chat with her off camera about whether to press ahead with the show. And Jeannie is outwardly calm, honest, and incredibly brave.

It is a marvel to observe, even if it does make for uncomfortable viewing further down the line when David enthuses about possible siblings and wonders what his dad might be like, still not knowing the circumstances of his conception. Thankfully, the show steers clear of sensationalism when David does learn the truth.


And he's not the only middle-aged man turning to Lomas for help to find his birth family in this opening episode.

Adopted as a baby, Philip also grew up with a loving family around him, but has nagging questions about his bloodline – he's not even 100 per cent sure he's Māori.

While the search for his birth mother is nowhere near as confronting as David's, it's still set up with plenty of theatrical turns. Cue the dramatic music as the search "has an unexpected result", with a DNA test providing a further twist right before an ad break.

But Philip's eventual meeting with his blood relatives – his first in 54 years – is the gratifying reunion that is Lost & Found's bread and butter. It makes all thoughts about somebody's heartache being used for my entertainment melt away in a teary-eyed instant.

It is the kind of moment that every applicant to the show must hope for when they agree to let their most personal and heart-breaking of stories be constructed in such a way to extract maximum emotion. Because at the end of the day, this is somebody's real, raw emotion being used in a TV show for our entertainment.

But then I see people like Philip reach the end of his Lost & Found journey, joy and relief written across his face as he tells the camera, "I feel happy, I feel complete".

And I think: Who am I to argue with that?

• Lost & Found screens on Mondays, 8.30pm, on Three