Motorway Patrol is celebrating 20 years on New Zealand television but the man who dreamed up the idea admits he's surprised the ride lasted this long.
The action and drama of the uniquely Kiwi reality
show have kept audiences hooked since it debuted in 1999, and a special anniversary episode will go to air next week to celebrate the milestone.
"I never dared to hope it would last this long," explained John Harris, founder and former long-time owner of Greenstone Pictures.
"When I started Greenstone in 1994 the first things we did were one-off documentaries that can often take two years to make.
"You're never going to have a sustainable company just making one-off documentaries; pretty soon I realised we had to have ongoing series that would roll over.
"So I was really happy when we got Motorway Patrol series two and series three, but I don't think I ever thought it would go on for two decades. It's just wonderful. A real success story.
"I still feel very proud that it's trucking on after all these years."
Motorway Patrol's simple premise – a camera crew tags along with officers patrolling the motorways around Auckland and films their encounters with people being pulled over or requiring assistance – belies the concept's immense potential for intrigue and hilarity.
Undoubtedly some of the show's appeal lies in the fact – in the age of carefully staged and managed reality programmes – Motorway Patrol is capturing real-life incidents and characters. Kiwis also love judging others on their driving ability.
"It's a bit of fun to watch other people do things wrong," says current Greenstone producer Philippa Hall.
"Everybody thinks they're a great driver, don't they? We all think we're fabulous. So there's a bit of secret pleasure in watching people not drive so well.
"And sometimes you can relate to it, like 'Oh god, I've done that myself.' Other times it's that feeling you have driving down the road of 'I can't believe people are doing this sort of thing.'
"Real life is always stranger than fiction and it's relatable. It's something that we all either see on the road or have done ourselves."
As well as entertaining viewers, the show also succeeds in delivering positive road safety messaging, without making people feel like they are being given a lecture.
"There is road safety messaging in there but it's not actually driven at the individual," explains former Police Sergeant Jeff Gerbich, who featured prominently in the early seasons of Motorway Patrol.
"We tried to get a road safety message across if it fitted into a particular story. It was different, rather than drumming messages into people.
"But anybody looking at it would have seen the stupidity of certain actions and that helped."
While Motorway Patrol is Harris' brainchild, one of New Zealand's leading comedians also had a pivotal role in helping to get the show off the ground.
"I was asked to take Leigh Hart out on the road," explains Gerbich. "He spent three days with me and wrote the proposal for the show to get TVNZ funding and that was the start of Motorway Patrol."
Hart, a former research writer at Greenstone, admits his early expectations for a reality police show were closer to Miami Vice than the understated concept that has proven so successful.
"This was way back at the birth of reality TV and I went out there with the expectation of car crashes, fireballs, hostage negotiations – like a big cop show," he explains.
"Obviously that didn't happen, certainly not on a daily basis, and often it was the more mundane stuff, the small moments, that captivated viewers.
"Of course, it's since been proven that in every reality show since – look at the Kardashians – nothing ever happens, but that's basically what people want.
"So, naively at this stage, I wasn't aware of people's appetite for the mundane. But that's on me."
Motorway Patrol's 20th Birthday Special will screen on TVNZ 2 on December 20