Much like The Simpsons, which has an uncanny way of predicting the future, our own local soap, Shortland Street, has seen its own storylines way ahead of the curve when it comes to social prophecy. Ferndale's latest Nostradamus moment has been "Mystery Virus Storyline" with flu-like symptoms, which was written at the end of 2019. The storyline ending is currently being filmed, with characters being put into isolation.
Over the years, real-life events have coincided in an uncanny way with the show's storylines, as life imitates art over and over. What makes the coincidences even more amazing is that the storylines for each episode are decided more than four months before it is broadcast - and unless there's a major calamity, such as an actor's illness, they don't change. The phenomenon has become known as the Shortland Street Curse.
Memorable examples include the nurses' strike of 1992, students marrying for bigger loans, neo-Nazis lurking in the suburbs, Maia and Jay's civil union (complete with Serenity Church protesters), and stories about txt and pxt bullying, transgender acceptance and medical marijuana.
"Shortland Street is always tuned in to the real world and the potential threats and challenges our cast of medical characters may face and be forced to overcome together," says producer Maxine Fleming. "Sometimes we come eerily close to pre-empting such real-life events.
"And so we have another story - in this case a dangerous virus with flu-like symptoms, which was plotted months ago and is screening now, that has spooky similarities to what is unfolding in the real world with the Covid-19 virus.
"A certain degree of coincidence is to be expected, but sometimes the timing of our stories with events in the real world is really quite uncanny."
There really have been some very spooky occurrences.
In 2003 there was a one-hour episode where the hospital's back-up generators failed during a power cut, leading to much drama. There was some debate over how likely this was in a major hospital but, within a fortnight, Starship had a power cut and their back-up generator failed.
If that wasn't enough, South Pacific Pictures' studios came to a standstill the Friday before the episode went to air, due to an area-wide power cut. There was also the time a small earthquake occurred in the Hawke's Bay the same night as Shortland Street's quake.
On Thursday this week, in consultation with TVNZ and following Ministry of Health key health and safety practices, South Pacific put a plan implementing a mandatory work-from-home rule for several non-studio based departments, as well as restricting visitors and family from the building, in order to keep the footprint at the studios to a minimum.
As a response to COVID-19, Shortland Street will not air on Fridays from this Friday to allow the production some buffer room in their delivery of the show.