Credit: Shortland Street Facebook page
When TVNZ’s Shortland Street returns to our screens at 7pm tonight, viewers who tune in to learn Sass’ fate could be getting far more from the show than they perhaps realise. Shortland Street, like similar daily soap operas in countries all over the world offers an entertaining but also very familiar escape into the lives of other people. Despite the sometimes absurd dramatization of those characters’ lives, there is plenty of common ground with the real world that can have a profound effect on its viewers.
Admitting I’m an intermittent viewer and long-term fan of this amazing show will illicit some eye-rolls I am sure. As a professional communicator, I can’t help but notice when storylines provoke debate on current issues. Teen suicide, drug use, unplanned pregnancy, right to assisted death and domestic violence are just a few of the challenging subjects the show has tackled over the years.
Whether you are a lover or hater of this type of television, our very own Shortland Street deserves to be commended on continually finding ways to tackle such tricky subjects in honest and realistic ways. In 2017, the show sought to raise awareness of bowel cancer in a campaign that saw much-loved character, Damo Johnson diagnosed with the disease. Working with other organisations and experts to ensure accuracy and sensitivity in how they approach issues is just one indication of their genuine commitment to this role.
In some cases, public information messages are delivered in the context of the show. Look closely at the posters on the walls and you will often see current health information campaigns. In other situations, the protagonists might seem like bad role-models but consider the opportunity they present for the over 361,0001 viewers and their networks to discuss those behaviours or values. They are important conversations.
Distrust in content and recognition of how ‘fake’ television shows are can also make local shows like Shortland Street more valuable than ever in shaping knowledge and attitudes around major social issues. An Indian soap opera, in its first year of production, has reached 400 million people, and was part-funded by UK foreign aid and an NGO to promote sexual health and family planning. Its themes, which have included acid attacks, domestic violence and abortion, are a means to highlight serious issues and get the discussion rolling.
As Shortland Street enters its 26th year on our screens, maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at this show, which really does punch well above its weight. It has certainly come a long way since those early episodes, most often illustrated with the quip to Temuera Morrison’s character, “you’re not in Guatamala now Dr Ropata”.
Also, just as Australia’s own Home and Away and Neighbours were springboards for Hollywood superstars like Liam Hemsworth and Margot Robbie, Shortland Street has been the backbone of our own television industry. K.J. Apa from Riverdale, Martin Henderson, recently on Grey’s Anatomy, Karl-Heinz Urban who played Skurge in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok and yes, Temuera Morrison are just a few of those success stories. I wonder how things will look when they celebrate the next 20 years for Shortland Street.
In the meantime, don’t miss the chance to enjoy our very own, free-to-air show. You may get far more from it than you expected.
1As at March 2017. Retrieved from http://insights.nzherald.co.nz/article/shortland-street-ratings/