“We don’t have a drama that’s always there, except for Shortland Street.”

Actor Michael Galvin, who has been with Shortland Street since its origins, reflects on how the soap has been the constant of the NZ industry for 33 years.

It’s New Zealand’s very own Neighbours and Home & Away.

Hospital serial Shortland Street has been running for a whopping 33 seasons, depicting the lives and loves of the staff at an Auckland city hospital. That has entailed all manner of emergencies, births, deaths, weddings, fires, cliffhangers, affairs, serial killers, eruptions, shootings, ghosts, and sexting with the viral breakout line by Chris Warner to his son Harry “Please tell me that is not your penis!”

Michael Galvin, who plays Warner, is the only original remaining cast member, having featured from 1992 to 2024, save for a 4 year break from 1996 – 2000. That also makes him longest the serving soap actor in New Zealand.

“The writers do such a great job of coming up with the curve balls and the different kind genres, new stories, new people. It’s never got stale, strangely, after all those years,” he tells TV Tonight.

“From an acting point of view, the challenges are always there, because you’re always dealing with tragedies or maybe humour.

“Sometimes it’s fulfilling a lot of roles”

“New Zealand’s a small country and it seems to be the only TV show that’s always there. So sometimes it’s fulfilling a lot of roles. We don’t have a comedy that’s always there. We don’t have a drama that’s always there, except for Shortland Street.

“I mean sometimes there are six or seven shows being made in New Zealand, but sometimes it’s just us.”

The series has always embraced diverse characters including different ethnicities, sexualities, genders, and abilities.

“It’s always seemed to be something that the writers have taken seriously, that responsibility to try to reflect Kiwi society. Aotearoa’s multicultures and gender diversity, that kind of thing. It’s always had what we used to call a ‘liberal, humanist’ kind of aspect. They’ve always been the kind of writers that have been attracted to it,” he continues.

“From episode one our first producer, Caterina De Nave, was very up on that, trying to reflect New Zealand back to New Zealand.”

“Listen to this person, acknowledge this person”

“I mean, I’m a ‘pale, stale male’ obviously, maybe I’m the wrong person to talk about it, but it is something I’ve always been proud of, that we are managing to do that and put that in front of people in their living rooms. People who might not otherwise have considered these viewpoints, and not necessarily arguing for or against, but just saying, ‘Listen to this person, acknowledge this person.'”

While Chris Warner has been known as “Dr. Love’ due to a rising tally of on-screen romances, his 2024 storylines see him dealing with depression.

“It’s been fun to play because my character previously was a very forward energy, a really take charge kind of guy. He’s been really committed to lifting people up and looking after people, and the saviour …to try to help them up as a father figure might,” Galvin explains.

“But he comes back completely depressed and it’s the absolute opposite energy. He’s very withdrawn, just not wanting to participate in anything, very disinterested in the people around him. Whereas previously he couldn’t keep out of everyone else’s lives.”

Like Australian soaps, Shortland Street also has its share of famous alumni actors including Martin Henderson, KJ Apa, Robyn Malcolm, Karl Urban, Robbie Magasiva, Danielle Cormack, Temuera Morrison, Frankie Adams -and even a cameo from Ed Sheeran.

“You just expect a great performance from day one”

The demands of soap are such that it serves as a training ground for those in front of and behind the camera.

“It’s different for actors, because they have to be at 100% from day one. Nobody looks at a young actor and goes, ‘Oh, they’re just learning.’ You just expect a great performance from day one,” Galvin observes.

“When the crew come in, we can afford a few mistakes there. There’s always someone who’s learning because it’s that kind of environment.

“I’ve seen people come through, fumbling around, and then they get it right, and then become Head of the Department, and then they go off to do the movies. I love it.”

“Previously, the only letters were fan mail saying ‘You were great!'”

What about the fans? Does Galvin hear from many Australian fans of the show?

“I don’t get a sense of any fans because I don’t engage in the social networks. There are a number of reasons for that. When it first started coming in, we had a web page, and it’s like, ‘Oh shit, people are writing in.’ Because previously, the only letters were fan mail saying ‘You were great!'”

Social media has changed the balance of comments, Galvin notes, as he recalls some early clangers he read.

“‘I saw Chris Warner trying to cry, but women do it so much better.’ And the next one said, ‘Wow, Chris Warner’s put on weight!’ I thought I’m gonna maybe not read these, because those negative ones are like a foghorn in your head and you just ignore all the positive ones. I’m probably better off if I just distance myself from these and don’t take it too seriously,” he insists.

“Little did I know that would just replace the women’s magazines where we used to have a very high interaction.

“But because I’m older, people don’t expect me to be engage so I can get away with not doing it.

“The only feedback I really get is people on the street and obviously, I’m not going to bump into Australians, but it surprises me that Australians are into it, and I love that.”

Shortland Street is now screening on 7Plus (Australia) and TVNZ (NZ).

8 Responses

  1. Oh no! Spoilers. 7plus is sooooo far behind. I don’t really understand why it only shows 3 episodes a week, well I couldn’t find a new episode last night and I’m guessing we just reached the 2023 cliffhanger ending.

  2. Great interview! Neighbours has Paul Robinson, Shortland Street has Chris Warner (complete with the many children coming out of the woodwork over the years!).

  3. How did I know before I opened the post that the clip would be ” Please tell me that is not your Penis?” Such a viral moment for the show!!!
    It is just a shame it hasn’t been treated better here in Australia, I remember watching it when it first started on SBS. But it has been moved around so much on and off over the years I gave up on it.

    1. I see the official Shortland Street YouTube account has been posting those early episodes that we saw on SBS, it’s been fun to watch them again! Agree about its treatment, it’s been so hard to persist with it over the years since it’s moved around so much.

      1. I too have been watching these!! I loved that first year, they had a good balance of feel good neighbours, alongside classic soapy melodrama. Nurse Carrie was clearly inspired by Sister Scott! Lisa Crittenden nailed that role!!!

  4. Nobody has comedies that are always there, nobody has dramas that are always there. Dramas and comedies have endings and then you make new ones. Our longest running comedy is Fisk, or maybe Bump, and drama is RFDS if S3 happens. Only soaps take on graduates and only soaps don’t have endings and run for decades, that’s why they are soaps.

Leave a Reply