Kiwi drama ‘Legal’ unlocks Oz market

ScreenWorks sells 26 episodes of drama

AUCKLAND — A drama skein from New Zealand has cracked the Australian market for the first time.

Auckland production company ScreenWorks has sold 26 one-hour episodes of law drama “Street Legal” to Kerry Stokes’ Seven network.

It is a significant step for Kiwi producers that nearly quadruples the eight hours of Kiwi content aired on Oz TV last year.

Australian broadcasters traditionally have been reluctant to buy Kiwi shows, aiming to protect their homegrown industry and fearing programs from their nearest neighbor will swamp the airwaves.

Irritated Kiwi industryites set up the Project Blue Sky lobby group to protest. It alleged the Oz standard for local content, a minimum of 55% Aussie programming between 6 a.m. and midnight, contravened the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement.

In 1996 an Australian court ruled in favor of open competition and said Kiwi content must be treated as Oz content; that verdict was upheld on appeal in 1999.

But it was a hollow victory. Until now, it was mostly Kiwi movies, such as “Once Were Warriors,” that made it onto Oz screens, although New Zealand’s popular soap “Shortland Street” ran on minority channel SBS.

Now ScreenWorks partner Greg McGee hopes “Street Legal,” which has already sold to a number of European territories, will crack the ice for other Kiwi productions. The sale was negotiated by London-based agency, Target.

“Street Legal” stars Jay Lagaaia as a maverick lawyer working in inner-city Auckland. Lagaaia is familiar to Oz auds through his regular supporting role in long-running Oz police drama “Water Rats.”

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