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Shortland Street

And they said it wouldn't last

Serial killer Joey Henderson stalked Tania Jeffries

Over 4000 episodes and 20 years on from its debut episode on May 25th 1992, we couldn't help but look back at what the critics had to say about New Zealand's fledgling soap.

The NZ Herald got it right with their headline "Week old soap seems to have the stuff of survival" (May 92)

The Sunday Star and Sunday News were less kind.

Said Colin Hogg in the Sunday Star: "New Soap has a dead end feel to it. It puts new faces to old clichés and gives it a Kiwi accent. Shortland Street looks like soap on a rope - just hanging on."

While the Sunday News decreed "Soap gets thumbs down!... Over-acting, under-acting, clichéd characters, corny scripts"

By June (a few weeks after episode one) some critics (and viewers) were beginning to appreciate the lure of nightly drama focussing on real Kiwi families and storylines.

In the pro Shortland Street camp were The New Zealand Herald  - Jill Graham's headline stated "NZ soap clunky at times, but not bad" and "Shortland Street is fast becoming part of our everyday vocabulary. Shortland Street is chock full of action." She also singled out one future mega-star - "Stuart is played by Martin Henderson who is fast becoming a stand-out actor in the Street."

The TV Guide was also supportive with "Just what the doctor ordered"

In OnFilm Magazine, critic Wendyl Nissen reacted positively with "a marvellous chance to see ourselves." She too picked a future star in Tem Morrison. "Temuera Morrison stands out as Dr Hone Ropata, so relaxed in his part you would think he had been doing it for years... a celebration of our young acting talent"

And Colleen Reilly in the Dominion Sunday Times was another fan.

"NZ's latest soap washes okay. There's a lot of acting talent in Shortland Street.  Martin Henderson has the looks and style to become NZ's answer to Luke Perry. I for one want to know what happens between Alison and Chris. The move from scene to scene and plot to plot is swift and sure."

However, not everyone was appreciating the New Zealand voice at 7pm weeknights on TV2. There was no pleasing Ken Strongman from The Press in Christchurch, who wrote, "To give it a chance, I watched the first five episodes, a feat that probably went unequalled even by the parents of the actors... I shall never watch another episode.... The acting has been stilted, wooden and almost entirely unconvincing....Truly embarrassing stuff that produces a tense squirm."

Well, Ken - we hope you've stopped squirming by now!

By May 1993, the show was rating high enough that it was renewed, and later became the highest-rating programme in the country. Since then, the show has regularly remained in the overall top 20 highest rated New Zealand television shows, holding its own in the desirable 18-49 demographic.

In 2008, the show was still attracting plenty of attention and critical acclaim. Here's what's Tracey Bond had to say about the Serial Killer Joey Henderson's demise in March 2008.

"You could cut the tension with a scalpel. The writers certainly pulled out all the stops to ramp up the tension in the episode and the actors also stepped up to the plate. Johnny Barker as Joey got to act his pants off - in the space of a minute he gave us remorseful, crazy and cold-blooded killer. All in all it was a killer ending."

Shortland Street's first ever feature length episode in May 2010 packed a punch with fans and critics,  NZ Herald's Hugh Sundae admitting " the time Kieran fell to his death and the drums came in signalling the outro music, I could have used a moment...They'd pulled it off."

While 2011's feature length episode proved it was just as popular, with Hugh Sundae from NZ Herald once again singing Shorty's praises.

"With a strong cast, (mostly) addictive storylines, and a few months until the show's 20-year anniversary (feature length in 3D?), what a good position to be in."

As the show ramps up for Shortland Street's 20th birthday, you can guarantee that NZ's favourite drama will be gaining even more media attention.

Celebrating 20 years of drama on Shortland Street