After twenty years, Shortland Street's Christmas
cliff-hangers have become a New Zealand television
These days Shortland Street is usually off-air for four weeks over Christmas, but in the early years the show was often broadcast without a Christmas break. The annual Christmas cliff-hanger become a regular feature from 1996 onwards.
Designed to bring the audience back after the summer break, Christmas cliff-hanger weeks are carefully planned so that several key storylines come to a climax in the last episode of the year.
And the producers usually pull out a major, unexpected cliff-hanger - an explosion, a plane crash, a boat accident - for the big finale.
So what's in store for the cliff-hanger in our 20th birthday
Producer Steven Zanoski says that this year's cliff-hanger will provide 'something-for-everyone' and reveals that "the surprises keep stacking up through the week, not just in the last minutes."
As we countdown to a thrilling seasone finale for 2012, take a look back at 20 years of cliff-hangers:
There was no break in Shortland Street's first year but the events at the end of 1992 were Chris discovering that Alison was pregnant - and the Nurses going on strike. Chris and Alison had been engaged briefly earlier in the year but he'd recently broken off the engagement. It would take the estranged couple five months to get back together and plan their wedding.
Again, there was no Christmas cliff-hanger and the show continued to screen through the holiday period. In Ferndale, the hospital staff faced a difficult choice when Steve, Gina, Hone and Marj all held New Year's Eve parties - and competed for guests. They were all disappointed when Alex McKenna invited everyone to celebrate at the local bar, Kennedy's. Sam and TP had just married.
The very first Shortland Street Christmas cliff-hangers took place at the end of 1994. Jenny was shocked to discover she was pregnant. Hone Ropata defended himself against Ant, a dodgy (and violent) associate of Hone's nephew Manny. Ant went down - and never got up.
In the New Year, Hone faced a manslaughter charge. Michael McKenna announced he was taking a break from being hospital boss. And the grand finale was Stuart Neilson's shocking interruption of Lionel and Kirsty's (until that point) fairytale wedding. Nasty Darryl Neilson had put Stuart up to the job. Lionel and Kirsty reconciled in the New Year and were married on board the Toroa.
This year had no Christmas cliff-hangers with the show once again screening throughout the holiday period. In the last week of 1995 a truck crashed into the hospital. Carmen was struck on the head, but seemed fine at first.
On Christmas day Guy proposed to Carmen, minutes before she collapsed and died leaving him and baby Tuesday alone.
In the very last episode of 1995; Johnny kissed Ramona (Nick's girlfriend) behind Ellen's back; Ellen prepared to give Ted (the truck driver who caused the accident) his medicine, not knowing that her sister Carla had replaced Ted's drugs with a fatal dose of potassium; and as she recovered from amnesia caused by the truck accident, Kirsty told a stricken Lionel she could remember everything except having been in love with him - their marriage was over!
Another cliff-hanger proper. Rangi and Rachel broke up for good and wheelchair-bound Rangi found himself in a tight corner when he was trapped in the garage by a drunk Rachel - who then passed out leaving the car running.
Nick discovered the truth about the garbage company he worked for and found himself in danger. In Fiji Ellen told David she was pregnant. And Lionel and Kirsty decided to give their marriage another go. The year ended on their kiss.
The tradition of Christmas cliff-hangers was now firmly in place and the last episode of 1997 set the standard for the end-of-year epic that Shortland Street viewers have come to expect. Nick realised Jenny's husband Ian was not to be trusted - but no one believed him.
Donna and Rangi's passionate romance came to a sudden halt when they discovered they were half-brother and sister! Tiffany was rushed to hospital after a potentially fatal collapse.
Caroline was sentenced to life imprisonment for Annabel's 'murder'. And as Kirsty and Lionel rushed back to town to support Caroline, the small plane they were traveling in crashed!
The 1998 cliff-hanger revolved around the battle of rival villains Oscar Henry and MacKenzie Choat.
In the last episode of the show, Oscar's bad deeds began to catch up with him. Fergus attacked Oscar after learning he had raped Minnie and Rachel discovered Oscar had defrauded the hospital of a million dollars.
Lionel proposed to MacKenzie, unaware of her villainous activities. Oscar himself was nowhere to be found - until Minnie discovered him in Ellen and David's dining room, apparently dead.
Meanwhile, Ellen and Mike were looking for Minnie, hoping to find her on the harbour cruise they'd planned. The boat hit a reef and began to sink and when Mike and Ellen tried to jump to safety Ellen hit her head. Mike frantically tried to find her underwater...
Another mix of romance and heartache as Moira and Dean were finally reconciled and Alesha told Frank she was pregnant - to him!
Wave was shocked to learn that Minnie was accepting money for loveless sex. After a fight with lover Laura, Caroline turned to Greg for comfort. He soon became romantic and viewers were left wondering how Caroline would react. And Donna discovered that Rangi wasn't her brother after all.
As she tried to contact him with the good news, Rangi and policewoman girlfriend Janet were dealing with a road crash site. Janet was trapped under the truck when it crushed her legs. As Rangi promised to stick by her - forever - a second car crashed into the wreckage and everything went up in flames...
A cliff-hanger in every sense of the word, this year's finale saw nasty Eamon begging for his life as he hung off the side of a cliff. Would Kate Larsen (whom Eamon had raped) pull him up?
Fergus proposed to Waverley then called off the engagement when Wave wouldn't believe he wasn't using drugs. Later she realised her error and proposed to him - would he accept?
Sophia met a stranger who introduced himself as the new head of the hospital - Chris Warner had returned! Meanwhile Angela and Nick's son Lucas had just been born. As Angela held her son for the first time, Nick kept some terrible news to himself - Angela's cancer was spreading!
And Frank came under fire when he treated a murderer. Later viewers saw him in the carpark - lying in a pool of his own blood...
Another earth-shattering Christmas week started with an attempt on Chris Warner's life by mad Jack Hewitt, a disappointed suitor of Rachel McKenna. It failed, but Jack had another trick up his sleeve. He kidnapped Rachel and tried to stage a creepy mock wedding. Would Chris get to Rachel in time?
Meanwhile Nick declared his love for Waverley and asked her to come to the UK with him. Mihi walked in on her (then still married) mother Te Hana kissing Geoff Greenlaw!
And Barb's Christmas party turned to tragedy when Marshall's illegal drug lab (in the garage) exploded!
One of the very best Christmas cliff-hanger weeks saw Toni finally dump Adam, Waverley be diagnosed with breast cancer and Shannon announce that she was pregnant - to Tama.
Rachel and Chris's relationship was on the rocks and as her alcoholism took control she moved into bartender Zac's place, and nearly drowned in his pool.
Chris called it quits and decided to pursue his feelings for Donna. As they celebrated, Rachel was on her way over. Trying to talk to Chris on her mobile while driving drunk she had a serious car accident!
Back at the hospital prisoner Kurt Matakuare (Victor's nemesis) had been brought in for treatment. When everyone else was at the staff Christmas party he overpowered his guard and headed for Victor's office. When Adam tried to stop him, Kurt stabbed Adam with a scalpel leaving him bleeding in the deserted corridor too weak to cry out.
As 2003 drew to a close the question on everyone's lips was 'Who killed Geoff Greenlaw?' and as Geoff's sister Delphi prepared to leave Ferndale for Sydney in the company of Dominic Warner, she was horrified to uncover new evidence suggesting Dom was the murderer!
Chris Warner's world crumbled around him when his girlfriend Donna discovered he'd been unfaithful, and he was arrested on trumped up charges of sexual molestation, both thanks to Dominic.
The on-again, off-again romance between Toni Thompson and Logan King was all on when Logan announced he'd left his wife for Toni.
At the Christmas party, Vinnie kissed Jesse and Waverley fainted for the best possible reason - she was pregnant! And across town at a charity function, Anne and Tama were trapped when the building collapsed around them.
Called to the scene, ambo officer Nelson Copeland tried frantically to get Anne out before the building was completely destroyed...
This year Shortland Street ran right up to Christmas and the year's final episode was a celebratory one-hour special that screened on Christmas Day.
The centerpiece was Tama and Shannon's romantic beach wedding, attended by old favourites Victor, Donna and Mihi. Across town, the hospital social club was performing A Christmas Carol charity and back at the Emergency Department, Sarah and Andrew were coping with the demands of the festive season.
The year ended with a combined wedding reception and A Christmas Carol wrap party at Coltrane, the romantic reunion of Barb and Sticky and the start of Sarah and Andrew's ill-fated relationship.
The final episode of 2005 saw Craig, Sarah, Judy and Maia form a band to entertain their colleagues at the hospital Christmas party it was all to raise money for a good cause, and even though Sarah was dating Hamish and Craig was with Huia, their chemistry was clear as they sang the Dance Exponents hit 'Why Does Love Do This To Me?'
The staff of Shortland Street headed to the beach for the end of year Christmas party. Tania Jeffries (Faye Smythe) continues to struggle with issues of self-doubt as well as her mistrust of Mark Weston (Tim Foley) and Baxter Cormack (Tom Hern) gets in a little bit over his head when he accepts LSD from an already high Alice Piper (Toni Potter).
A friendly volleyball game turns personal when tensions between Craig Valentine (Renato Bartolomei) and TK Samuels (Benjamin Mitchell) over Sarah Pott's (Amanda Billing) indecisiveness can no longer be contained. This was the night that Sarah makes her decision after months of conflict about who she really wanted.
2007 was perhaps one of the biggest Christmas Cliffhangers that Shortland Street viewers have ever seen in the show's 15 year history.
After six months of murder and mayhem, the Ferndale Serial Killer was finally revealed as likeable nurse Joey Henderson. Viewers were left to wonder if Tania Jeffries would be going the same way as Claire, Meg, Jay, Beth and Brenda as Joey cornered Tania and prepared to strangle her with an IV line.
Meanwhile, Chris finally tracked down his wife Toni who, along with their son Harry and Chris' brother Guy and his daughter Tuesday had disappeared several months before after Toni caught Chris in bed with old flame, Rachel McKenna.
However, as Chris prepared to take everybody back to town, drug-addicted Guy panicked and bolted with Toni and the kids in Chris' car.
Intent on escaping Chris once again, Guy's driving was erratic and far too fast. Swerving to avoid a truck, his escape attempt ended with Chris' twisted and mangled car lying on the side of the road and Chris uncertain as to whether any of his family had survived...
Since his arrival as Shortland Street's new Head of Surgery, Doctor Ethan Pierce had made few friends and collected many enemies.
2008's final week saw the escalation of Ethan's dastardly deeds as his connection with dodgy medical supplies company Nessus-Bio was revealed. Ethan was its owner (and predominant shareholder) and had been creaming money off hospitals world-wide, while supplying them with infected and diseased body parts.
When an unseen gunman confronted Ethan in his apartment as he hurriedly packed his bags to leave town, 2008's final moments saw Ethan shot three times and fallen, bleeding on the ground.
Meanwhile popular nurse Tania Jeffries and gang member boyfriend Kingi TeWake were abducted by Kane, the ruthless leader of the Whitetails gang, and spirited away to face an unknown fate.
In 2009, audiences watched in horror as bar owner Kieran Mitchell framed a drunken Rachel McKenna for murder after he accidentally struck and killed Morgan Braithwaite with Rachel's car.
Meanwhile, his girlfriend Sophie slept peacefully at the IV whilst Kieran's misguided brother, Sid attempted to set fire to the building.
A fiery 2010 cliffhanger saw several lives in danger with Rachel McKenna, Chris Warner, Callum McKay and Evan Cooper trapped in a burning apartment building.
Evan Cooper accidentally started a fire at the apartment building after running away from home.
Rachel was visiting Callum at his apartment to break the news that she had chosen her true love Chris over him. As the fire spread, a broken hearted Callum still risked his life to protect Rachel and Chris as an LPG tank exploded in front of them.
Meanwhile, post traumatic stress disorder caused James "Scotty" Scott to believe his fiancée Tracey Morrison had been replaced with a imposter. An angry and confused Scotty attacked Tracey, strangling her...
The end of 2011 saw both Daniel Potts and nurse Jill Kingsbury critically injured after they intervened in a robbery committed by Hunter McKay.
Fuelled by his methamphetamine addiction, Hunter agreed to rob a pharmacy with his druggie mate Bailey in order to score ingredients for drugs.
Convinced Hunter has a drug problem, Jill and Daniel piece together his recent thefts and the pair tracked Hunter down to the pharmacy with a stolen cellphone.
Meanwhile, despite his promises to girlfriend Rachel McKenna,
Chris Warner gives into temptation after a Christmas party at
Callum's place and sleeps with his ex-girlfriend Gabrielle
Daniel heads inside in pursuit of Hunter. Hunter's surprised by his arrival, but Bailey dealt with the problem by knocking Daniel unconscious.
Shocked, Hunter hurried to aid Daniel as Jill enters the pharmacy. They try to call for an ambulance, but Bailey refuses and makes his getaway as a security guard arrives.
Frightened, the security guard reacts when Hunter tries to
follow Bailey, slashing at him with a knife. Jill gets in the way,
and Hunter is horrified when she's stabbed.
Distraught, Hunter waits for help to arrive as he cradles a bleeding Jill in his arms...
What will happen in 2012? Stay tuned!
Celebrating 20 years of Shortland Street
How do you want your news
Choose the news you want when you want it, all in one personalised daily e-mail.
TVNZ is available on mobile phones: Text TVNZ to 8869.
See when TVNZ have added new content. You can get the latest headlines anywhere.
Enjoy TVNZ on the move - a wide range of programmes and highlights are available.