• The cast of 'Shortland Street' (SBS)Source: SBS
Discover the key foamy ingredients that have made New Zealand's longest-running TV drama such a success.
Olek Novak

12 Jan 2021 - 1:11 PM  UPDATED 12 Jan 2021 - 2:49 PM

Whether it be a short fling with our forever shirtless and bikini-clad friends in Summer Bay, or a visit to the residents of our favourite Melbourne cul-de-sac, chances are that you’ve dipped a toe into a TV soapie at some stage.

Or perhaps you’ve been hooked by US & UK favourites like The Bold & The Beautiful, Days of Our Lives and Coronation Street?

Well, cue maximum sudsiness because in 2021 SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand audiences will now be able to treat themselves to the enduring antics of our friends from across the ditch in New Zealand’s Shortland Street.

Premiering in 1992, Shortland Street is the only prime time soap in New Zealand and the country’s current longest-running TV drama. The show celebrated its 7000th episode in 2020, which isn’t far off its Aussie equivalents - Neighbours has done about 8500 episodes and Home and Away about 7500.

Like any good soap, there are some key foamy ingredients that have ensured the series’ continued success. Here’s the 101 on everything you need to know before you get stuck into the new season of Shortland Street on SBS VICELAND.


Where is it set? 

Australia has Ramsay Street and Summer Bay, and New Zealand has Shortland Street Hospital. That’s right, Shortland Street is set around a public hospital within the fictitious Auckland suburb of Ferndale and follows the lives, loves and families of those who inhabit it. While the show has its fair share of scrubs, stethoscopes and scalpels, let’s not confuse this with ER. Think more if Dr Meredith Grey were to have a baby with Neighbours’ Dr Karl Kennedy and that baby happened to be a TV show.

Iconic characters

Speaking of TV doctors – meet Dr Chris Warner. Like most soaps, Shortland Street has a core cast of around 20 or so characters, but Dr Chris, or “Dr Love” as he is affectionately known by fans of the show, is a series stalwart and soapie icon. Think the New Zealand equivalent of Alf Stewart. Portrayed by Michael Galvin, Dr Chris is the only remaining original character of the series. He’s a cosmetic surgeon by trade, and the wealthy current CEO of Shortland Street Hospital. Viewers were introduced to his charms all the way back in 1992 when he was having an affair with his aerobics instructor. Since then, he’s been married five times, fathered several children, battled a morphine addiction, been arrested for indecent assault, been framed for murder, gone to prison, survived a grisly car crash, plane crash and several other near death experiences, and even had his character played by Alec Baldwin in a Jimmy Kimmel skit … but we’ll get to that.

Maverick doctors and memorable one-liners

All that said, it’s not just about ‘Dr Love’ at Shortland Street Hospital. The show has been home to many iconic doctors over the years, including Dr Hone Ropata, played by Temuera Morrison. Star Wars fans may recognise him as Boba Fett’s dad (and also every single Clone Trooper) from Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. We met Dr Ropata in the very first episode of Shortland Street when a pregnant woman was in need of urgent medical attention after an accident. The problem? There were no resident doctors around,  and ‘Dr Love’ just happened to be in the middle of his “intimate” aerobics lesson. Freshly arrived Dr Ropata decided he had no choice but to deliver the baby, much to the disagreement of Chief Nurse Carrie Burton who uttered the iconic line: “you’re not in Guatamala now, Dr Ropata!”. The line quickly entered New Zealand’s vernacular as a national catchphrase  and is still uttered by New Zealanders - fans and non-fans - to this day.

A catchy theme song

Iconic characters and memorable one-liners aside, a good soapie and a good theme song go hand in hand - you know they belong together… that’s when good soapies become good friends… right? Just like Neighbours and Home and Away, Shortland Street had its own iconic theme song, although exactly what the lyrics mean can be elusive. Maybe that’s why they don’t use it on-air anymore… either way, it’s a catchy tune.

Epic cliffhangers

They might have phased out the original theme, but one thing that hasn’t changed are the scandalous bombshells and plot-twists, which are up there with the juiciest served up by any soap. In fact, so iconic is the Shortland Street cliff-hanger that it’s become a bit of a Christmas tradition in New Zealand. The cliff-hangers aren’t just limited to Christmas, however: over the years the show has been jam-packed with the mandatory weddings, hospital sieges, plane crashes, abductions, serial killers (the Ferndale Strangler was a particularly iconic storyline – think the NZ equivalent to the Summer Bay stalker saga), and even the odd earthquake and volcanic eruption! Yes, that’s right, a movie length episode in 2017 saw Dr Chris’ 50th birthday party interrupted by shooting ash and toxic gas.


Volcanos aside, no Shortland Street cliff-hanger has received as much notoriety as this one. In 2017, Dr Chris confronted his son Harry about some pictures that had synced to his iPad. So unexpectedly entertaining, it was this cliff-hanger that put Ferndale on the map globally, going viral and sparking dubstep remixes, plus a re-enactment featuring Alec Baldwin on The Jimmy Kimmel Show in the US!  

2020 cliffhanger

[Spoiler alert: If you’re going to binge-watch the 40 most recent eps from last year, now streaming at SBS On Demand, you might want to skip the next bit.]

This all brings us to the recently aired 2020 cliff-hanger. Shorty fans were left reeling with several loose ends ahead of the Christmas break, including but not limited to: Dr Chris contemplating his own life following the death of his son Phoenix before taking a bullet in the chest for his other son Frank (Luke Patrick) after having been held hostage by vengeful ex-cop Brady Nash (Bede Skinner). Meanwhile, Dr Boyd Rolleston (Sam Bunkall) also had issues after waking up to find his ex-partner Eve (Holly Bates) had driven off with his twins. There was some momentary Christmas cheer with Shortland Street Hospital receptionist Leanne (Jennifer Ludlam) hosting a Christmas dinner only to tell Rosalyn (Theresa Healey) how she felt about her. This sparked a kiss between the two which Leanne’s current partner Graham (Nigel Godfrey) walked in on before having a heart attack and dying! If that wasn’t enough, all this commotion was too much for a very drunk Desdemona (Dr Chris’ EA, played by Kura Forrester) who got in her car and drove off from the Christmas shenanigans in no state to drive. Could Desdemona and Chris join the fate of Graham?! 


And there you have it. You are now up to speed with the lives and loves of Shortland Street Hospital in Ferndale. Happy viewing and bring on the fresh season of medical mayhem!

Shortland Street episodes premiere weeknights on SBS VICELAND at 5:45pm, fast-tracked from New Zealand. Episodes are available to stream at SBS On Demand after broadcast. Or bring yourself up to date before you start the current season, with the previous 40 episodes also streaming now at SBS On Demand. Start here:

More to watch
The juiciest cliff-hangers of all time on ‘Shortland Street’
Volcanic eruptions, plane crashes, pregnancies... the much-loved New Zealand drama has had it all over the 7000-plus episodes so far.
Meet the women fighting on all fronts in 'World on Fire'
It’s the women of 'World on Fire' that make it more than your typical war story.
Sydney Festival director Wesley Enoch talks us through his 'Australian Made' collection at SBS On Demand
Wesley Enoch speaks to themes that underpin his hand-picked collection of programs exploring Australian culture.
New Danish crime drama ‘The Investigation’ celebrates ‘the unsung heroes’
Writer/director Tobias Lindholm and stars Søren Malling and Pilou Asbæk reveal the complexities of creating a drama series based on a recent real-life murder, and shifting the focus away from the killer.
'Reunions' is the tropical escape you’ve been looking for
Can’t get away over summer? The hotel in 'Reunions' is all the escape you’ll need.
Here’s what’s leaving SBS On Demand in January 2021
There is something for everyone in our TV programs and films leaving in January. Check out the list for your last-chance watch.
TV marathon time! 11 complete series to stream now at SBS On Demand
Holiday time = TV marathon time. Here is a selection of crime, comedy, drama and sci-fi series with every episode streaming at SBS On Demand now.
Top new series in January + two special TV and film collections
2021 brings binge-worthy new shows from around the world, an Australian Made collection, and a celebration of 30 years of Flickerfest short films. January can't get here quick enough.