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TVNZ works itself into a promotional lather for Shorty's big milestone

Avid fans might remember the debut of Shortland St back in 1992. Aside from delectable '90s fashion and haircuts, it featured a particularly naughty romantic rendezvous between Dr Chris Warner and a lycra-clad aerobics instructor played by Suzy Aitken, and also gave birth to that line now etched in the Kiwi psyche: “You’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata.” Early signs weren’t too promising, however, and ratings dropped after its launch. But that was two decades ago and as the show edges closer to its 20th anniversary, its popularity seems well assured, with the show consistently capturing over 600,000 viewers in the 5+ market, second only to One News. And with a big promotional push to celebrate the milestone, culminating in a special anniversary feature episode on Monday 21 May, TVNZ is hoping those ratings will soon be shooting upwards.

Since it began the country’s longest running soap opera has certainly managed to pack in the drama: more than 50 deaths (its ‘Ferndale Strangler’ storyline was a big ratings winner) matched by almost as many marriages (including a civil union in 2006), more affairs than Tiger Woods, and a kiss in 1994 between two female nurses. That kiss courted its fair share of controversy, including complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, though nothing became of them. That’s awhole lot of drama, but TV2's brand manager Chris Hooper says TVNZ wanted to avoid being “overly nostalgic” in its celebrations, instead opting to work on a campaign that “celebrates how great the show is, teases the massive anniversary week storylines [including a helicopter crash that used the wreckage from the accident at the Viaduct last year] and gives fans the chance to get closer to the show they love”.

Youtube VideoIf you watch TV, listen to commercial radio and read women’s magazines, chances are you’re more than familiar with some of the promotional efforts. Among them, a Winter Season promo that was first uploaded to the Shortland Street Facebook fan site. The promo received more than 800 likes and 130 shares, with fans speculating on what the season will bring. Hooper says the promo has been well received by fans, his favourite comment being a tweet from a fan that said “SHAKING AND CRYING.”

“We love making promos that get that kind of response from the fans,” says Hooper. “It’s extremely gratifying.”

Elsewhere in promo land, a 30 second TVC has been shot specifically for the feature episode this coming Monday, which kicks off an anniversary week of celebrations. Teasing out the drama that will unfold in the 90 minute episode, the promo features a rather long tracking shot through the hospital set, revealing parts of the set not seen before, to such an extent that Hooper says parts of the wall had to be invented.

Beyond the feature episode, anniversary week will also feature '20 Years of Good Times’, which looks at the "pratfalls, fails and stuff-ups from over the years" and continuing on that vibe, 'Naughty Shorty: 20 Years of Bloopers' will screen on television on the Friday night of anniversary week.

And in another bid to satiate the appetite of fans, TVNZ has teamed up with sponsor brand Magnum Infinity to create a series of behind the scenes film interviews with stars, which can be found on the TVNZ website (Unilver's Radox is also all over the website and its Dove brand is featured on the 30 second promo).

Elsewhere, current events show 20/20 has dedicated a special episode to the show and SPP publicity and ACP have also published a 100-page Shortland Street 20th birthday magazine, featuring more interviews, quizzes and posters of women and men in white unbuttoned shirts than you could shake a stethoscope at.

But aside from giving the fans plenty of fodder to watch and read, efforts have been put into including them in the celebrations. To that end, radio station Classic Hits is on the hunt for the biggest Shortland Street fan, the prize for which is a shopping spree in Sydney with two of the show’s stars.

Of course no birthday celebration is complete without a massive party and that's what's happening on anniversary day. Bringing together former and current cast members, as well as fans, the party will no doubt result in more than a few sore heads and behaviour so debauched it would be fit for a Shortland Street episode. U Live is running a competition where the winner gets to video blog at the party (and possibly try to capture some of that debauched behaviour on tape).

Sadly, nowhere in the promotional mix has there been any mention of Shortland Street’s first effort to go all Neighbours on us, churning out its own set of pop stars by way of singing trio the Katene Sisters. The trio made their Shorty debut in 1993 and featured nurse Carrie Burton (affectionately dubbed ‘Robo Nurse’), nurse Jaki Manu, and Annie Crummer, who played Manu’s cousin on the show. Originally featured in the show as part of a talent quest storyline, the trio went on to release a single, 'Keeping up the Love Thing', which made it to number three on the Kiwi charts. Bless.

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