Griff Rhys Jones

Essential Media Group (EMG) has launched a production base in New Zealand which has landed its first commission: a factual series fronted by Welsh comedian and TV travel presenter Griff Rhys Jones.

Essential Media Group NZ, a co-venture with Wellington-based Libertine Pictures, will produce Griff’s Kiwi Adventures for Kiwi broadcaster Prime.

The four-part series will follow Rhys Jones as he meets the locals, tries to understand what it means to be a New Zealander today and witnesses the impact and relevance of the country’s Maori heritage.

The journey will start in the Bay of Islands at the top of the North Island and wind up in Fiordland at the base of the South Island. The production qualifies for the NZ Screen Production Grant, an incentive that is worth up to 40 per cent of the local spend.

Filming will start next month after Rhys Jones finishes Griff Off the Rails: Down Under (6 x 60’), in which he explores the Australian continent through its iconic railways, for the ABC. EMG parent Kew Media Sales will handle international sales for both series.

Essential recently co-produced with NZ’s Frame Up Films the history series Uncharted with Sam Neill for Foxtel and Prime and the feature documentary Why Anzac with Sam Neill for the ABC and Maori Television.

CEO Chris Hilton and Brendan Dahill, EMG manager for Australia/New Zealand, started looking for a Kiwi partner after getting the Prime commission for Griff’s Kiwi Adventures.

“Licence fees in New Zealand are lower than they are here but NZ broadcasters are keen for content,” Hilton tells IF. “By finding co-financing it is worth having a foothold in that market. The joint venture is developing dramas, comedies and factual series, some of which could be Australian-NZ co-productions.”

Richard Fletcher, Libertine Pictures’ MD, said: “Libertine Pictures is delighted to be joining forces with Essential Media to share expertise and build a new and exciting New Zealand production company. It is fitting to kick off the new venture with such an entertaining and distinctive take on New Zealand.”

Founded in 2013 by Fletcher and writer/creative director Neil Cross (Luther, Spooks), Libertine’s credits include the movies Daffodils, Vai, Yellow is Forbidden and Into the Rainbow and the Nat Geo wildlife series Wild Survivor.

Dahill added: “Essential Media has enjoyed a long and successful track record of producing top quality shows for the New Zealand market – and this has provided us with a platform to formalise our commitment to production in New Zealand.

“We are thrilled to be building on our relationship with Griff Rhys Jones to create two very distinctive series that will offer viewers around the world an entertaining outsider’s perspective on life Down Under.”

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