After the cancellation of Gloss, Television New Zealand noticed the lack of New Zealand content on their channel and in 1990 set about creating a local equivalent of the Australian soap Neighbours. Greg McGee at South Pacific Pictures wanted to do a series about the new private clinics emerging under New Zealand's Labour government, and suggested the idea to scriptwriter Dean Parker, who declined due to a dislike of private medicine, so TV2 and South Pacific Pictures purchased a formula from Grundy Television, who get a royalty cheque for every broadcast. $10 million was given for an initial 230 episodes. Caterina De Nave was hired as the show's producer and subsequently travelled to Australia to work with Grundy Television to work out an idea for the five times a week soap. TV2 programmer Bettina Hollings suggested the setting of a hospital after reading an article detailing ideal locations of a drama, which included a hospital, a police station and a school. De Nave worked with several storyliners including Jason Daniel and they worked out an outline of the show.
De Nave noticed Neighbours and Home and Away had a generally straightforward Australian cast and wished for the cast of her show to be culturally diverse to reflect New Zealand. She also wanted the cast to have strong female characters to attract the necessary female audience. Daniel created the character of Kirsty while De Nave created Meredith and Ken Catran created Hone. The character of Stuart was originally planned to be gay but the plans made TVNZ nervous and were scrapped. De Nave also wished to counter-stereotype races and made Polynesian Sam Aleni a paramedic as there was only one paramedic of Polynesian descent throughout New Zealand. De Nave decided to make the setting that of a private hospital as it reflected New Zealand medicine at the time.
The working title was The Shortland Street Project after its planned filming location in a TVNZ-owned studio at 74 Shortland Street in Auckland Central. However, the studio was found to be too small for the required sets, and the production studio was moved to a warehouse in Browns Bay. After running through many name options, the original working-title was chosen and subsequently truncated to simply Shortland Street. The name subsequently is a homage to the Shortland Street studios, which were home to New Zealand's first regular television broadcast in 1960, and were home to TVNZ and its predecessors' Auckland operations until TVNZ moved to its new purpose-built television centre on Victoria Street West in 1990.
Shortland Street's first episode aired on 25 May 1992 to mixed reviews. Ratings were originally high after a successful marketing campaign but fell steadily throughout the year until 1993 when they rose dramatically. The show would have been cancelled in the first year if it was not for the fact TVNZ ordered a year's worth of episodes.
With high public interest in the show and a viewing figure of a constant 600,000, Shortland Street received more sets and the nursing uniform which was considered outdated was redone. In 2000 an Australian consultant drastically changed the show so that it would suit the 21st century tone of New Zealand. This included transitioning the hospital to a public hospital, bringing in low income families and writing off 14 characters. Michael Galvin and Angela Bloomfield were brought back as their characters Chris Warner and Rachel McKenna and the show received a new producer.
The show reached huge ratings in 2007 when a serial killer storyline was introduced, with five characters meeting their demise. Episode 4000 saw the return of series original Dr. Hone Ropata for a six-week stint in 2008.
Shortland Street aired its first ever 90 minute episode on 2 August 2010. The episode featured Chris discovering he had a son with series original Alison Raynor in 1996, and the conclusion to the three-year Kieran Mitchell storyline which saw the shows second highest ever ratings. Shortland Street has since made the 90-minute episode an annual feature. On 18 April 2011, Shortland Street screened its first episode in high definition.
In July 2011, Shortland Street achieved a New Zealand first when it made its 2011 feature-length episode available to purchase via Facebook, becoming the second ever TV show in the world to use this technology. In August 2011 All Blacks Keven Mealamu, Anthony Boric and Jerome Kaino filmed a scene that aired on the opening night of the 2011 Rugby World Cup on 9 September. The show added short transition scenes in which two characters in the hospital elevator discussed the wins or losses (the latter never actually happening) the All Blacks endured during the tournament.
On the 15th December 2016, Shortland Street released a charity single featuring Lionel Wellington & JJ Fong to raise money for Starship Children's Health hospital.
Shortland Street stars an ensemble cast. Most of the characters either work at Shortland Street Hospital, or are relations to employees of the hospital.
Since 1992 many notable faces have appeared on the soap. Only one character remains from the original cast: Chris Warner Though taking a 4-year break, Chris has featured in the show the longest of the current cast, outstaying all of his family, who either died or left. Rachel McKenna, another long-standing character as of 2014, first appeared in the soap in 1993 and has made regular appearances since. Nick Harrison, another long-running character, disappeared from the show in 2005.
Characters on the show attribute and portray several different demographics found in New Zealand. These range from the rich and well-off (such as Chris Warner) to the struggling and poor (Wendy Cooper). Other areas covered include different ethnicities, with Asian, Polynesian, Romanian people and even Zimbabwean characters appearing on the show. In the first year of the show, it was decided that CEO Michael McKenna's personal assistant, Jenny, should be a solo mother to help draw in that demographic, who statistically would be watching TV at 7 pm. The show has also had a long string of families, such as the Warners, McKennas, Harrisons, Crombies, Hudsons, Jeffries, Valentines, McKays, Coopers, Avia-Levis, and Hannahs, and various teenagers, helping young audiences and families relate to the show.
Several past cast-members have made a name for themselves on the international scene:Temuera Morrison (who portrayed Dr. Hone Ropata from 1992–1995 and who made a guest appearance in 2008) appeared in several Hollywood films and played Jango Fett in Star Wars as well as Jake Heke in Once Were Warriors.
Martin Henderson, who portrayed Stuart Neilson from 1992–1995, went on to star in The Ring and starred alongside James Franco in Flyboys and alongside Cate Blanchett in Little Fish
Robyn Malcolm, who portrayed Nurse Ellen Crozier who went on to star in many Australian television productions such as Upper Middle Bogan and The Code and has also appeared on American and British television with the programme Top of the Lake.
Karl Urban, who portrayed the recurring role of gay paramedic Jamie Forrest, went on to play Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in the 2009 Star Trek remake and played the title role of Judge Dredd in the 2012 movie Dredd
Marton Csokas, who played Leonard Rossi-Dodds from 1993 to 1994 and then again from late 1994 to 1995, went on to star in films such as The Bourne Supremacy (alongside the previously mentioned Karl Urban) and Alice in Wonderland
Kieren Hutchison, who played the recurring role of Jonathon McKenna from 1993–1996 and again in 2011, went on to star as Andy Hargrove on One Tree Hill, as Kerry Connelly on Wildfire and as Jake Preston on Monarch Cove (2006)
Kimberley Crossman, who played Sophie McKay from 2006– 2011, has also become famous both nationally in New Zealand and internationally with her work in America as a journalist, interviewing stars such as Selena Gomez, and featuring as Lauren Shiba/Red Samurai Ranger in Power Rangers Samurai (2012)
Danielle Cormack, who played Alison Raynor from 1992–1993, plays the lead role of Bea Smith in the critically acclaimed Wentworth Prison
Sally Martin, who plays HOD of Nursing Nicole Kruse-Miller, played the role of Tori Hanson/Blue Wind Ninja Ranger on Power Rangers Ninja Storm in 2003.
Shortland Street is produced by South Pacific Pictures, with assistance from FremantleMedia and Television New Zealand. In the first few years, the production was also assisted by New Zealand On Air.
Today, most of the filming for Shortland Street occurs at South Pacific Pictures Waitakere City studios, with Ferndale High School scenes being filmed at the nearby Waitakere College. The exterior shots of the Hospital are filmed on location at the Waitakere Studios at an existing section of a building dressed up to appear as the facade of a hospital entrance. Location scenes are filmed in Auckland, but other locations, including Fiji, Mt Ruapehu, Rotorua and Rarotonga have been used.
Originally, Shortland Street was filmed in North Shore City at South Pacific Pictures Browns Bay studios until their relocation to purpose built studios in Waitakere City in 2000. The original Ferndale High School was played by a North Shore college until the studio relocated. When cast members are hired their contracts are either 4 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 6 months or a year.
High definition production of Shortland Street started in early 2011, with the first HD episode broadcast on 18 April 2011 on the Freeview HD and Sky platforms.
The show has had a reputation for being raunchy and controversial with the very first episode of the show featuring a sex scene between resident "Dr. Love" Chris Warner and his aerobics instructor. Another early controversy was that of a lesbian kiss between Meredith Fleming and Annie Flynn with several complaints made to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) but it went no further. It was not until 2008 that the show received its first ever BSA warning, when it featured an oral sex scene in mid-2008 between sexually confused Gerald and a fellow man. A few months later, the show received a second warning for an episode in August 2008 depicting the brutal murder of Craig Valentine, who was beaten unconscious, then set alight in his car. Again, a few months later, the show received yet another warning about a scene in January 2009 where Tania Jeffries hit a gang leader in the head with a hammer.
Scenes aired in April 2010 sparked criticism when Leanne Miller and her daughter Nicole stated that the city of Tauranga was not "gay friendly".
The show caused controversy in August 2010 when the character of Sophie McKay was shown to be being stalked by her university lecturer who she had been dating. This upset the family of murdered girl Sophie Elliott who was killed by her university tutor, Clayton Weatherston, who she had been dating. The similarities upset the families with producer Steven Zanoski saying: "the storyline was a classic and not inspired by real events."
The shows production department received several complaints following the lesbian love storyline involving Maia Jeffries and Jennifer Mason.
A storyline aired in April 2011 which featured the Cooper Family try to go to the beach, but they get confronted by a group of Maori who demand money. This sparked criticism with some saying it was discrimination against Maori people. Maori adviser Ngamaru Raerino stated that viewers shouldn't have jumped to conclusions and should have let the storyline completely unfold which reveals the group of Maori are protesting against a corrupt camp owner who had been polluting the beach.
In September 2011, Shortland Street was identified as one of the main influences to people who self-harm, airing two storylines involving suicide attempts.
In Australia, it airs on Foxtel's Arena channel weekdays at 11.30 am. Episodes are six weeks behind New Zealand. Free-to-air digital channel 7TWO was airing episodes about three years behind however no longer airs episodes as of August 2015. Previous Australian broadcasters include: ABC1 2010–2011, UKTV 1997–2000, and SBS TV briefly between 1994–1995.
In Ireland, it airs on RTÉ One weekdays around 12:00 pm and repeated late night at around 03:00 am. Episodes are almost four years behind current New Zealand episodes. RTÉ has broadcast Shortland Street since 1996.
In Fiji, the show has been on air since 1994 screening weekdays on Fiji One usually around 8:30 pm weekdays. It is one of the most popular shows in Fiji.The show is screened on Cook Island Television at 8.00 pm weekdays. It is one of the most popular shows in the Cook Islands.
In the United Kingdom, the series was originally screened on various regions of the ITV network from 1993 to 2003. From 29 March 1993, Central Television were the first ITV region to screen the soap, beginning in an afternoon timeslot, 1520–1550. From April 1994 to 2000, it was shown in an early evening timeslot, at either 1710–1740 and, later at 1730–1800. Eventually the serial was moved to a lunchtime slot, 1300–1330 from 12 June 2000 and it remained here for over two years.
Meridian become the second region to start the series in mid 1993 around early afternoons until late 2002. Anglia start in April 1994 and followed central pattern, of the 17.10 slot, dropped the series around 2000.
From May 1994, Border, Granada started showing the series as a replacement for A Country Practice, broadcast in the afternoons, at the own piece, although did use the early-evening example. In January 1995, Tyne tees and Yorkshire started the series as a replacement for The Young Doctors. By 1999, Granada, Yorkshire Television and Tyne tees dropped the series entirely, opting for local programming instead, while Border switched the series to 17.10 slot by 2001 it was back in the afternoon slot until it dropped in the summer of 2003.
Grampian Television also started the series in 1994 but it was dropped in late 1998. Scottish Television have never shown Shortland Street. HTV started the series in August 1994, showing the series in the afternoons, at the own piece, including early-evening example for a short time. The series was dropped in early 2000 but reappeared in by May 2000.
From January 2003, the Carlton-owned ITV regions including Central Television, Westcountry, HTV and Carlton-London networked Shortland Street in an afternoon slot, 1430–1500, Monday to Wednesday, with a Thursday episode added a few months later. A special programme was aired (presented by Michael Galvin and Angela Bloomfield) introducing new viewers from Westcountry and Carlton-London to the show. However, Shortland Street failed to attract a significant audience in its new afternoon slot and it was axed completely by ITV and was last shown on 28 August 2003, finishing at episode 2367. Central had shown the serial consecutively for over 10 years.
Shortland Street returned to British screens on 23 August 2010, when Living began airing two episodes a day from the 2007 season with episodes 3736/3737 which originally aired in New Zealand on 21/22 May 2007 beginning on 23 August 2010 at 15.00–16.00 (and repeated at 10.00 the following morning). However four weeks into its run, the morning repeats were dropped by Living, and as of Monday 20 September moving from 15.00–16.00 and 12.00–13.00. As from Monday 27 September 2010, it was shown on Living Loves from 18.00–19.00 Monday to Friday with five repeat episodes shown on Saturday and Sunday mornings. After just over two months on-air, it was cancelled by Sky with the final episode shown on 29 October 2010.
In previous years South Pacific Pictures publicity has claimed the show was sold to the South African black homeland of Bophuthatswana, which journalists have used to demonstrate Shortland Street's interracial appeal.
A licensed version of the show started production in Ukraine in 2016 called "Central Hospital" (ЦЕНТРАЛЬНА ЛІКАРНЯ) with an initial run of 60 episodes.