The legendary Philip Alpers

Bring It Back: Heroes with Philip Alpers

Bringing back an awesome show from 20 or 30 years ago may seem like the answer to all our modern TV problems, but is it really? We begin by exploring the case for bringing back Heroes with Philip Alpers.

The 1990s was a boom decade for New Zealand actors specialising in dramatic reenactments of real life events. Shows like Crimewatch could be relied upon to consistently provide roles as everything from ‘Eyewitness’ to ‘Armed Intruder’. But there was one show that stood out as the pinnacle of reenactment acting in New Zealand: Heroes, hosted by Philip Alpers.

Heroes’ concept was simple. It celebrated acts of everyday bravery by members of the public while at the same time serving as a terrifying cautionary tale of What Not To Do. This was achieved through a combination of interviews with the real-life heroes and dramatic reenactments of their heroic acts, all tied together by Alpers’ expert narration.

The show first aired in 1992, and online information about it is scarce. One of the only pieces of solid evidence it ever existed is a 12-minute segment uploaded to YouTube by user ‘kiwinaussie’ in 2012 (“The only reason I have this one is that I was in it,” they reveal in the comments). To date it has been viewed fewer than 1000 times.

This story, about a bloke who got buried in a mudslide while scavenging at the tip with his mate, is Heroes at its suspenseful best. Listen that clock-ticking sound effect in the seconds leading up to disaster, and let Alpers grave intonation send a chill down your spine the moment it all goes wrong: “Almost without a sound the face of the tip had slipped away – the hill collapsed, his mate simply disappeared.”

The rescue attempt is tense, ambitious filmmaking. From the title sequence to the end credits, Alpers’ pieces to camera and his flawless wardrobe (topped off with a bespoke Heroes hat), this was obviously a quality production.

Still from the amazing Heroes title sequence

Bringing it back

Heroes clearly deserves to be brought back. And, after decades of obsolescence, the dramatic reenactment does seem overdue for a TV revival. Last year’s True Story with Hamish and Andy used the device to comic effect, but real-life horror is where it truly shines.

Little needs to be changed from the original format. Inspiring examples of everyday heroism remain in abundant supply; presumably so too are New Zealand actors willing to reenact it. The main obstacle to bringing back Heroes may be in finding a suitable host, someone with enough gravitas to fill the vital role vacated by Alpers.

A return to New Zealand TV screens at this stage seems unlikely for the former Fair Go presenter, now an international gun policy expert who works as an associate professor at the University of Sydney. It is vital that any future Heroes reboot finds someone with a similarly authoritative voice and screen presence – Mike McRoberts would probably be a safe pair of hands, or someone like Miriama Kamo. Whoever it is must be a presenter viewers know and trust.

Heroically good title graphics

The case

For: A solid, proven vehicle for reintroducing dramatic reenactments to New Zealand television. Would re-employ actors and film creatives left behind by the unscripted / reality boom. Inspire and terrify a whole new generation of viewers while alerting them to the dangers of things like scavenging at the tip during a torrential downpour.

Against: Dramatic reenactments may never make a successful TV comeback – just look at the last series of Sensing Murder. Philip Alpers was the best thing about the original Heroes and any other host would produce a pale imitation at best. Some reenactments may now be be considered ‘too scary’ for soft modern audiences.

Recommendation: Bring it back for a 6-10 episode run with McRoberts at the helm; simultaneously release the archives so Alpers can finally receive the recognition he deserves.

What other New Zealand TV shows from 20 or 30 years ago do you think deserve to be brought back? Send your suggestions to info@thespinoff.co.nz with the subject line ‘Bring it back’ and we’ll try to convince the network bigwigs to do something about it.


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