Image: Arch Banal
Image: Arch Banal

TelevisionMay 27, 2022

All 30 years of Shortland Street, ranked

Image: Arch Banal
Image: Arch Banal

We looked back over three decades of heartbreak, cliffhangers and carnage to bring you this: the definitive ranking of every year on Shortland Street. 

To celebrate Shortland Street’s 30th birthday, we are dedicating a whole week to the good (and not-so-good) people of Ferndale. Check out more Street Week content here.

A lot has changed in Aotearoa over the last 30 years. We’ve welcomed a new millennium, adapted to the wonders of the world wide web, and stopped and started wearing leggings at least three times. But one thing that has always been there through it all is Shortland Street. Our most enduring soap opera has created space for important conversations about abortion, drug reform, trans rights and vaccinations, always ensuring to mix weighty and complex social issues together with soapy scandal for half an hour a day, five day a week, for 30 years. 

But when did Ferndale fly the highest? Who can claim to have scaled the summit of peak Shortland Street? We looked back across the decades to bring you this ranking of every single year on the show (based on a combination of our memories and Wikipedia), from worst to best.

The cast at the turn of the millennium

30) 2000: Shortland Street goes public

The new millennium saw the hospital suffer from liquefaction, but it wasn’t the only thing that was sinking. 2000 was a rebuilding year for Shortland Street as a massive rejig saw 14 characters written out as the hospital shifted to a public ownership model, with Dr Love saving the day by sauntering back into the CEO chair. All that hospital bureaucracy made it a bit of a dud year, but one which ultimately helped pave the way for the show’s golden era. / Tara Ward

29) 2019: Big gang energy 

The Warner empire spread into the next generation, with Chris becoming a grandfather for the first time. The Topp Twins sang at Dawn and Ali’s wedding, but Harper got cancer, Ali died, and Esther had a heart attack after a gang threw her new husband Kawe off a balcony. Sad, but that’s the circle of life, Ferndale style. / TW

28) 1992: We’re not in Guatemala now 

Shorty’s first year was filled with serious topics like suicide and teen pregnancy, plus a golden-haired doctor who enjoyed some lunchtime rumpy pumpy with an aerobics instructor. It took a while to find its feet, and some said it wouldn’t last. Thank goodness it did. / TW

27) 2020: Ferndale becomes a Location of Interest

Covid-19 was the plot twist nobody saw coming, and it caused Shorty to temporarily cut down to three episodes a week. While Maeve and Nicole celebrated the show’s first gay wedding, the soap bought back Theresa Healey – who played the irreplaceable Carmen Roberts in the mid-90s – as a brand new character. Guy and Tuesday must be spewing. / TW

Please tell me that is not your cockpit

26) 2018: Chris Warner crash-lands a plane

A dramatic year in Ferndale saw Chris Warner crash-land a plane, Dawn join a cult and Nicole, Zoe and Kate discover they were all half-sisters. The most tragic moment of all was Mo’s death in the plane crash, especially when he’d already survived the great Shortland Street bouncy-castle double bounce of 2016. RIP, you bendy hero. / TW

25) 2014: Sarah Potts’ candle burns out long before her legend ever will

Did you know you can still leave an emotional tribute for Sarah Potts on the Shortland Street Facebook page? The death of Dr Sarah Potts sent a shockwave through the country and led to bleak headlines including “Popular character dies and “Soap gets in our eyes. If that wasn’t enough of a bummer for 2014, old Ed Sheeran then had to strum his way onto the Street, beginning his controversial side-hustle of bowling into TV shows unannounced. / Alex Casey

A family affair in 1997

24) 1997: Donna and Rangi incest storyline 

Shorty’s fifth year gave us memorable moments like David and Ellen’s wedding and nurse Caroline assisting her terminally ill friend Annabelle to die. But nothing topped ambulance officers Donna and Rangi starting a passionate affair, only to discover they were half-siblings. Awkward. / TW 

23) 2021: Return of Evil Carla

Shortland Street’s first murderer returned to Ferndale to cause more chaos, burning the Warner mansion down and holding nurses hostage. Miss you, you glorious piece of work. / TW

Morgan had such a busy year she missed the cast photo

22) 2009: It’s Morgan’s world and we’re all just watching it

Really big year for Morgan Braithwaite, who spent 2009 giving birth to triplets, then getting married to Gerald, then welcoming her half-sister Nicole to Ferndale, then unfortunately getting killed in a hit-and-run after the staff Christmas party. Also Shanti died of dengue fever (boo) and Harry Warner went to Venice and came back with a new face (haven’t we all?). / AC

21) 2012: The Boyd Rolleston era begins 

This explosive year on Shortland Street featured a helicopter crashing into the hospital car park, the arrival of Dr Boyd Rolleston, and Bella and Luke’s wedding that ended with a drugged TK driving into Wendy and Murray. Happy 20th birthday, Shortland Street. / TW

Why does Shorty do this to us?

20) 2005: An exodus of legends

Two simply gorgeous Ferndale couples left our screens in 2005, which means it was a Bad Year. The first were Nick and Waverley, who packed up for Taranaki, never to be seen again (until the 25th anniversary episode in 2017). Sticky and Barb followed suit after declaring their love for each other, moving to Invercargill to start their own GP clinic. Sarah and Craig topped off the year of heartbreak by singing ‘Why Does Love Do This To Me?’ at the Christmas party. Why, indeed. / AC

19) 2011: HD = high on drugs

Shortland Street entered HD in 2011, right in time for Hunter McKay’s crystal meth habit to be drawn into sharp focus. The Jeffries family departed Ferndale, signalling the beginning of the end of the show’s golden era, and the All Blacks dropped by to film some weird scenes that aired during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Remember that? Trotie. / AC

18) 1993: Who is Carrie Burton’s baby daddy? 

Shortland Street’s first wedding saw Gina and Leonard get hitched in style, but otherwise everyone wanted to know who donated the sperm for Robo Nurse Carrie’s triplets. Marj’s husband Tom went to the dairy for milk and never came back, so it definitely wasn’t him. / TW

Our royal couple

17) 2002: Nick and Wave tie the knot

The epic will-they won’t-they saga of Nick and Waverley finally ended with the pair saying “I do” in 02, but not without plenty of drama as Waverley’s ex Fergus returned to Ferndale and kidnapped her before the wedding. Really big year for kidnappings actually, with newborn Harry Warner also kidnapped by an unstable Donna. Please tell me that is not your baby? / CH

16) 2016: See you next Tuesday

This epic year saw Rachel McKenna depart, the Warner sperm donor triplets arrive and the introduction of Blue, Shorty’s first transgender character. But nothing – not even Mo breaking his leg on a bouncy castle – will top someone spelling the rudest of rude words with Nicole and Vinnie’s fridge magnets. / TW

A bloody rough lunchtime

15) 2015: Ferndale’s Red Wedding

Shortland Street ended 2015 with the Christmas cliffhanger to end all Christmas cliffhangers, a mass shooting in the hospital on Boyd and Harper’s wedding day. Also, this was the year Harry Warner let the bath run for so long that it crashed through the ceiling and munted the Warner mansion forever. What a little shit. / TW

14) 2006: Love triangles everywhere

The Craig/Sarah/Te Huia love triangle dominated this year’s drama, until a pregnant Te Huia was killed in a car bomb. We also witnessed the show’s first civil union between Maia and Jay, and a tense Christmas cliffhanger that saw Sarah choose between TK or Craig based solely on their beach volleyball skills. / TW

1998 feeling great

13) 1998: A truly shocking year

Tears flowed as Ellen and David’s baby daughter Rose died from SIDS and pregnant Tiffany’s life support was turned off after she fell off a building. While villain Oscar Henry wreaked havoc, the most alarming event was Rachel falling in love with Nick after she was struck by lightning. Remember when Nick got caught photocopying his arse in the nurse’s station? Chris Warner could never. / TW

12) 2001: An explosive comeback

Heaps of new characters arrived in Ferndale in 2001, including future Shortland Street icons Tama and Shannon, Toni Warner (née Thompson) and the absolute pest Marshall Heywood. Marshall’s clandestine meth lab blew up leaving his mum Barb temporarily blind, while “mad” Jack Hewitt kidnapped Rachel McKenna and tried to force her to marry him in a forest. / CH

Short hair? We do care.

11) 1999: Nick gets a haircut

Big year. Huge year. Donna and Rangi discovered they weren’t related and could start shagging again. Lionel was washed out to sea and was presumed dead. Mackenzie Choat murdered Oscar Henry and Michael McKenna carked it, but most compelling of all was Nick calling off his wedding to Waverley after she cut his hair when he was asleep. We’ll never forget, Nick. / TW

10) 1994: Lionel and Kirsty’s wedding

A truly shocking year that saw Steve and TP die in a car accident and my boyfriend Stuart Neilson interrupt Kirsty and Lionel’s wedding with an unexpected declaration of love. Those car crash scenes still pack a punch today, but guess what caused that yellow Torana to slide off the road? Dr Love and his freaking sperm children. Warner must be stopped. Stuart, call me. / TW 

Rude? We’ll show you rude.

9) 2017: We are shown the rudest of rude

There was the life-threatening volcano in Ferndale in 2017, yes, but it was the eruption within the four walls of the Warner house that caused an even larger seismic event, one felt all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. As one beet red Chris Warner bellowed “please tell me that is not your penis” while shaking the family tablet in the direction of his humiliated son, we knew deep down that the world would never be the same again. And you know what? It hasn’t been. / AC

Ben and Yvonne, a love story for the ages

8) 2010: Ben and Yvonne sitting in a tree

It was a romance for the ages: her a hospital receptionist and loving grandma to Jay Jay, him a hard-working ambulance driver who was originally dating her daughter Tarns. Ben and Yvonne was Shortland Street’s greatest love of all, but sadly it wasn’t to last – Ben died of a brain bleed after getting in a scuffle. 2010 also saw the demise of IV manager and illegal dance party organiser Kieran Mitchell in a rare literal cliffhanger, and the demise of the Shortland Street netball team at the hands of crosstown rivals Central. / CH

RIP Joey Henderson

7) 2008: Death of the Ferndale Strangler 

We entered 2008 finally knowing the identity of the Ferndale Strangler, but it took until March for the suture-obsessed little creep to finally meet his fate on the roof of a Ferndale storage facility. Some sensational new storylines soon made us forget he ever existed, including the introduction of crooked pharma company Scott Spear, the Whitetails gang, Kieran putting on illegal raves, Sarah Potts getting MS, Chris Warner hooking up with Libby Jeffries and someone shooting dodgy bastard Ethan Pierce in the Christmas cliffhanger. / CH

An explosive end

6) 2004: Evil Dom’s downfall

Shortland Street’s golden era began with the arrival of the Valentine, Jeffries and Potts families in Ferndale in 2004. Nick and Waverley had a baby daughter, Tama and Shannon got married on Christmas Day, iconic villain Dom framed Victor Kahu for Geoff Greenlaw’s murder, sang ‘Pink Frost’ by The Chills in his sleep and tried to murder Chris Warner before dying in an explosion. Kaboom. / TW

5) 2013: Chris Warner falls off a flying fox, sings ‘Anchor Me’

A truly huge and shocking year: Chris Warner suffered brain damage after falling off a flying fox, Sarah Potts accidentally ran over baby Tilly in the driveway and sullen teenager Evan Cooper somehow managed to hook up with Kylie, the hospital’s hottest nurse. The year ended with Chris Warner performing a beautiful twilight rendition of ‘Anchor Me’ on a deck, blissfully unaware that an explosive device planted by English Josh was minutes away from blowing up and killing Roimata. / CH

We can’t believe it is Marj

4) 1996: Evil Carla and the Beehive, baby

Shorty marked its 1,000th episode with the show’s first-ever on-screen murder, when evil Nurse Carla used an earthquake as an opportunity to bludgeon her husband Bernie Leach to death with a candlestick.1996 also saw the departure of some key cast members – Guy Warner and his brother Chris – the latter of whom returned four years later to continue lighting up our lives as Dr Love – paramedic Sam Aleni and beloved receptionist Marj Neilson, who swapped Ferndale for the Beehive after she was elected as MP for Ferndale. This brought with it two iconic cameos from none other than future prime ministers Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark. / Alice Neville

This is not okay (we promise)

3) 2003: The rise of Evil Dom 

Of the many characters whose names have been prefixed with “Evil” over the years, Dom Thompson surely takes the cake. He rocked up to Ferndale at the start of 2003 and ruined bar owner Geoff Greenlaw’s life, first by having a deeply inappropriate affair with his 16-year-old daughter Delphi and then by smacking him over the head and leaving him to die in the chiller of his own bar, the Dog’s Day Inn. It wasn’t all bad news – iconic odd couple Barb and Sticky got together this year too. / CH

Return of the Mack

2) 1995: Truck v reception

The mid-90s were prestige years for Shortland Street, with 700,000 viewers tuning in for the show’s all-time-highest-rating episode on May 31, 1995. Evil Carla was the drawcard – she’d sprinkled weed on her sister Ellen Crozier’s pizza so she could steal her job, and was blackmailing Tiffany to boot. The most shocking moment came later in the year, however, when a bloody great truck ploughed into the hospital’s reception in an all-time great Christmas cliffhanger. While it appeared Nurse Carmen Roberts had escaped unscathed, a brutal follow-up episode on Christmas Day saw her collapse and die, leaving a devastated Guy Warner and little baby Tuesday all alone. Merry Christmas? More like Teary Christmas. / AN

It’s always the quiet ones.

1) 2007: The Ferndale Strangler

Receptionist Claire Solomon was the first to die, her body found wrapped in plastic in a skip outside the hospital in July, 2007. By the time the Ferndale Strangler’s identity was finally revealed in the Christmas cliffhanger the serial killer had claimed four more victims and just about every man in Ferndale (plus nurse Brenda) had been a suspect. Everybody had a theory – was it shady bar owner Kieran Mitchell, weirdo anaesthetist Luke Durville, suave shagger Mark Weston, party boy Kip Denton…? Or was it quiet, unassuming Joey Henderson? Turns out it is always the quiet ones. Weird to think the Ferndale Strangler era – aka peak Shortland Street – is now half the show’s lifetime ago. / CH

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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