Thursday, July 14, 2016

From Print to Small Screen: Terry Teo

This week sees the release of the new Terry Teo TV series on TVNZ Ondemand, a modern interpretation of the classic NZ graphic novel Terry Teo and the Gunrunners by Bob Kerr & Stephen Ballantyne, and the fondly remembered 1980s TV series starring Adrian Bell, Billy T James and Sir Robert Muldoon.

With his skateboarding skills and crime-solving street smarts, Terry become an unlikely kiwi icon - joining Footrot Flats as one of our best known local comic book characters. When Housebound filmmaker Gerard Johnstone was looking for his next project, the idea of rebooting Terry Teo was an appealing opportunity. "Which has never really been done before with a local property," explains Johnstone. "He's the only character we've got that I can think of that was a comic and had broad recognition with the public. In New Zealand the only chance we may get to make our own version of a Batman or Spider-Man, is probably Terry Teo."

The new TV series updates the material for a modern audience, recasting Terry as a petty criminal and gang prospect, who turns his life around when he learns that his policeman father has been killed in action. This leads Terry to investigate his father's murder and take on Auckland's criminal underworld - beginning with crime boss, Ray Vagas.

In maintaining the balance of action and humour that made the source material so appealing, the creators of the new show drew criticism from broadcaster TVNZ, who expressed concern when episodes of the show were classified PG instead of the preferred family friendly G rating. 

Johnstone and producer Luke Sharpe were quick to defend their take on the comic book character. "We've got shootouts, car chases, kung-fu fights, it's very full on", Johnstone explained. "And you don't want to talk down to kids. My favourite shows from when I was a kid were The A-Team and MacGyver, which weren't made for children. So the idea was to do something that had that same kind of appeal. I really don't think of this as a kids' show - it should have something for everyone".

The graphic novel's co-author and artist Bob Kerr appreciated that certain changes would be made in bringing the character up to date for the small screen, "it's darker and sharper. Terry's now 17 and he drives a car and he's got a cellphone. It's a hang of a lot of fun but it's a wildly different world to the romantic era we depicted".

Looking back on Terry's legacy, Kerr reflects, "we weren't thinking about any of this when we started. We were probably a bit naive. We just wanted to create a story featuring some local kids having a ripping adventure with heaps of laughs along the way, and somehow that connected with readers. Steve [Ballantyne] and I are delighted that Terry has been remembered and that 30 odd years later he is having another outing both in print and on the telly".

Terry Teo and the Gunrunners by Bob Kerr & Stephen Ballantyne is available now from bookstores and online at 

Terry Teo is now streaming on TVNZ Ondemand.
Picture credit: Left: Terry Teo as played by Kahn West. Right: Terry as illustrated by Bob Kerr. Image copyright Semi-Professional Pictures/Bob Kerr

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