Don’t leave me hanging: 30 years of Shortland Street Christmas cliffhangers

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23 May 2022

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Since its beginnings 30 years ago, Shortland Street has both shocked and thrilled audiences with unexpected cliffhangers at the end of each season.

Shortland Street’s Christmas cliffhangers have become a New Zealand television tradition. Designed to bring the audience back after the summer break, Christmas cliff-hanger weeks are carefully planned so several key storylines come to a climax in the last episode of the year. And the producers usually pull out a major, unexpected event – an explosion, a plane crash, a boat accident – for the big finale.

These days, Shortland Street is usually off-air for a small break over Christmas, but in the early years, it was often broadcast without a break.


There was no break in Shortland Street’s first year, but the events at the end of 1992 were Chris discovering that Alison was pregnant and the nurses going on strike. Chris and Alison had been engaged briefly earlier in the year, but he had recently broken off the engagement. It would take the estranged couple five months to get back together and plan their wedding.

Receptionist Marjorie Brasch weathered the drama like a champ and was a character beloved by many. IMAGE: SUPPLIED


This year had no Christmas cliffhangers, with the show once again screening throughout the holiday period. In the last week of 1995, a truck crashed into the hospital. Carmen was struck on the head, but seemed fine at first. On Christmas Day, Guy proposed to Carmen, minutes before she collapsed and died leaving him and baby Tuesday alone. In the very last episode of 1995, Johnny kissed Ramona (Nick’s girlfriend) behind Ellen’s back; Ellen prepared to give Ted (the truck driver who caused the accident) his medicine, not knowing her sister Carla had replaced Ted’s drugs with a fatal dose of potassium; and as she recovered from amnesia caused by the truck accident, Kirsty told a stricken Lionel she could remember everything except having been in love with him – their marriage was over!

Lovebirds Kirsty and Lionel were a fan favourite during the show’s early years. IMAGE: SUPPLIED


The tradition of Christmas cliffhangers was now firmly in place and the last episode of 1997 set the standard for the end-of-year epic that Shortland Street viewers have come to expect. Nick realised Jenny’s husband Ian was not to be trusted – but no one believed him. Donna and Rangi’s passionate romance came to a sudden halt after they discovered they were half-brother and sister! Tiffany was rushed to hospital after a potentially fatal collapse. Caroline was sentenced to life imprisonment for Annabel’s “murder”. And as Kirsty and Lionel rushed back to town to support Caroline, the small plane they were travelling in crashed.


Another earth-shattering Christmas week started with an attempt on Chris Warner’s life by mad Jack Hewitt, a disappointed suitor of Rachel McKenna. It failed, but Jack had another trick up his sleeve. He kidnapped Rachel and then tried to stage a creepy mock wedding. Would Chris get to Rachel in time? Meanwhile, Nick declared his love for Waverley and asked her to come to the UK with him. Mihi walked in on her (then still married) mother, Te Hana, kissing Geoff Greenlaw. And Barb’s Christmas party turned to tragedy after Marshall’s illegal drug lab, which was housed in the garage, exploded.

Rachel and Chris have been on again, off again from the start. IMAGE: SUPPLIED


This year gave us perhaps one of the biggest Christmas cliffhangers Shortland Street ever seen in the show’s then-15-year history. After six months of murder and mayhem, the Ferndale Serial Killer was finally revealed as likeable nurse Joey Henderson. Viewers were left to wonder if Tania Jeffries would be going the same way as Claire, Meg, Jay, Beth and Brenda after Joey cornered Tania and prepared to strangle her with an IV line. Meanwhile, Chris finally tracked down his wife, Toni, who, along with their son Harry and Chris’s brother Guy and his daughter Tuesday had disappeared several months before after Toni caught Chris in bed with old flame Rachel McKenna. However, as Chris prepared to take everybody back to town, drug-addicted Guy panicked and bolted with Toni and the kids in Chris’s car. Intent on escaping Chris once again, Guy’s driving was erratic and far too fast. Swerving to avoid a truck, his escape attempt ended with Chris’s mangled car lying on the side of the road and Chris uncertain as to whether any of his family had survived…

Joey Henderson, aka the Ferndale Strangler, had many fooled. IMAGE: SUPPLIED


In 2013, we saw the demise of attention-seeker Dr Josh Gallagher, who had developed a rare, but real condition known as Hero Complex. Thriving off the feeling of playing the hero, Josh had begun creating situations where he placed people’s lives in jeopardy in order to then save them and play the hero. Aware that he was becoming increasingly suspicious, Dr Harper Whitely and Josh’s ex-girlfriend, Roimata Ngatai, began rounding up proof against him, only for him to escape police custody. Heading to the Warner bach where the annual Shorty Christmas party was taking place, Josh rigged the LPG tanks to explode below the deck where everyone was celebrating. Meanwhile, Vasa finally lost control of her temper after catching abusive ex-husband Travis out on yet another lie and began to attack him. Shying away from the Christmas party, Vasa was shocked when she discovered her tyres have been slashed. But there was more shock to come when she learnt that Travis has been killed in a hit and run and she was now the prime suspect for his murder.

Roimata plays sleuth. IMAGE: SUPPLIED


In what has been labelled one of the most intense cliffhangers of all time, the 90-minute finale in 2015 left everyone reeling as an armed gunman held many of Ferndale’s most beloved characters hostage in a siege at the hospital cafeteria – which also happened to be the venue of a children’s Christmas party. The day bloomed rosy and full of promise as some staff prepared for Harper and Boyd’s grand wedding, while others organised the annual paediatrics ward’s Christmas party. But when Chris and Boyd headed back to the hospital to pick up the wedding rings, they walked into a horrific situation, discovering that volatile Gareth Hutchins had finally lost all control and was holding a group of terrified staff and patients at gunpoint. Grandpa Len Cooper had already been shot and now Gareth was demanding Bella’s baby, Stevie, as a ransom to get away. Harper and her bridesmaid, Rachel and Nicole rushed back to the hospital, but were powerless to do anything other than wait as the Armed Offenders Squad made plans to storm the building. In the closing moments of the episode, Mo and Vinnie made the brave decision to overpower Gareth and disarm him, and as shots rang out, the Armed Offenders Squad also moved in, but no one was to know who had survived the carnage within. But what also wasn’t known was that Gareth’s rampage started much earlier, when he shot Dr Drew McCaskill twice, leaving him for dead in his examination room. But Drew wasn’t dead, and something sinister was afoot. As he struggled to find a way out of the office, a mystery second gunman took the gun that had been left by Gareth and shot Drew for a third and final time. But who could it have been? Meanwhile, across town, blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding at the hospital, lovebirds Dayna and George made the most of an empty wedding venue and popular musical trio Sol3 Mio to say their impromptu vows to the dulcet tones of Ave Maria.


Shortland Street’s jaw-dropping 2017 cliffhanger saw the Warner family in crisis as Mason Coutts returned to seek revenge and take them all down. Sass found herself in a battle to the death and lost at sea with no help in sight, Chris found the body of Virginia at the bottom of his stairs, and Finn and Curtis were left battling to save the life of the one they both love after coming to the rescue of Esther, who was held hostage and had gone into cardiac arrest as a result of her heart condition.


Once again, Shortland Street’s annual cliffhanger proved that Ferndale is a dangerous place to be at Christmas. As Cece, Sophia, Dawn and Shereez set out on their girls-only hike, Shereez is left disgruntled when Dawn insists Jake join them on the tramp, but their happy romance is cut short when Jake gets shot at by an unseen shooter. After making a bolt for a nearby hut for shelter, they find themselves being held at gunpoint. Although Pete seems conflicted about killing the witnesses, Bronnie is adamant. Furious, Jake interjects, demanding he keep his hands off of her, but Bronnie returns over this and Cece fears they’ve only made things worse. Bronnie is ready to march Jake off a cliff at gunpoint, but Dawn rushes at Pete, smashing his bottle of spirits over his head, disarming him. Jake and Shereez rush Bronnie, who is also disarmed – but a vengeful Sophia shocks everyone by tossing a burning stick at the alcohol-soaked Pete, and he goes up in flames.

Sophia and Cece’s lives were in danger until Sophia lit Pete on fire. IMAGE: SUPPLIED

Having escaped in the ambulance to find Shereez, Tim realises this could be a trap, and changes course. Zara and Boyd try to persuade Tim to give up his plan to detonate the bomb. They are scared to learn there is more than one bomb. Zara urges Boyd to make a run for it, but Boyd lunges for the detonator. Tim knocks Boyd out, and Zara tries to cut herself loose. Boyd comes around and tries to help her, as Tim broadcasts his warped manifesto, then presses the detonator. The ambulance explodes, the fate of all three, and the second bomb at the hospital, are unknown…


It’s a flurry of activity on the morning of Tess and Tom’s wedding. Chris is concerned for Megan, who is disguising how ill she really feels. But she is determined to see her daughter married. Dawn is equally determined, but her bridesmaidzilla tendencies are run off the road when Dawn accidentally consumes some party drugs supplied by the best man, Ollie. He joins Dawn on their little “trip” as the wedding gets underway.

It’s a beautiful ceremony, with Marty overwhelmed by the romance, and Samira and Francesca sharing a secret kiss. During Tom’s big speech, Megan gets a threatening call from Tess’s stepfather, Richard, angry that he has lost his “girls”. But Megan tells nobody, determined not to let it ruin a beautiful night. But as Tom and Tess take the floor for their wedding dance, Richard bursts in with a gun, shooting Megan and Tess. Tom is left with his beautiful bride in his arms, as Tess’s life blood drains away…

Tess’s final moments – on what should have been the first day of her new life. IMAGE: SUPPLIED

Meanwhile, handcuffed to her bed after attacking the prison guard, Carla notices that Vincent seems obsessed with Maeve. Carla then claims Vincent used to be obsessed with her, and behaved inappropriately when she was a vulnerable patient. Maeve refuses to believe Carla, accusing her of her usual mind-games. And Maeve sees red when she thinks Carla is threatening Nicole.

Later, Carla takes advantage of Damo’s love-hate attraction to her and gets free again – in pursuit of Nicole and Vincent. When Maeve discovers Carla is gone, and nobody can find Nicole, she gives in to her own anger by grabbing a syringe of dangerous drugs – if the cops can’t stop Carla, Maeve will! She finds Carla attacking Vincent, and with the syringe at Carla’s neck, makes her lead them to Nicole. They find Nicole bound and gagged, but Carla claims she was only trying to save Nicole from Vincent. Furious that Maeve won’t believe her – and that nobody ever believes her – Carla fights back, grabbing the syringe, and is about to kill Maeve… and that’s where we’ll leave you hanging.

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