Higher Ground (TV series)

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Higher Ground
Higher Ground title card.png
Created by Michael Braverman
Matthew Hastings
Starring Joe Lando
Anne Marie Loder
Hayden Christensen
A. J. Cook
Kandyse McClure
Jorgito Vargas, Jr.
Meghan Ory
Kyle Downes
Jewel Staite
Deborah Odell
Theme music composer Jim Guttridge and Daryl Bennett
Country of origin Canada
United States
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 22
Executive producer(s) Frank Girusta
Harold Lee Tichenor
Michael Braverman
Matthew Hastings
Joe Lando
Douglas Schwartz
Running time approximately 43 minutes (per episode)
Production company(s) Crescent Entertainment
Paramount Television
Lionsgate Television
WIC Entertainment
Original channel Fox Family
Original release January 14, 2000 (2000-01-14) – June 16, 2000 (2000-06-16)

Higher Ground is an American-Canadian drama action television show shot outside Vancouver, British Columbia.[1] The series ran from January 14, 2000 - June 16, 2000 and aired on Fox Family.

Higher Ground told the story of Mount Horizon High School, a therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens, where the students learned to face their personal struggles with addiction, abuse, or disorders.


Located high in the mountains of the Northwestern United States and 25 miles from the nearest town, Mount Horizon High School is a sanctuary for troubled teens where they learn to overcome their fears and face their inner demons. The series focuses on one group of teens, the Cliffhangers, who battle their struggles with the aid of Peter Scarbrow (Joe Lando), a long-recovering drug-addict and former Wall Street mogul, and other school counselors. Setting the kids through their paces, not only giving them a normal high school education, but also a rigorous schedule of outdoor activities - camping, hiking, mountain climbing, biking, rafting, etc. - gives the students the confidence to face their struggles with addiction, abuse, or disorders. While navigating perilous action sequences, friendships, and romantic entanglements, the students (and some teachers) find Mnt. Horizon's world much safer than their turbulent home lives have been.

Students tackle issues such as drugs, depression, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, self-mutilation, eating disorders, gang violence, neglect, and suicide attempts.



Scott is a smart 16-year-old football star who plays the piano and excels in athletics. Scott is the child of divorced parents. When Scott was 15, his father married a young woman who was closer to his age than her husband's. This new stepmother began sexually abusing Scott. Scared of what his father's reaction might be if the abuse was revealed, Scott turned to drugs and his life fell into a downward spiral. His school work suffered and he was thrown off the football team. As a last resort, his father decided to send him to Horizon.

At age 14, Shelby ran away from home because of her stepfather who sexually abused her for years. Her mother was in denial, but Shelby believed that if she ran away and kept his secret, her stepfather would leave her little sister, Jess, alone. On the streets, Shelby became a prostitute and started abusing drugs. Shelby's mother eventually located Shelby and took her home, but found that she could no longer control her daughter nor help her with her emotional problems. Thus, Shelby was sent to Mount Horizon. During the course of the show, she falls deeply in love with Scott Barringer. Later, Shelby returns home after her stepfather has a heart attack. She discovers that her stepfather has broken his promise and sexually abused her teenage sister. When Shelby calls the cops, her mother, not wanting her daughters taken from her, finally reveals the truth, and the stepfather is taken into custody. Shelby is returned to Horizon.

Katherine is an African American, adopted child of white parents. Even though she always knew she was adopted, a sense of alienation set in as she grew older, and Katherine felt she didn't fit in. That confusion caused her grades to slip and to withdraw from her talents as a gifted athlete. The accidental death of Katherine's sister, Shannon, the biological daughter of her adoptive parents, contributed to her lapse into depression. She was finally sent to Horizon by her parents. During her time at Horizon, Katherine becomes romantically involved with a young guy named Hank Ferris, a forest deputy who occasionally helps out at her school. Hank eventually gets Katherine to open up about her struggle dealing with the death of Shannon.

Auggie came to Horizon to avoid a Youth Authority lockup. The youngest of five children, Auggie grew up in a middle class home on the fringe of the barrio. Although not a gang member, he was a tagger and had gained an impressive reputation. Eventually he was busted, but the court took mercy on Auggie who, at 15, can barely read or write. All through school, he was placed in educable mentally handicapped classes even though he was actually very intelligent. Horizon's teachers realized the real problem: profound dyslexia.

Hiding her depression behind a façade of smiles forced upon her by her emotionally abusive and distant mother, Juliette is often referred to as "Princess" or "Queenie" by Shelby, which is derived from her appearance and behavior, and "Twig" by the rest of the Cliffhangers, due to her weight. Growing up, she continually assaulted and abused herself with such means as bulimia and self-mutilation. Juliette's narcissistic mother, who has had many husbands over the years, consistently verbally abused Juliette during her youth. Unable to achieve the standards set by her mother, nor control any other aspect of her life, Juliette chose physically destructive measures to get the love and attention she craved. Eventually, Juliette was brought to Horizon after she was sent to the hospital emergency room twice, where she had tubes forced down her throat as a result of abusing laxatives.

Ezra was adopted at birth by parents who were looking more for a solution to their marital difficulties than for a child to love. When the marriage ended in divorce, Ezra was caught in the middle of his parents' arguments. The experience forced him to be a pleaser, a mediator, a peacemaker, and a rule-follower. To comfort himself, Ezra turned to drugs and started using ketamine, with which he nearly overdosed himself. After Ezra was revived in the ER and spent 10 days recovering, he was sent to Horizon. He maintains close relation with Daisy Lipenowski.

Also known as Daisy Graves, she has hid herself beneath a mask of gothic make-up, clothes, and piercings. When years of emotional abuse at home began to threaten her physically, she assaulted her father with a seven-iron golf club, and was quickly sent to Horizon hence. Insightful and harshly honest, Daisy carefully hides her own inner pain and rage behind arrogance and morbid sense of humour. She has a strong friendship with Ezra Friedkin and later also with Shelby Merrick. Her mother dies in a drunk driving accident toward the end of season one. Shelby and Sophie accompany Daisy to the funeral, where she attempts to reconcile with her father.


The headmaster and chief administrator of Mt. Horizon High School for the past three years. In cooperation with the school's owner and founder, Frank Markasian, he has built Horizon to one of the finest, most progressive and most successful "emotional growth" schools in the Pacific Northwest. Physically, Peter is strong and healthy, an outdoor athlete into running, biking, climbing, hiking, canoeing, kayaking or windsurfing, even though he has screws in his knee. Peter had to help a lot of teens and Shelby was a mystery because she kept secrets that weren't on her file so instead of telling people about it she took her pain out on everyone else and made some enemies which Peter tried to stop. Prior to meeting Frank, Peter had bottomed-out. To keep up with the incredible physical demands of the business after a success at one of the biggest brokerages on Wall Street, he, at his 28, turned to cocaine and then to heroin. Drugs ultimately led to divorce and when, after his first overdose and a stint at a rehabilitation clinic, he began using drugs again, Peter ended up on the streets. Recovering at a Washington hospital after another near-fatal overdose, he met Frank, whose philosophy struck a chord with Peter. The two men bonded and Frank invited him to Mt. Horizon for recovery. Frank became Peter's mentor, best friend and surrogate father. Except for an occasional trip back to New York, he has remained at Mt. Horizon ever since. Peter developed a relationship with Sophie Becker, the conclusion of which is marriage.

She met Peter Scarbrow during one of his drug rehabilitations and the two became friends, one of the reasons being their interest for adrenaline sports. Later Sophie departed abroad while Mt. Horizon was established. When she came back, Peter, eager for her not to leave his life again, eventually coaxes her to become more involved at the school. Sophie agrees and since then their mutual affinity begins developing. Later in the show is revealed she has endometriosis and thus is infertile. At the end, Peter accepts her offer of marriage.

Hannah led the Cliffhangers for the first half of season one. She loved the kids and became very close with them - especially Kat and Augusto - but struggled to balance her marriage with the emotionally demanding job. She discovered Augusto's dyslexia, taught Juliette to finally face her mother, welcomed Daisy to the school and helped Shelby use her "tough love" for a good cause. After a new student committed suicide, Hannah decided to leave Horizon and fix her marriage in Seattle.

Reoccurring characters[edit]

  • Brittney Irvin as Jess Merrick, Shelby's younger sister (2 episodes)
  • Lynda Boyd as Alice Blaine, Jess and Shelby's mother (2 episodes)
  • Jim Byrnes as Frank Markasian, who founded Horizon after his son committed suicide (5 episodes)
  • Sean Campbell as Sheriff Curtis Swann (7 episodes)
  • Kyle Alisharan as Hank, Kat's boyfriend (5 episodes)
  • Benita Ha as Annie, who owns the local restaurant and lives with her 5-year-old daughter Gracie (7 episodes)
  • Garwin Sanford as Martin Barringer, Scott's father (5 episodes)
  • Emmanuelle Vaugier as Elaine Barringer, Scott's abusive stepmother (4 episodes)
  • Terence Kelly as Peter Scarbrow's father (3 episodes)
  • Suzy Joachim as Juliette's abusive mother (3 episodes)
  • Ingrid Torrance as Chloe, Peter's ex-wife (4 episodes)


Higher Ground consists of 22 episodes, each of which having its own quotation at the beginning. These quotes comes from famous writers, politicians and other significant persons.

1. Scott Free
  • Aired: January 14, 2000
  • Quote: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us look at the stars." ~ Oscar Wilde

Scott Barringer is brought to Mt. Horizon, a school for troubled teens, against his will. Meanwhile, Peter Scarbrow, the administrator of Mt. Horizon, learns that the school is in financial trouble and is facing foreclosure by the bank. Scott tries to run away, but gets caught, and we learn that he was sexually abused by his stepmother.

2. Babes in Arms
  • Aired: January 21, 2000
  • Quote: "The secret of secrets is inside me again" ~ Anna Akhmatova

Peter is caught between his ex-wife Chloe and a new flame, Sophie Becker. The students help search for Annie's 6 year old daughter Gracie, who wandered off into the woods during a picnic. Shelby Merrick is acting out terribly and must overcome the troubling shadows of her past in order to help rescue the little girl.

3. Walking the Line
  • Aired: January 28, 2000
  • Quote: "If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future." ~ Winston Churchill

Peter visits his father while in New York trying to get a loan, and back at the school the students dread taking their PSATs.

4. Our Strongest Link
  • Aired: February 4, 2000
  • Quote: "All are needed by each one; Nothing is fair or good alone." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

To teach the kids to work as a team, they are entered in the Junior Eco-Challenge competition.

5. Hope Falls
  • Aired: March 10, 2000
  • Quote: "Never deprive someone of hope; It might be all they have." ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

After a student commits suicide, Hannah resigns and the school's founder decides to take the group on a trek to the site of his son's death 22 years earlier.

6. What Remains
  • Aired: February 11, 2000
  • Quote: "In the silence of our woods your children will not be alone." ~ Chief Seattle

A search-and-rescue mission is mounted to find Juliette, who has fallen into an uncharted cave containing ancient Indian bones.

7. Crossroads
  • Aired: February 18, 2000
  • Quote: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Peter gives the group a parenting assignment, and Katherine's behavior with her boyfriend threatens her impending graduation.

8. Worlds Apart
  • Aired: February 25, 2000
  • Quote: "It is easier to fight for principles than to live up to them." ~ Alfred Adler

Auggie's older brother tries to talk him into selling drugs to the rich kids at Horizon. Meanwhile potential investors visit the school, and Sophie and Peter try to figure out their relationship.

9. Seductions
  • Aired: March 3, 2000
  • Quote: "To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance." ~ Oscar Wilde

As a thunderstorm causes the school to flood, Shelby's attempt to seduce Scott cause him to relive unpleasant memories. He reveals his secret to Shelby.

10. Close Encounters
  • Aired: March 17, 2000
  • Quote: "Tell me who admires you and loves you, and I will tell you who you are" ~ C.A. Sainte-Beuve

Scott travels down a treacherous river, trying to run away after an encounter with his abusive stepmother. Meanwhile, Shelby falls in love with a horse that's been abused and abandoned.

11. Best Behavior
  • Aired: March 31, 2000
  • Quote: "False face must hide what false heart doth know." ~ William Shakespeare

Juliette is devastated because she is not invited to her mother's wedding. Ezra is devastated over his parents false attempt to reconcile their differences.

12. Wherefore art thou
  • Aired: April 7, 2000
  • Quote: "Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness." ~ James Thurber

As Ezra recovers from an attempt to commit suicide, Peter and Sophie are busy tracking down Auggie and Juliette who have run away.

13. Attention Deficit
  • Aired: April 14, 2000
  • Quote: "Somewhere in the world your Father is lost and needs you but you are far away." ~ William Stafford

When a tough father brings his troubled son, David, to the school, the kid antagonizes the other students while the father treks through bear country with Peter.

14. The Kids Stay in the Picture
  • Aired: April 21, 2000
  • Quote: "From here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Horizon's new boss wants to make a promotional film that uses actors instead of the actual students. Scott tells child protective services about the sexual abuse.

15. Exposed
  • Aired: April 28, 2000
  • Quote: "I'm giving you a longing look ... Everyday I write the book." ~ Elvis Costello

When an undercover reporter shows up to do an expose on the school, the students feed her the wild stories that she wants to hear. Scott discovers Shelby's secret.

16. Innocence
  • Aired: May 5, 2000
  • Quote: "The childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day." ~ John Milton

As a winter storm moves in, the kids' solo treks are ruined, Shelby becomes lost, and Peter's visiting father has a heart attack.

17. Daised and Confused
  • Aired: May 12, 2000
  • Quote: "I cherished hope, it is true, but it vanished when my person reflected . . ." ~ Mary Shelley

Daisy returns home with Sophie and Shelby for her mother's funeral and must face her abusive, drunken father. Meanwhile, the Cliffhangers read and identify with Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein".

18. One of Those Days
  • Aired: May 19, 2000
  • Quote: "You don't live in a world all alone. Your brother is here too." ~ Albert Schweitzer

Peter's brother arrives to contest their father's will; Sophie undergoes a medical procedure; Shelby's mother pulls her out of school to take care of her ailing, formerly abusive stepfather; Ezra steals the plot of Romeo & Juliet for his new play.

19. Because it's There
  • Aired: May 16, 2000
  • Quote: "Why climb Mount Everest? Because it's there." ~ George Mallory

Shelby's home life disintegrates when she discovers that her stepfather abused her little sister Jess. She confronts her mother about the abuse for the first time. Scott and Daisy worry about Shelby, but Peter doesn't have the power to bring her back to Horizon.

20. Falling Up
  • Aired: June 3, 2000
  • Quote: "Tragedies are about the depths that call up to certain men and insist that they descend." ~ Robert Bly

Peter battles his addiction to pain killers. Scott's real mother visits. Shelby returns to Horizon. This episode also features the song Wither by Canadian rock band glo.

21. Mended Fences
  • Aired: June 9, 2000
  • Quote: "If we really want to live, we'd better start at once to try." ~ Wystan Hugh Auden

During Parents Week, Scott and Shelby fight and Juliette meets Auggie's parents. Meanwhile, Shelby's sister Jess runs away from home to Horizon. She tells Scott and Shelby what happened to her on the streets; Scott understands Shelby's life for the first time. David returns and terrorizes Ezra and Daisy. At the end of Parents' Week, Scott lies and tells his father that his stepmother never abused him.

22. Because I Love You
  • Aired: June 16, 2000
  • Quote: "The child shall become father to the man." ~ William Wordsworth

Scott's dad wants to take him back home. Scott tries to convince Shelby that they can stay together even if when he leaves Horizon. Kat talks Peter & Sophie in to having a MORP - like a Prom, but without dates or favoritism. David is back and Ezra is upset because Daisy prefers David over him. Scott fights with his dad on their way home and decides not to leave Horizon. He returns just as the MORP is ending. When Shelby asked him why he came back, he says: "Because I love you." Sophie asks Peter to marry her.

Digital Release[edit]

In 2015, Higher Ground was released through both Amazon and iTunes for purchase via digital download.

Production notes[edit]

Fox Family and Lions Gate Films took advantage of tax incentive programs offered by the Canadian and British Columbia governments to reduce costs. The programs required that the bulk of production expenses, including salaries, be spent in Canada. Because of this, though American writers wrote all 22 screenplays, Canadians directed all 22 episodes, and most of the cast and crew were Canadian. Additionally, the series was filmed entirely on location in Canada, and most (but not all) of the post-production work also was done there.[2]

Principal photography took place in a scenic valley outside Vancouver starting in August 1999. By November, the crew had only 5–6 hours of daylight each day[citation needed], shifting much of the dramatic action indoors during the middle episodes.

Producers received unexpected support from other Canadian artists over the course of the series. For example, Canadian songwriter Sarah McLachlan licensed her song Angel in its entirety for only C$10,000, the minimum allowable under her record company contract. (The song plays at the end of Episode 2.)[3]

On May 4, 2000, producers received word that Hayden Christensen had been cast in the upcoming Star Wars film, Attack of the Clones. (Lucasfilms made the official announcement May 7.) George Lucas became aware of Christensen when Christensen's agent sent him the pilot episode from Higher Ground.[4] However, as this announcement came well after Fox Family Channel had decided not to renew the show, it had no bearing on the show's cancellation.

See also[edit]

Neon Rider


  1. ^ Email exchange with producers, 17–18 January 2009
  2. ^ Email from producers, 18 January 2009
  3. ^ Contemporary email exchange with producers
  4. ^ Email to producers, 4 May 2000, from confidential source at Fox Family Channel

External links[edit]