Degrassi

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Degrassi
Degrassi logo 2013.png
The current Degrassi logo, used from 2013 onwards.
Created byKit Hood
Linda Schuyler
Original workThe Kids of Degrassi Street
OwnerWildBrain
Years1979–2017
Print publications
Novel(s)Kids Of Degrassi Street novel adaptations
Degrassi Junior High and High novels
Graphic novel(s)Degrassi: Extra Credit
Films and television
Television seriesThe Kids of Degrassi Street (1979-1986)
Degrassi Junior High (1987-1989)
Degrassi High (1989-1991)
Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001-2015)
Degrassi: Next Class (2016-2017)
Television special(s)Degrassi Talks (1992)
Television film(s)School's Out! (1992)
Degrassi Takes Manhattan (2010)
Official website
http://www.degrassi.tv

Degrassi is a Canadian teen drama franchise created by Kit Hood and Linda Schuyler in 1979. Beginning as a series of short films about kids living on or near the eponymous De Grassi Street in Toronto, Ontario, it later focused on a group of ethnically and economically diverse teenagers attending schools of the same name as they face various issues prevalent in teenage life. The franchise spans five main series: The Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High, Degrassi: The Next Generation and Degrassi: Next Class, as well as television specials and made-for-TV films.

Degrassi was originally produced by Playing With Time Inc., a production company owned by Hood & Schuyler. The Kids Of Degrassi Street, which made its debut in 1979, began as a series of annual after-school specials before switching to a weekly format in 1982.[1] Degrassi Junior High, which aired on CBC from 1987 to 1989, featured actors from the previous series but in new roles and established the show's canon.[2] It was followed by Degrassi High, which followed the same characters in high school, from 1989 to 1991. Both shows were broadcast on PBS in the United States where they gained a cult following.

Degrassi: The Next Generation, which saw several original characters return in adult roles, was produced by Schuyler's new company Epitome Pictures and originally premiered on CTV in 2001. In the United States, it premiered on Noggin's teen-targeted block The N.[3] After nine seasons, it was shortened to Degrassi and ended in 2015. Degrassi: Next Class, the last Degrassi series to date, aired on Family in Canada and released on Netflix in early 2016, and ended in 2017.

Degrassi has had a significant cultural impact in Canada and elsewhere since its inception in 1979. It has received critical acclaim, numerous accolades and controversy for its realistic depictions of teenage life, and the franchise is considered one of Canada's greatest television achievements. Several actors from the franchise have achieved wider recognition and stardom since their time on the series, most notably Canadian actor-turned-rapper Drake and actress Nina Dobrev, who both starred in The Next Generation.

History[edit]

The Degrassi logo used from 1989 to 1992.

Development and early accolades[edit]

In 1976, Linda Schuyler, a Grade 7 and Grade 8 media teacher at Earl Grey Senior Public School in Toronto,[4] founded Playing With Time, Inc. with her partner Kit Hood. Schuyler had met Hood, then an editor for television commercials, when she needed help from an experienced editor to save the "muddled footage" of one of her projects.[5] As a media teacher, Schuyler encouraged her students to use video as a narrative tool.[4] Bruce Mackey, Earl Grey's librarian and a friend of Schuyler, ordered several books about filmmaking, one being Ida Makes a Movie, by the American author Kay Chorao.[4] Mackey did not realize that it was a children's book and discarded it, but Schuyler developed an interest in adapting the book into a film.[6] After meeting lawyer and future Degrassi producer Stephen Stohn for advice, she went to New York to make a deal with Chorao.[6] The original book involved cats making a movie, so this was adapted into children.[6] Mackey's house was used as a filming location.[6] After the movie debuted on September 20, 1980 on CBC,[7] the network ordered two more episodes, and then by 1982, they ordered five more episodes, turning the series of short films into a television series.[7] The episode Griff Gets A Hand (which starred future "Wheels" actor Neil Hope as Griff) received an International Emmy for Best Program for Children and Young People.[7]

Degrassi Junior High and international success[edit]

A new Degrassi series began development in 1986,[7] this time with new characters and centered around the fictional eponymous school near the same street. The first to audition was Pat Mastroianni, who would play Joey Jeremiah.[7] Several of the actors from The Kids Of Degrassi Street would return with new roles, including Neil Hope, Stacie Mistysyn, Anais Granofsky, and Sarah Charlesworth. It was at this time that Playing With Time started a repertory company,[8] with fifty children selected from auditions.[8] The workshops would be repeated at the beginning of production for each season, as new cast members joined, and existing cast members underwent more advanced workshops.[8]

The cast would have significant input into the writing of their characters, with Schuyler seeking opinions during every read-through,[8] and cast members often talking about their experiences to writer Yan Moore, who would adapt said experiences to their characters.[9] The repertory company also meant that even major characters could be relegated to the background if not the main focus of the episode, which according to Kathryn Ellis, was "nearly unheard-of on other television shows".[10] Conversely, a background character could later be given more lines or a full role.[10] The resulting series, Degrassi Junior High, premiered on CBC on January 18, 1987. It became the beginning of the Degrassi canon, as several students would become adult characters in the following series. The show also aired on PBS in the United States starting from September 1987.[11] The show would feature the franchise's first controversial storyline, in which Christine "Spike" Nelson becomes pregnant. The fears of controversy were allegedly so much that two endings were filmed.[7] Nonetheless, the episode, "It's Late", the eleventh episode of the show's first season, would win an International Emmy, for which Emma Nelson, Spike's daughter and central character of the later series, was named. The popularity of the show led to international publicity tours by members of the cast throughout North America and parts of Europe.[12]

The Degrassi logo used from 2001 to 2013.

By the beginning of the sequel show Degrassi High in 1989, the show had amassed over one million weekly viewers in Canada.[13] However, it was decided to end the show after the original characters graduated, and filming wrapped on Degrassi High in October 1990.[14] In early 1991, as a TV movie to serve as the series finale was being developed, six Degrassi actors: Amanda Stepto, Pat Mastroianni, Stacie Mistysyn, Rebecca Haines, Siluck Saysanasy, and Neil Hope, travelled around Canada to interview teenagers about various health and social issues for the six-part documentary series Degrassi Talks, which aired almost a year later, and a month following the TV movie, School's Out, which aired on January 5, 1992.[15] School's Out was controversial among fans and critics for its unusual characterization of popular characters and for two instances of the word "fuck", one uttered by Stefan Brogren (Snake) and Stacie Mistysyn (Caitlin), that became the first instances of the word uttered on primetime Canadian television.[16] The film drew double that of the average audience that Degrassi High received.[17]

Development of Next Generation and Next Class[edit]

In 1999, a reunion of the original cast took place on the CBC youth show Jonovision, hosted by Jonathan Torrens.[18] The reunion became particularly popular, causing Yan Moore and Linda Schuyler, now running Epitome Pictures, to develop an interest in creating a new Degrassi series by December 1999.[19] It was originally planned as an unrelated teen drama titled Ready, Willing And Wired.[20] Moore noted that Emma, Spike's daughter, would be entering junior high school by the new millennium and the show was retooled to center around Emma.[21][22] Epitome would propose the idea of Degrassi: The Next Generation to CTV in October 2000, and Ivan Fecan, CEO of CTV's parent company, ordered thirteen episodes of the new show. Filming began on July 3, 2001, and the show premiered on CTV on October 14, 2001[19]

On January 15, 2009, Program Partners, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Television, announced that they had acquired the syndication rights to the show, which started showing daily on local stations in the United States during the early evening fringe hours (between 5 and 7 pm) in September 2009.[23] One of the reasons of the program's sale in syndication is that its programming content complies with federal E/I programming requirements. Season 10 premiered on July 19, 2010, and marked a change in production style to a telenovela/soap opera format, and for the first time, episodes airing in Canada and the United States on the same day. "The Next Generation" was also dropped from the title, which became simply Degrassi.

Degrassi was canceled after fourteen seasons, and a spin off series called Degrassi: Next Class aired on Netflix for four seasons from 2016 to 2017.[24] Season one was released on Netflix January 15, 2016, and started airing January 4, 2016 on Family's new teen programming block, F2N. Fourteen cast members from season 14 of Degrassi also reprised their roles.[25][26][27] On March 7, 2019, Stefan Brogren confirmed the show was cancelled after four seasons.[28]

Series[edit]

The Kids of Degrassi Street[edit]

The Kids of Degrassi Street, created by Linda Schuyler and Kit Hood was the first in the Degrassi franchise. It originally spawned from four short films: Ida Makes a Movie, Cookie Goes to the hospital, Irene Moves In, and Noel Buys a Suit, which aired as after-school specials on CBC Television in 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1982, respectively.[29] The series continued from 1982 to 1986. Many actors from The Kids of Degrassi Street would go on to appear in Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High; however, their names and families were changed.[30] The show dealt with age-appropriate issues such as bad luck chain letters, honesty, divorce, and even death.[31]

Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High[edit]

Degrassi Junior High aired for 42 episodes from 1987 to 1989. Later, much of the cast continued over into the spin-off series, Degrassi High, with some extra cast members and a new high school. Degrassi High aired on CBC and PBS for two years from 1989 until 1991. The two series center around students attending the fictional Degrassi Junior High School and Degrassi High School in Toronto as they deal with taboo issues such as teenage pregnancy, racism, AIDS, eating disorders, child abuse, learning disabilities, and others. The series spawned characters such as Joey Jeremiah, Caitlin Ryan, Christine "Spike" Nelson, and Archie "Snake" Simpson, who became associated with the franchise and appeared in later installments.

A few months after the end of Degrassi High, a 90-minute made-for-TV film entitled School's Out was produced, which concluded the series. It sparked controversy and anger amongst fans and critics for the unusual characterization of several characters and infamous scenes of sexuality and coarse language.

Hood and Schuyler subsequently worked on a similar series, Liberty Street, which applied the Degrassi format to a series about people in their twenties living on their own for the first time.[32] Pat Mastroianni, who played Joey Jeremiah, appeared in Liberty Street as a different character.

Degrassi Talks[edit]

In 1991, prior to the development of the television movie School's Out, six actors from the series, including Rebecca Haines (Kathleen), Neil Hope (Wheels), Pat Mastroianni (Joey), Stacie Mistysyn (Caitlin), Siluck Saysanasy (Yick), and Amanda Stepto (Spike), travelled around Canada and interviewed teenagers about issues addressed in the series.[33][34] The result, Degrassi Talks, a six-part documentary series, aired on CBC Television from February 29 to March 30, 1992. Each episode was hosted by an actor whose character had experienced the issue that was the subject of the episode.[35]

The Next Generation[edit]

Drake (pictured performing in 2010) began his career acting in Degrassi: The Next Generation.

In 2001, the Degrassi series was revived by Schuyler and Stephen Stohn as Degrassi: The Next Generation, with Emma Nelson, the baby that Spike had given birth to in Junior High, as the central character, and featuring several of the original cast members, now adults, in recurring roles. It became the biggest series of the franchise, overshadowing its predecessors, lasting fourteen seasons and gaining a massive cult following.[36][37] The Next Generation featured several actors who went on to achieve wider recognition and stardom since their time on the series,[38][39][40] most notably Canadian actor-turned-rapper Drake, who starred in The Next Generation. Drake portrayed Jimmy Brooks,[41] a basketball star who became physically disabled after he was shot by a classmate. When asked about his early acting career, Drake replied, "My mother was very sick. We were very poor, like broke. The only money I had coming in was [from] Canadian TV."[42] He appeared in a total of 100 episodes between 2001 and 2008.[43] Nina Dobrev, who portrayed Mia Jones, went on to star as the lead character of the popular supernatural teen drama television series The Vampire Diaries.[44] Chloe Rose, who portrayed Katie Matlin, and Raymond Ablack , who portrayed Sav Bhandari, went on to star in the acclaimed web series Teenagers together.[45] It was broadcast on CTV, MuchMusic, MTV, and Family Channel. Outside Canada, it was rebroadcast in the United States on Noggin's teen-targeted block, The N, from 2002 onward. In 2009, the show was carried over to TeenNick, a channel that merged the programming of two Viacom-owned teen blocks (Noggin's The N and Nickelodeon's TEENick). It was also exported to the Netherlands on Z@PP, to Brazil on the cable channel Multishow, to Australia on ABC3 and Nickelodeon, to Mexico, Peru, Venezuela and Chile on the cable channel MTV Latin America, and to Poland on the Canal+'s channel ZigZap.

Next Class[edit]

Degrassi: Next Class is the second incarnation of The Next Generation but is also considered its own show. After TeenNick and MTV Canada dropped the series, the show was picked up by Netflix and Family Channel. This "reboot" of the series was initially set to be the fifteenth season of "The Next Generation" (as casting calls were made for the fifteenth season) but ultimately Netflix and Epitome decided to start it off as a new show, to not confuse new viewers that would watch it on Netflix.

Books[edit]

During their run, the original Degrassi series (Kids Of Degrassi Street, Junior High, High) received several novelizations. Most of them centered around a particular character, and were either loosely based on story lines from the series, or expanded upon those not addressed in the TV series.[46] Several of the Degrassi Junior High books, including Spike, Melanie, Caitlin and Snake, were reprinted with an updated cover in the 2000s. The episodes of the non-fiction Degrassi Talks were also adapted into books in 1992, with a front cover photograph and a biographic interview of the actor who hosted the original episode.[47]

From 2006 to 2007, four graphic novels based on Degrassi: The Next Generation were released as part of the Extra Credit series, with the books centering on the characters Ellie Nash, Emma Nelson, Spinner Mason, and Marco Del Rossi respectively.[47] There were also several other non-fiction books based on the franchise, including The Official 411: Degrassi Generations, a behind-the-scenes history book written by Degrassi writer and publicist Kathryn Ellis, and Growing Up Degrassi: Television, Identity and Youth Cultures, a collection of scholarly essays on the franchise by Michelle Byers.[47]

Reception and impact[edit]

Accolades[edit]

The Degrassi franchise has had a significant cultural impact since its premiere in 1980, and has attracted critical acclaim and various accolades, such as numerous Gemini Awards, two International Emmys, a Peabody Award, several Teen Choice Awards and Young Artist Awards, among other awards and nominations.[48] The Degrassi series were praised as being realistic teen dramas that addressed social issues in a more realistic and sincere manner than other television shows that dealt with the same subjects.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Degrassi Junior High was an international critical and commercial successes and was hailed by critics as a reaction to similar programs that were perceived as more saccharine and "unrealistically antiseptic".[49] It contrasted with other teen dramas in that issues were not solved by the end of each episode, but that played out over the series and depicted consequences for the characters' actions.[50] It is credited with pioneering the teen drama,[51][52] and is widely considered one of Canada's greatest television achievements.[53][54][55] The Canadian press celebrated the series and its international success, considering it to be one of the most groundbreaking children's television series of all time.[56] In the lead-up to its American debut, Fred M. Hechinger of the New York Times pondered; "Can teen-agers be won over to entertainment that is not mindless, violent or sexually irresponsible?".[57] In 1989 the series was profiled by John Fisher Burns, also of the New York Times, who asserted it was "remolding the pat-a-cake image of what the industry, with at least some sense of paradox, likes to call ''children's television.''[58] Its sequel, Degrassi High, garnered similar praise. In 1990, Lynne Heffley of the Los Angeles Times called Degrassi one of the "gutsiest shows on television".[59] Kelli Pryor of Entertainment Weekly called it the "thirtysomething of the book-bag set".[14] While initially receiving a degree of skepticism as to its potential impact compared to the original series, including from The Ottawa Citizen's Tony Atherton[60] and The Seattle Times' Melanie McFarland,[61] Degrassi: The Next Generation also amassed critical and commercial acclaim. Entertainment Weekly called it "a cult hit", and The New York Times named it "Tha Best Teen TV N da WRLD (The best teen TV in the world)".[62][63] AOL TV ranked it as the sixth TV's Biggest Guilty Pleasure.[64] Schuyler explained to Entertainment Weekly in 2012 regarding the franchise's longevity: "The show set out to be an authentic — and I use the word authentic very carefully; I don’t use the word realistic –- an authentic portrayal of teenage years. And although we get a lot of character loyalty, our audience is fascinated by that high school experience."[65]

Age-appropriate casting[edit]

The Degrassi franchise has been noted for its casting of teenagers, in contrast to other teen dramas that cast young adults to play teenage roles.[66][67] Its portrayal of real teenagers offered a more realistic and relatable depiction of teenage life than other teen drama shows.[68] In 1986, Schuyler explained that Degrassi Junior High would cast real teenagers as "so much of the American stuff set in high schools is played by late teens and early 20s - and then some".[69] She further elaborated to IndieWire in 2016: "I like to talk about the fact that you can take a 25-year-old who looks 15 and have them play a role, but that actor is bringing 10 more years of life experience to that role. By having our cast be age-appropriate, they bring the freshness and the authenticity of that age."[70]

Reception from LGBT groups[edit]

Degrassi's portrayal of LGBT youth was viewed by critics as groundbreaking. Linda Schuyler said that the impetus for the show's inclusion of LGBT themes stemmed from her colleague Bruce Mackey, who was central in the early development in the franchise, and who lived life secretly as a gay man.[71] Schuyler said: "It made me so sad to see somebody who had to live duplicitously like that, that it kind of has been right from the very beginning of this show, it’s been a very important mandate for me.”[71] The tenth season of Degrassi: The Next Generation introduced the female-to-male transgender character Adam Torres, played by Jordan Todosey,[72] who by 2011 was the "only transgender regular or recurring character on scripted television" according to GLAAD.[73] A central episode involving Adam's struggles with dysphoria, "My Body Is a Cage", won a Peabody Award that year.[74]

Censorship[edit]

The franchise has been the subject of numerous controversies and censorships since the 1980s. In the United Kingdom, several episodes of Degrassi Junior High's first season, including the International Emmy award-winning episode "It's Late", were not aired in the its regular place on the children's timeslot at 5pm on BBC1[75] due to complaints from parents that their content "too strong for [young children]",[50] and were instead shown at 6pm on the BBC2 teen block DEF II.[76] The network did not air its second and third seasons.[77][50]

The two-part premiere of Degrassi High, "A New Start", which centered around a character becoming pregnant and ultimately choosing to get an abortion, aired uncensored in Canada in November 1989, but was edited by PBS for its January 1990 American premiere to remove the episode's final scene depicting said character fighting through pro-life picketers outside of a clinic.[78] This decision was met with backlash from the show's producers, with co-creator and director Kit Hood lambasting the network for giving the episode "an American ending, happy, safe but incomplete..." and requested his name be removed from the credits.[79]

In 2004, the Degrassi: The Next Generation episode "Accidents Will Happen", which revolves around another character who becomes pregnant and decides to have an abortion, was not aired in the United States by The N, which prompted backlash from fans.[80][81] A petition surfaced which condemned The N as "unjust and asinine" and argued that the episode did not espouse any forceful opinions about the subject and that the fans had the right to watch the series in an uncensored, unaltered form.[82] Conversely, CTV in Canada showed the episode twice.[82]

References[edit]

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