Higher Ground (TV series)
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|Created by||Michael Braverman
Anne Marie Loder
A. J. Cook
Jorgito Vargas, Jr.
|Theme music composer||Jim Guttridge and Daryl Bennett|
|Country of origin||Canada
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||22|
|Executive producer(s)||Frank Girusta
Harold Lee Tichenor
|Running time||approximately 43 minutes (per episode)|
|Production company(s)||Crescent Entertainment
|Distributor||Debmar-Mercury/20th Television (USA)
CBS Television Distribution (non-USA)
|Original network||Fox Family|
|Original release||January 14– June 16, 2000|
Higher Ground is an American-Canadian drama television series created by Michael Braverman and Matthew Hastings. The convention-breaking series follows a group of at-risk teenagers attending Mount Horizon High School, a therapeutic boarding school, as they brave the difficulties, failures, and triumphs of their personal struggles with addiction, abuse, and disorders.
Higher Ground first premiered in the U.S on the Fox Family network on January 14, 2000. Although praised and well-rated, Higher Ground was cancelled after its first season due to the sale of its broadcast network the same year. The show was part of a production company that did not make it to the new network.
Located high in the mountains of the Northwestern United States and 25 miles from the nearest town, Mount Horizon High School is a harbor for at-risk teenagers from their tempestuous pasts. The series focuses on one group of teens, the Cliffhangers, who, with the aid of school counselors and each other, watch their lives change as they learn to overcome their fears and face the trials and tribulations of their inner demons. Setting the kids through their paces, not only giving them a normal high school education, but also a rigorous schedule of outdoor activities and the tools they need in the aftermath of their abuse, gives the students the confidence to face their personal struggles. While navigating perilous action sequences, friendships, and romantic entanglements, the students (and some teachers) find Mount Horizon's world much safer than their turbulent home lives have been.
- Scott Barringer (portrayed by Hayden Christensen)
Scott is a smart 16-year-old football star who plays the piano and excels in athletics. Scott is the only 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 immersed himself in drugs and his life fell into a downward spiral. His school work suffered and he was thrown off the football team, endangering his future as a college athlete. As a last resort, his father decided to send him to Horizon. As the "new kid" at Horizon, Scott begins to discover the stories of his classmates, as well as learn how to deal with his past.
- Shelby Merrick (portrayed by A. J. Cook)
The daughter of a neglectful and abusive mother and step-father, Shelby began running away from home at the age of 13. Living on the streets and always on the run, Shelby turned to prostitution as means of survival, and began abusing drugs. Regardless of Shelby's lengths, her mother eventually located her and took her home. However, upon finding that she could no longer control Shelby, nor help her with her emotional problems, Shelby's mother sent her daughter to Mount Horizon. At Horizon, Shelby has a bitter and sarcastic attitude, taking her pain out on others and creating several negative relationships with many students. Despite the attempts of Horizon's counselors, Shelby refuses to reveal the secrets she has kept that are not documented in her files.
- Katherine "Kat" Ann Cabot (portrayed by Kandyse McClure)
Katherine is an African American, adopted child of white parents. Even though she was always aware of her adoption, a sense of alienation set in as she grew older, and Katherine felt she didn't fit in or belong. That confusion caused her grades to slip and for her 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. Sent by her parents to Horizon, Katherine is the oldest of the Cliffhangers, often acting as a mother-figure and form of guidance to her younger classmates. However, Katherine learns that she cannot always have the Cliffhangers leaning on her for support, and that she sometimes needs to rely on others for help.
- Augusto "Auggie" Ciceros (portrayed by Jorgito Vargas, Jr.)
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 16, could barely read or write. All through school, he was placed in educable mentally handicapped classes even though he was actually very intelligent. Adjudicated to Horizon, Auggie's teachers there realized the real problem: profound dyslexia. Although good-natured, Auggie often finds himself in bouts of anger and conflict with both himself and other students at Horizon. Auggie struggles with self-confidence, regularly believing himself to be stupid and a lost cause, and must begin to understand that his educational difficulties do not have to define who he is.
- Juliette Waybourne (portrayed by Meghan Ory)
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" and "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, Juliette, 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 and emotionally 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. After she was sent to the hospital emergency room twice, where she had tubes forced down her throat as a result of abusing laxatives, Juliette was brought to Mount Horizon. Naive and kindhearted, but sometimes shallow and bratty, Juliette struggles to understand that her mother's demands of "Why couldn't you be a better daughter?" are not her own fault.
- Ezra Friedkin (portrayed by Kyle Downes)
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 began abusing ketamine, with which he nearly overdosed himself. After Ezra was revived in the ER and spent 10 days recovering, he was sent to Horizon. Although witty and charming, Ezra struggles with his self-confidence and emotional stability in the shadow his parents' divorce cast upon him.
- Daisy Lipenowski (portrayed by Jewel Staite)
Disguising herself beneath a mask of gothic makeup, clothing, and piercings, and finding an interest in tarot cards and death, Daisy refers to herself as Daisy Graves. The only child of wealthy alcoholics, Daisy suffered from years of emotional abuse in her home and believed herself to be an inconvenience to her parents' addiction. When the verbal abuse she faced began to threaten her physically, Daisy 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 humor.
- Peter Scarbrow (portrayed by Joe Lando)
Peter has been 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. 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 28 years old, 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 Mount 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 Mount Horizon ever since.
- Sophie Becker (portrayed by Anne Marie Loder)
Sophie 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 Mount 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. During her time at Horizon, Sophie's personal struggles slowly become apparent to not only Peter, but some students as well.
- Hannah Bower-Barnes (portrayed by Deborah Odell)
The original leader of the Cliffhangers, Hannah loved her students dearly and became very close with them, especially Kat and Auggie. However, Hannah struggled to balance her marriage with the emotional toll her demanding job took on her. Despite her many successes in aiding the teens, Hannah departs Horizon to fix her marriage after a devastating occurrence at the school.
- 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)
- Kett Turton as David Ruxton, a new member of the Cliffhangers (3 episodes)
- Ingrid Torrance as Chloe, Peter's ex-wife (4 episodes)
- Jessica Marte as Gracie (3 episodes)
|Ep. number||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date|
|1||"Scott Free/Pilot"||David Straiton||Unknown||January 14, 2000|
Scott Barringer is brought to Mount Horizon, a school for troubled teens, against his will, while his new group, the Cliffhangers, make their way back from an eventful 10-day quest in the woods. Meanwhile, Peter Scarbrow, the administrator of Mount Horizon, learns that the school is in financial trouble and is facing foreclosure by the bank.
|2||"Babe in Arms"||Alan Simmonds||John Mandel||January 21, 2000|
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"||Mick MacKay||Matthew Hastings||January 28, 2000|
Peter faces his estranged dad and his troubled past life in New York City to try and save Mount Horizon from foreclosure. Auggie spirals over taking the upcoming PSATs.
|4||"Our Strongest Link"||Tony Westman||Matthew Hastings||February 4, 2000|
Peter drags the Cliffhangers into the X-Challenge Race when he makes a bet against the Lawrence Hastings Prep School coach. Scott refuses to be a team player.
|5||"Hope Falls"||Michael Robison||John Mandel||March 10, 2000|
The Cliffhangers are shaken when a new student overdoses. Frank takes the boys on a trek to the site of his son's death 22 years earlier, while Peter and the girls bake for Hannah.
|6||"What Remains"||David Straiton||Unknown||February 11, 2000|
A search-and-rescue mission is mounted to find Juliette who, after falling into an uncharted cave containing Native American bones, she faces her inner demons.
|7||"Crossroads"||Peter DeLuise||Unknown||February 18, 2000|
Hannah's departure and Kat's impending graduation spark old emotions and rebellion. Peter assigns the Cliffhangers a parenting project taking care of eggs. Sophie returns from Africa.
|8||"Worlds Apart"||Brenton Spencer||Unknown||February 25, 2000|
Auggie visits home for the first time since coming to Horizon, and his past tries to grab hold. Meanwhile, potential investors visit the school, and Sophie steps back from her relationship with Peter.
|9||"Seductions"||Peter DeLuise||Matthew Hastings||March 3, 2000|
As a thunderstorm causes the school to flood, passions run high and Shelby's attempt to seduce Scott causes him to relive unpleasant memories.
|10||"Close Encounters"||Alan Simmonds||Unknown||March 17, 2000|
Scott runs from Horizon when his parents come to visit, trying to escape after an encounter with his stepmother. Meanwhile, Shelby falls in love with a horse that's been abused and abandoned.
|11||"Best Behavior"||Alan Simmonds||John Mandel||March 31, 2000|
Ezra's parents come for a surprising visit with disastrous consequences. Juliette is devastated when she learns that her mother is getting married again, but she's not invited.
|12||"Wherefore art thou"||Alan Simmonds||Matthew Hastings||April 7, 2000|
The Cliffhangers deal with the fallout of Juliette and Auggie's escape and Ezra's overdose. Auggie does his best to keep Juliette safe on the streets while evading Peter and Roger's search for them.
|13||"Attention Deficit"||Brenton Spencer||Unknown||April 14, 2000|
When a tough father brings his troubled son, David, to the school, the teen antagonizes the other students while the father treks through bear country with Peter.
|14||"The Kids Stay in the Picture"||Mike Rohl||Matthew Hastings||April 21, 2000|
When Horizon's new boss wants to film a promotional video for Mount Horizon, Peter, Sophie, and the Cliffhangers clash with the actors and director hired to portray them. Meanwhile, Scott finally tells his story to Child Protective Services.
|15||"Exposed"||Alan Simmonds||Matthew Hastings||April 28, 2000|
A journalist goes undercover as a student to expose the school as a dangerous scam. The Cliffhangers are not fooled by her antics and feed her the wild stories that she wants to hear. Shelby's story finally comes to the surface when she gets some news from home.
|16||"Innocence"||Peter DeLuise||Unknown||May 5, 2000|
As a winter storm moves in, the Cliffhangers' solo treks are ruined and Shelby becomes lost. Peter's father shows up for a surprise.
|17||"Daised and Confused"||Matthew Hastings||Unknown||May 12, 2000|
After a devastating event, Shelby and Sophie accompany Daisy on a road-trip to face her abusive, alcoholic father. At Horizon, the Cliffhangers must read Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and relate it to their own lives.
|18||"One of Those Days"||Alan Simmonds||Jeffrey Cohen||May 19, 2000|
Peter's brother arrives to contest their father's will; Sophie undergoes a medical procedure to deal with her health issues. Meanwhile, Shelby's mother pulls her out of school to take care of her ailing, formerly abusive stepfather and Ezra steals the plot of Romeo & Juliet for his new play.
|19||"Because it's There"||Peter DeLuise||Unknown||May 26, 2000|
Shelby deals with the realities of returning home. The Cliffhangers worry about Shelby, but Peter doesn't have the power to bring her back to Horizon.
|20||"Falling Up"||Michael Robison||Unknown||June 3, 2000|
Dealing with deadlines, a cold, and a relapse, Peter faces the consequences of mixing medications. Scott's real mother visits. Horizon receives an unexpected visitor.
|21||"Mended Fences"||Matthew Hastings||John Mandel||June 9, 2000|
Parents Week at Horizon causes problems for several of the Cliffhangers and Scott lies to his father about his past. Meanwhile, Shelby's little sister runs away from home.
|22||"Because I Love You"||Alan Simmonds||Matthew Hastings||June 16, 2000|
Scott's father decides it is time for Scott to come home, but Scott fights his decision. Katherine convinces Peter and Sophie to hold a MORP, a "backwards prom".
The series was shot outside Vancouver, British Columbia. 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, shifting much of the dramatic action indoors during the middle episodes.
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.
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.)
On May 4, 2000, producers received word that Hayden Christensen had been cast in the upcoming Star Wars film, Star Wars: Episode II – 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. However, this announcement had no bearing on the show's cancellation.
- Email exchange with producers, 17–18 January 2009
- Email from producers, 18 January 2009
- Contemporary email exchange with producers
- Email to producers, 4 May 2000, from confidential source at Fox Family Channel