A “Kids TV” Press Release Discussing The Degrassi Series
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Green Guide The Age, Melbourne ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ KIDS TV
'DEGRASSI' HAS REAL-LIFE TOUCH
by MARGARET GEDDES
Each weeknight on the ABC at 5.30, the program begins with the warning: "This next program is made about high school students in Canada. It has been made to inform and entertain an audience who themselvesare attending secondary school. It is and attempt at realism soit occassionally deals with real-life issues such as sex, drugs, teenage drinking and AIDS. We are happy to present this program. However if you'd prefer not to join us, we'll see you again in about half-an-hour.
Degrassi High is giving the homemade soaps a run for their money, but unlike Neighbours and Home and Away which, with their trite morality plays and predominantly young casts attract a huge audience among children, Degrassi is produced with a young audience in mind.
In spite of - or perhaps because of - the warning at the beginning of each episode, Degrassi is hugely popular with younger children, and it really is worth supervising the under 10s in front of it. It is not easy to anticipate what is going to disturb them. In the first episode, for instance, it was the initiation scenes that upset one seven-year-old. "Now I'm going to have nightmares," she said, and burst into tears.
Obviously, having shaving cream squirted in your hair and being forced to wear underwear over your clothes (in public!) is about as horrible as you can get at the age of seven.
While reality and the local soaps have but a passing acquaintance, Degrassi tackles the social issues that teenage children encounter, and tackles them in a responsible and thoughtful way.
In recent episodes, a 16-year-old girl chose to have an abortion. The dilemma that faced her, the way in which she decided to deal with it, and the problems she encountered along the way rang remarkably true.
Degrassi reminds me of the early episodes of the British series Grange Hill, which also dealt with a group of secondary children. But, whereas the later series of Grange Hill have got bogged down in gritty realism, Degrassi walks that fine balance between realism and romance and is still soft and soapy enough to entrance its audience.
Playing With Time Inc. is the Canadian production company behind Degrassi High. The company was formed in 1976 by junior high school teacher Linda Schuyler and commercial editor Kit Hood who began making documentaries. Its move into drama two years later became the first episode of the series The Kids of Degrassi Street. Degrassi Street is a street in the east end of Toronto, and the young actors in the first series were cast from the neighbourhood.
Degrassi Junior High came next - not as a sequel, but as a close relative of Kids. A number of the old cast auditioned and turn up as new characters. The awards have been rolling in from around the world (it is shown in more than 40 countries) since the early '80s and they will continue for Degrassi High, which began on the ABC last week. It is yet another step up from Kids and is aimed at an audience of older children still. The stories and issues dealt with are more sophisticated and complex and the larger school allows for a cast of 60.
These 60 youngsters make up the PWT Repertory Company. According to Kit Hood, they don't want the cast to be overtrained, so Playing With Time looks for kids who don't have a background in theatre or film. The company auditions extensively, and those chosen are then given three weeks of intensive workshops where they learn acting techniques and the basics of film and television productions.
One of the Degrassi series' strengths has been the obvious love and attention that goes into each aspect of the program. It follows that Playing With Time Inc is a tight group. Originators Linda Schuyler and Kit Hood are still at the helm, head writer Yan Moore has been with them since 1981, and Phillip Earnshaw, the cinematographer, since the first episode of Kids of Degrassi Street.