'DEGRASSI' HAS REAL-LIFE TOUCH

A “Kids TV” Press Release Discussing The Degrassi Series

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Green Guide
The Age, Melbourne
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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.
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