Degrassi:The Next Generation

Degrassi:The Next Generation
By Andrea Morales

Ah, junior high. Remember the teasing, the questions, the first time you noticed your body, or more importantly, someone else’s? Remember the crazy things you and your friends got up to? Get ready to re-live it.

Degrassi is back.

CTV will be producing Degrassi: The Next Generation which should be airing this fall, featuring some of the old characters and a new set of kids undergoing the Degrassi experience, according to its creators.

The Degrassi series started in 1979 with a series of short films by Kit Hood and Linda Schuyler, that eventually became known as The Kids of Degrassi Street.

With that success, their company, Playing With Time, had the funding to hire a cast of 60 kids for a regular series dealing with social issues affecting pre-teens. As the children grew up, the series did too and Degrassi Junior High became Degrassi High.

Mackey, the director of some of the earliest Jr. High episodes, believes the secret of its long-time popularity was its creation of a demographic that existed long before the media invented “tweens.”

“We were making it for kids in grades five or six. People always watch movies about people older than them, right? So those nine to eleven year olds, there aren’t a lot of things for them, and if that’s the one show you watched at the time, that’s something you’re going to want to return to,” he said.

Creators are hoping that old fans will want to return to the show, starting out with a teaser two-hour movie of the week, which will precede the 13 episode series, Degrassi enthusiast Mark Polger said.

Though Polger is not involved in the production, he is the webmaster for many Degrassi-themed sites. Many ideas surrounding the new show came up in a meeting in June 2000.

Polger speculates the new show will be similar to the old series, but more polished, more sensational. He feels this may be because the new series will be produced without the direction of one of the original creators, Kit Hood.

This may affect the expectations old fans will have for the newest chapter in the series because, as Mackey believes, fans loved the realism. “Not everyone was beautiful, not everyone had the same ethnicity. What really made the show was the issues,” he said.

Pat Mastroianni, who played character Joey Jeremiah on the series agrees. “The issues and storylines have stood the test of time, there’s still a lot of people worried about their first date, their first kiss, or getting their license.”

Though Mastroianni jokes about the quality of the performances, it is true that the original actors were recruited as non-professionals. In fact, their amateurism lent greatly to the success of the show.

The kids not only acted, but were also contributors, according to Mackey. About a week before a shoot, the writers and the actors would sit down and do a read-through of the script. It was checked against the kids to see if the lingo was hip enough to be used. Words like “groovy” were way out, but “broomhead” was a favourite insult.

“I can’t imagine a Hollywood production doing that, ” Mackey says. “I can’t imagine a writer with the humility to listen to kids like that, and that is truly a remarkable thing about the show, their openness.”

Whatever the variations on the original formula for the new series, the name Degrassi calls up images of real, entertaining youth, and that, in turn, calls up attention.

So get with the program, broomhead. It’s time to go back to school.

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