Various articles from the Toronto Sun from September to December 2001

Friday, December 7, 2001
Degrassi keeps on growing
Calgary Sun
Jay and Silent Bob struck once — but Degrassi: The Next Generation creator Linda Schuyler says Clerks filmmaker Kevin Smith is still dying to cameo on the CTV hit.

“We keep in touch,” says Schuyler of Smith, an acknowledged — no, make that rabid — fan.

“It was a disappointment to both of us that he couldn’t appear.

“But he was making Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and it just collided with us doing it. But he was totally into it.”

So much so that Smith still wants to do it. “Whenever he’s in town, his agent calls and asks if there are any bit parts for him in it. Hopefully it will pan out.”

Smith, a thirtysomething geek who grew up with the original Degrassi gang, perfectly represents one of the reasons the new spinoff of the Canuck classic, airing Sundays at 7 p.m. on DE, is the country’s top-rated drama among the 18-49 years demographic (365,000 of them, according to Nielsen Media Research).

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Schuyler says, reporting university-age fans and older now gather to watch the spinoff.

“We’re very surprised because we didn’t set out to get the old audience back.

“But the fact that some of the old fans are staying with the show is terrific.”

A staple of ’80s and ’90s CBC-TV with characters like Joey, Snake, Wheels, Caitlin and Lucy, the original show never really got cancelled, Schuyler points out.

“We just stopped doing it. We had one group of kids and we followed them to their natural evolution.

“It wasn’t that the audience had dried up. But we felt we had told all the stories we wanted to tell.

“But ever since we wrapped on the original production, we’ve been asked, ‘Why don’t you do more?’ ”

But the pressure made the prospect of returning to Degrassi a scary one, she admits.

“Then we started thinking about it, and thought if we realized that Spike’s daughter would be now going into junior-high. So it seemed like a natural segue if we were going to do a next generation.”

So, with a new show came a new cast of faces, one of which is Melissa McIntyre, who plays Ashley Kerwin.

“This is, by far, the biggest role I’ve had.

“It’s huge. I live in a small town, so pretty much everyone knows me already, so I don’t get (recognized for the show) but the others kids are getting recognized.”

The series wrapped production in October and will have to wait until the end of January to see if it’s going to be picked up for a second year — something Schuyler admits she expects.

“But you never know — it’s the wacky world of Canadian television.”

Updating Degrassi also meant taking the series to the Internet.

“You can’t ignore the changes in communications and technology,” Schuyler says.

“Twenty years ago, you didn’t do your homework on a computer … We felt that was really important to reflect in our show.

“The Web component was critical.”

And the show’s Web site ( has also proven a success — attracting 28 million hits a month.

But regardless of technology, Schuyler says kids haven’t changed that much in the past two decades.

“Kids are still 17 and checking what the state of their face is.

“Kids did that 15 years ago.

“All the qualms you get are the same, like going on your first date. There are commonalities that exist.”

Cream of the crop

Colin Mochrie — who’s pretty much everywhere these days — hosts Sunday’s Cream Of Comedy, a search for Canada’s next big stand-up star (The Comedy Network at 11 p.m. on j).

Look for 24-year-old Calgarian Levi MacDonald to claim the top prize.

;The Futurama is now

The underrated Futurama — it’s never going to shake the stigma that comes from being Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s other animated show — returns this Sunday on Fox at 8 p.m. on W.

Thursday, September 20, 2001
Bell rings at Degrassi
Popular school series back on with all-new student body
Toronto Sun
The ghost of TV’s Riverdale haunts a kittycorner of Scarborough. There you’ll find a pleasant cul de sac of solidly built fake houses, a variety store and a “Degrassi St.” sign.

Fans of the defunct Canadian soap — and they are out there — will be able to recognize the street when Degrassi: The Next Generation hits CTV on Oct. 14.

Recycling being a virtue, Epitome Pictures decided to let the “street” stand, adjacent as it is to the impressive, lifesize Degrassi Community School they built on their own studio lot.

“It cost a lot of money,” says Degrassi and Riverdale creator Linda Schuyler, as we move from the “gym” to the main hallway and principal’s office. “But it would have cost a lot of money to convert an existing school, and there’d be no guarantee we’d have it next year.”

So it is that one of the best looking, best-equipped schools in the city has no actual students.

Of course, you wouldn’t know it from the teenage traffic in the halls. As director Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo) preps the next scene, Jake Goldsbie. who plays Toby. holds a can of Silly String and his eyes glint. “Guys… guys… no!” says a floor director, sensing unprofessional activity in the air.

McDonald leans over and whispers something to Jake, who immediately fires a blast of Silly String into the floor director’s face. “That was Bruce’s idea!” he immediately says, pointing a finger for emphasis.

It was indeed. The idea of having kids run amok with Silly String was one of those McDonald touches not included in the script.

“It was one of those little touches to, y’know, fill in the space, give the scene some life, give it some jump,” says McDonald, who is directing several episodes of the new series, including the one-hour Reunion Special on Oct. 14 that uses the old cast (Joey, Caitlin, Snake et al) as a springboard to introduce the new.

That episode also features Don McKellar as a sleazy L.A. producer (a role that originally was to go to avid Degrassi fan Kevin Smith before schedule conflicts dragged him away — “It’s too bad. He really wanted to meet Caitlin,” McDonald says wryly of fellow director Smith).

The original series ran on CBC from 1979-91 under the titles The Kids Of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. It officially ended with a made-for-TV movie, School’s Out, in 1992.

McDonald is the greybeard of a roster of new Degrassi directors that includes acclaimed youngsters Paul Fox and Laurie Lynd (Cinderella And Me). But age is only skin deep.

“There was one time we were ready to call action on a scene,” Schuyler says, “and we couldn’t find Bruce. It turned out he’d grabbed one of the kids’ bikes and was gone for a spin.”

In the episode shooting this week, Emma (Miriam McDonald), the daughter of original series character Spike, ends up wearing drawstring pants in school after having an “accident” from her first period, while Jimmy and Ashley, the school couple, seem headed for the rocks — with Ashley planning to break up with Jimmy on his birthday.

They’re tiny teen traumas of the kind that made the original series so popular. And all involved are hoping that viewers are hoping the new generation of kids will be given some slack (only Stefan Brogren as Snake and Amanda Stepto as Spike are back permanently, and then only on the sidelines).

“I was amazed at the rabid fandom that Degrassi had,” said McDonald, who has never even seen a whole episode of the original Degrassi series. “I’d be at a party or a bar and say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m doing this Degrassi thing.’ And it would be, ‘Oh my God!’ They’d freak out.

“But nostalgia isn’t necessarily the best reason to do this. I’m prepared for a backlash by Degrassi standardbearers, who’ll say, ‘How come it’s not the same as the old one?’ –‘Um, ’cause it’s 10 years later?’ ”


‘Degrassi’ stars celebrate new beginnings
Cast mingles with devoted fans at bash
TORONTO — In a world before cable, “Degrassi” actor Pat Mastroianni, was the big man on campus.

On Sunday night, his subjects gathered in Toronto at The Bohemian nightclub to celebrate his upcoming nuptials to Carmela Scalzi with a Jack & Jill party to which Mastroianni extended an open invite to Degrassi fans, his friends, and his family (as long as they were willing to pay $40 at the door).

Mastroianni is, of course, Joey Jeremiah of “Degrassi” fame. This year marks both Mastroianni’s approaching marriage and the start of a new generation of “Degrassi”, subtitled “The Next Generation”, which has renewed interest in the old TV show.

Mastroianni has always had a “good experience with fans”, which was his reason for inviting his hardcore groupies to his personal party. He says he’s a “pretty approachable guy”, which is why he thought fans of the cult favourite CBC show about Toronto kids surviving junior high and high school would be interested in coming to his bachelor party.

Steve, a bouncer at The Bohemian, is overheard saying he expected upwards of 150 to 250 people at the festivities. Only a little more than 100 actually show, although those in attendance were either ecstatic about being reunited with former castmates or in awe of the actors they watched grow up on TV.

Juliet and her friend Jay traveled all the way from Detroit in the hopes of glimpsing just one of the many characters they became addicted to by watching “Degrassi” reruns on TV.

“I have the whole series from the “Degrassi Kids” to high school on tape,” says Itchon, who says his favourite “Degrassi” moments came on the series finale, “Degrassi – School’s Out”.

“It’s realistic, you can relate to it,” says Cunniffe, when asked why she still loves the show.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the party-goers feast on pizza, nachos, and sandwich meats, and bop their heads to kitschy ’80s rock while being entertained with video images of Mastroianni and Scalzi, two wide-eyed young men sit in the corner drinking and hoping to catch a glimpse of Bill Parrot, a.k.a. Shane (yes, the guy who got “Spike” pregnant on “Degrassi”).

Jordan Paniatowski and Josh Ewart sit clutching a paperback novel about their favourite character. They’re so busy looking for the teen they watched on TV, that they totally overlook a young man dancing feverishly in the club. When told that the young man is, indeed, “Shane”, they glance at each other, then nervously start to approach him.

Their excursion is fruitful. “Shane” reacts to the book with a squeal and holds it up for a group of “Degrassi” castmates to see.

“To Jordan, Enjoy the read! Billy Parrot, Shane (2001)”, reads the inscription he writes for his two fans.

For Paniatowski and Ewart, Mastroianni’s party is an extra-special reunion. They haven’t seen each other in two years but decided to make their way to The Bohemian together because their “formative years were spent watching ‘Degrassi'”.

For the “Degrassi” cast, Sunday night’s party is the final act of a reunion they’ve been playing out since earlier this summer when most of the cast got together for the TV special that will launch the next generation of “Degrassi” kids.

Silulk Saysanasy, a.k.a. Yick Yu on the old TV show, is manning the door and prepping for his real-life role as Mastroianni’s best man later in August.

Saysanasy spent some time in Vancouver trying to make a go of acting but has returned to Toronto as the children’s co-ordinator on “Degrassi, The Next Generation”. His new responsibilities include ensuring that the new, young actors don’t break union rules by working too long without breaks.

Although it’s been many years since “Yick” left “Degrassi”, Saysanasy says he’s often approached by fans.

“A lot of people like telling me their favourite episodes,” he says, adding that many ask him questions such as “‘Was Spike really pregnant?” and “Were the twins really twins?”

Saysanasy looks back on his “Degrassi” years fondly, citing “School’s Out” as his favourite moment on the show — because there was “swearing and smoking”.

Saysanasy also loved his dual role as Mastroianni’s stand-in, which meant he got to take Mastroianni’s place during the make-out scenes and “make out all day with a hot blonde”.

Parrot says he’s kept in touch with Mastroianni because they often appear at the same auditions. He’s been supporting himself with film work and commercials.

Michael Carry (I), a.k.a. “Degrassi’s” jock/model Simon, has said goodbye to acting but is still involved in showbusiness as a grip. He developed an interest in the technical side of the TV world when he became friends with the technicians on the original show. His current boss, Steve Massey, also worked on “Degrassi”.

Other “Degrassi” celebrities in attendance included Kirsten Bourne (Tessa Campanelli ), Rebecca Haines (Kathleen Meade), and Dan Woods (II) (Mr. Raditch).

As the drinks continue to flow, the cast members start to fill each other in on the lives of those former castmates who are not in attendance. One lives in Greece and has a baby, another has three children. Parrot starts demonstrating dance moves to the tune of Boney M’s “Rasputin” and Mastroianni begins handing out door prizes.

With all the talk of new babies and careers, one could easily mistake Mastroianni’s party as a simple pre-wedding bash/high school reunion, if it wasn’t for the whispers and stares of “Degrassi” fans, or for the occasional ultra-showbiz conversation like this one, overheard in the men’s bathroom:

Bathroom guest #1: “Were you on ‘Degrassi’?”

Bathroom guest #2:”Yeah, I was an exchange student.”

Bathroom guest #1: “Really?”

Bathroom guest #2: “No, I’m a friend of Pat’s from auditions for commercials.”

Bathroom guest #1: “Really?”

Bathroom guest #2: “Yeah.”

Bathroom guest #1: “Know any good agents?”

Bathroom guest #2: “Yeah. Mine.”


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