High Times at Degrassi
Mark Aaron Polger
Mark Aaron Polger
Times at Degrassi
Sun TV Guide
We’re not sure if Linda Schuyler was a gossip in school. But the creator of the
Degrassi series sure sounds like one as she rattles off events of the day on
Degrassi: The Next Generation.
“Well, let’s see, right now Emma’s having her first period,
and there’s all the trauma that goes with that,” she says.
“And there’s Jimmy and Ashley, the school ‘couple.’ She’s
class president and looks like she’s got everything perfect. But it’s Jimmy’ s
birthday, and she’s starting to feel suffocated by him, and she’ s not sure if
she should break up with him on his birthday.”
As she gives the play-by-play in her crisply lit corner office,
the events are playing out a hundred yards away at the other end of the
Scarborough property of her Epitome Pictures.
In a hallway of the full-size replica of “Degrassi Community
School, ” director Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo) runs the kids through
their paces. Between takes, the cast of 12-to-15 year olds fall back naturally
into small like-minded groups, laughing loudly, casting occasionally superior
glances at other kids, and sharing presumably rude comments about same.
In short, the atmosphere seems so school-like, it’s sometimes hard
to tell when the cameras are rolling.
MOVED TO CTV
You’d think bringing back Degrassi, one of the most successful
franchises in Canadian TV, would be a slam-dunk. But there’s an element of
crap-shoot to the endeavour (which might partly explain why the series is
showing up on CTV, and not its old home CBC).
For starters, just because some of us may have been drawn to the
adventures of original Degrassi kids Joey, Snake, Wheels, Caitlin and Lucy,
doesn’t mean we’ll get the same alchemy from the aforementioned Emma (Miriam
McDonald) and Jimmy & Ashley (Aubrey Graham and Melissa McIntyre), as well
as Toby (Jake Goldsbie), J.T. (Ryan Cooley) and Spinner (Shane Kippel).
Nor would that make The Next Generation fly by itself. Schuyler
and company need to attract a young audience that had never heard Joey’s band
The Zit Remedy play that stupid song.
“It’s quite wonderful how fondly people remember the old
series, ” says Schuyler, who pulled the plug on Degrassi High 10 years ago
after shepherding the series through The Kids Of Degrassi St. and Degrassi Jr.
Leading up to tonight’s Degrassi reunion special, CTV has been
airing episodes of the original series, “and the numbers have been
amazing. Last week they got 475,000 viewers for what is, what, the 23rd or 24th
airing of that episode?
“But the people who are interested in Degrassi for the
nostalgic factor are not our intended audience — although hopefully some have
kids of their own now who might watch with them.”
Among enticements: A Degrassi site (www.degrassi.tv) with a
virtual school, buzz about subplots and characters, and a “Guidance
Counsellor” feature that links students to advice and information about
the issues raised in a particular episode.
The one-hour Degrassi reunion serves as a bridge between the old
and the new, and as a carrot for longtime Degrassi fanatics who want to find
out what actually happened to everybody.
UPDATE ON CAST
We find that Joey (Pat Mastroianni) is a used car salesman who’ s
a widowed single father. Caitlin (Stacy Mistysyn) has taken her
environmentalism to the tube and is now host of a documentary series. Snake
(Stefan Brogren) is a teacher at Degrassi and Spike (Amanda Stepto) is still
raising daughter Emma — the child she had out of wedlock in junior high.
The character of Emma was, in fact, the catalyst for the new
“About a year and a half ago,” Schuyler recalls,
“my old creative partner Yan Moore and I were talking, and he said,
‘Linda, y’know if we followed the chronology, Spike’s daughter would now be 12
and entering Degrassi Jr. High.”
The notion appealed to Schuyler, who’d been pondering another teen
series anyway. Fittingly, the main “kid plot” in the Degrassi reunion
special involves Emma, and her dangerous liaison with a cyber stalker.
As of next week, when Degrassi turns to a half-hour format, the
old gang will be on the periphery (only Snake and Spike will be semi- regular
characters), and the series will take a permanent change in vantage point.
will be done from the kids’ point of view,” Schuyler says. “You will
never see, for example, two adults in a room talking about a kid. Or if you do,
you can bet the kid is either in the room listening or eavedropping some other