American teen channel delays abortion-themed Degrassi episode

American teen channel delays abortion-themed Degrassi episode

John Mckay
Canadian Press

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

TORONTO (CP) – A U.S. cable channel has decided to postpone a two-part episode of the Canadian-made series Degrassi: The Next Generation because of its controversial plot about teen pregnancy and abortion.

As a result the outlet, the MTV-owned N Channel, has been the recipient of a 6,000-signature petition and even the attention of the New York Times. The petition called the channel “unjust and asinine” and argued that fans deserve to view all episodes of Degrassi unedited.

“This episode does not contain any forceful opinions regarding this subject,” the petition says. “By taking these actions we feel as a whole that you are dismissing a substantial part of this season’s plot.”

In the two-part third-season episode, entitled Accidents Will Happen, the character Manny, played by Cassie Steele, learns she is pregnant and must make a decision on whether to carry the baby to term or have an abortion. Without guilt, she opts for the latter in a story arc that already aired in Canada in January and again last month on CTV.

Degrassi creator/producer Linda Schuyler said Monday that N hasn’t yet scrubbed the episodes for all time and that it’s not the first time it has delayed storylines of the popular youth series while considering how to handle them.

In season 1, a character used ecstasy and N officials made some cuts and then had one of the cast members go to the U.S. and film a wraparound explaining the premise. Then in the second season a three-arc episode on date rape gave N pause for concern.

Eventually, the channel waited until the end of the season, then packaged the episode trio together as a special but with a panel discussion afterwards. It also posted a special parents’ guide on its Web site.

“I remain hopeful that they will find a way as with these other controversial subjects, to put it on the air that will be acceptable for their audience,” says Schuyler who adds she has been getting numerous letters of praise from Americans for an earlier episode that portrayed a gay onscreen kiss.

Even the New York Times has written about how much more fearless Canadian TV is than that in the U.S. for airing the abortion episodes. In an article this week, the paper compared the issue to its treatment on such American shows as Dawson’s Creek, The O.C. and Beverly Hills 90210 where the characters inevitably decided to keep their babies.

Until now, Degrassi has been getting nothing but praise in the U.S. and abroad for its frank handling of teen issues.

In addition to Gemini and Director’s Guild awards at home, it has been honoured with the Silver Screen Award at the U.S. International Film and Video Festival, an award of excellence by the Alliance for Children and Television, Best Family Television Series at the Young Artist Awards, a GLAAD Media Award and a first place award from the National Council on Family Relations.

Also the N channel, described as the nighttime network for 12- to 17-year-olds, has been heavily promoting the Canadian series as their flagship show with a contest for a guest shot on the program, preview screenings and a summer-long 12-city cross-America tour of shopping malls by cast members, including New York, L.A., Chicago, Orlando, Atlanta, Tucson and Honolulu.

“Our Degrassi kids were treated like rock stars,” says Schuyler. “Kids turned out by the hundreds waiting for them.”

Schuyler says the show treats its issues responsibly but that the U.S. channel has purchased it and what they do is out of her hands.

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