'Degrassi' still enlightens

`Degrassi’ still enlightens

Series aimed at teens and tweens not afraid of controversial topics

TRACY L. SCOTT

Washington Post

It’s like bumping into childhood friends you never expected to see again.

The faces are vaguely familiar, and so are many of the names — Spike, Caitlyn, Joey. “Degrassi: The Next Generation” gives faithful fans a chance to catch up with the characters they watched struggle through adolescent angst more than two decades ago.

“Next Generation,” which begins its fourth season on Oct. 1, is the most recent addition to a Canadian series that began in 1982. The show features many of the same actors that starred in “The Kids of Degrassi Street” and “Degrassi Junior High.” Like its predecessors, “Next Generation” deals with some of the most controversial and taboo topics facing today’s young adults — from their perspective.

“It’s about what happens to you in that time between being a child and an adult and testing the two simultaneously,” said creator Linda Schuyler.

“Degrassi Junior High” aired in the United States from 1986 to 1991 on PBS and touched on teen pregnancy, abortion, racial discrimination, drug addiction, abuse, relationships and other issues facing kids of that decade.

Today’s “Next Generation” is shown on the N — Noggin’s “tween-to-teen” prime-time lineup — on Fridays at 8 p.m. The channel is available in Charlotte on Time Warner’s digital-cable Channel 177. “Next Generation” has dealt with date rape, teen-age pregnancy, abortion, school shootings, cutting, drug abuse and sexual orientation.

” `Degrassi’ gives (teen-agers) the tools to potentially deal with these situations. The show gives the audience the respect to realize they’re ready to deal with these topics and issues.” said Sarah Tomassi Lindman, vice president of programming at the N.

Besides being entertaining, Schuyler said the show also aims to “educate and enlighten,” a mission that brings a great deal of responsibility.

“There are some issues you have to be careful about,” she said. “One is always afraid of copycat behavior.

“We just finished production on an episode involving violence in the school. You want to make sure you’re getting it right. Whenever we deal with sensitive topics, (the scripts) are always vetted by experts,” Schuyler said.

“At the end of the day, we hope we’ve put out the most responsible piece” possible.

That includes offering parent discussion guides (available online at http://www.discussion. the-n.com), which feature questions and tips to accompany episodes.

Schuyler, 56, came up with the idea of a dramatic show for children and teen-agers almost 25 years ago, while teaching at a junior high school in Toronto.

Having always had an interest in production, Schuyler decided she would create a program to help students open up.

Her first series, “The Kids of Degrassi Street,” debuted in 1982. “Degrassi Junior High” followed in 1986 and segued right into “Degrassi High.”

When “Degrassi High” went off the air in the early 1990s, Schuyler worked on other TV projects. Years later, she found herself dealing with another show about junior high students. That idea developed into “Next Generation,” which was not originally part of the “Degrassi” concept.

That connection emerged when one of Schuyler’s writers calculated that Spike — a character from “Degrassi Junior High” who became pregnant and decided to keep her child — would now be raising a daughter in junior high.

“It became a really elegant way to launch `Next Generation,’ ” Schuyler said.

It also provided a way to bring some of “Degrassi’s” most popular characters — played by the original actors — back for “Next Generation.”

Principal Raditch, Spike, Caitlyn, Snake and Joey Jeremiah are original characters who have recurring roles on “Next Generation.”

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