Behind the scenes of 'Degrassi:' 'Junior High' to 'The Next Generation'

Behind the scenes of ‘Degrassi:’ ‘Junior High’ to ‘The Next Generation’
Creator says the show continues to be ground-breaking; network executive says teens can’t get enough

Sunday, September 26, 2004
By FANNIE RICCOBONOADVANCE STAFF WRITER
“Degrassi Junior High” premiered on CBC-TV in 1986. During its first term, one of its main characters, Christine “Spike” Nelson, was faced with the issue of being a pregnant teen.

When “Degrassi Junior High” ended and “Degrassi High” began, Spike had to deal with being a teen mother. Unfortunately the show went off-air for a number of years, after the teens got too old for high school. However, creator Linda Schulyer, had an idea of how they could bring teens back to “Degrassi.” (Which is actually a real street in Toronto.)

“We realized that (Spike’s) baby would be old enough to go into high school and we called (the show) ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation,'” Ms. Schulyer said.

Spike’s baby is Emma and that’s how “Degrassi: TNG” was born.
Ms. Schulyer calls Spike’s teen pregnancy, “ground-breaking in the ’80s,” but “Degrassi” still isn’t afraid to push the limit of hard teen topics on television.

“We’re very bold in terms of the issues that we’re taking on,” says Ms. Schulyer. “I believe that if kids are talking about it then we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it on ‘Degrassi.'”

To keep on top of these hot issues, the “Degrassi” cast meets regularly to discuss what’s new in the teenage world. “We constantly have our antenna out to what are the issues facing kids,” she said.

“Degrassi” appears on Friday nights on The N network, a cable station devoted solely to tweens and teens, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“Obviously teens watch TV that is produced for adults, but there’s not a lot that is directed to their lives. (‘Degrassi’) is so real to them that they feel like its analogous to what’s going on in their schools,” explains Sarah Tomassi Lindman, vice-president of programming and production of The N.

One reason that “Degrassi” is more realistic than other teen dramas is that all the characters on the show are played by actors of about the same age.

“When you ask someone in their twenties to be a teenager, they bring with them a world experience that a regular 16-year-old doesn’t have. We capture a wonderful time when kids are trying to be more sophisticated but their naivet pops out anyway,” Ms. Schulyer said.

“Degrassi” tries to focus on the reality of teen life, more than the fantasy. “We allow kids to make mistakes — we don’t sugarcoat the story, which I think is important,” she said. “We seldom have the adults resolve problems for them.”

But the main reasons why “Degrassi” really hits home with teens, are that it’s fearless in terms of subject matter, has a mix of high-drama and humor, and is honest and real, Ms. Schulyer explains.

“Our goal with The N is to serve teens in all phases of their life — drama, comedy shows, reality shows — we want to be a full service teen network across all of the genres,” said Ms. Tomassi Lindman.

Fannie Riccobono is the FL!P editor for the Advance. She may be reached at riccobono@siadvance.com.

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