The kids are alright
by Kevin Williamson
The Canadian kids of Degrassi: The Next Generation have graduated into the ranks of American TV stars.
Its a test few actors or series from this country ever pass most are satisfied with marginal success at home.
But now in its fourth season on CTV and airing in the U.S. on Nickelodeons teen-oriented sister network The N, Degrassi has become a cult sensation thanks to its frank portrayal of such tinderbox issues as sex, drugs, gay bashing and abortion.
When staffers from Entertainment Weekly popped up on the Toronto set for a recent article, executive producer Linda Schuyler recalls: They were just eating it up. They kept saying a show like this couldnt be produced in the States.
By show like this she means a show that makes The O.C. look like Saved By The Bell.
Were very bold in our subject matter, Schuyler says. Next year is our 25th anniversary and our trademark has always been that were bold with subject matter yet also respectful of our young audience. We dont talk down to them.
In addition to EW, Degrassi: The Next Generation has attracted the attention of such media outlets as MTV, Teen People and the New York Times, which praised the series for its treatment of the abortion issue. (Ironically, the episode was banned by The N.)
The show Canadas top-rated drama with more than 700,000 viewers an episode averages about 250,000 viewers an episode in the U.S. a huge number for a series consigned to the nether regions of digital cable.
More tellingly, reports Schuyler, is that when the shows teen actors went on a 12-city mall tour across the U.S., they were met with hundreds of screaming American kids It wasnt just in one city. These little young ones 14, 15, 16 years old theyre being ambassadors for Canada. Who would have thunk it?
Not even Schuyler, who conceived the drama in 1979 with her former partner Kit Hood when it was called The Kids of Degrassi Street. The show would later hits its stride when it morphed into Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. Back then, it also had a following in the U.S. filmmaker Kevin Smith counts himself among the originals many loyal faiths but was hampered by airing on PBS.
The individual PBS stations ran it whenever it suited their schedule so there was no national timeslot.
Already the spinoff has surpassed the number of episodes its predecessor made. And were only on the fourth season and there will definitely be a fifth.
Much of the shows success, she acknowledges, is due to a fanbase she calls classic kids 18-49-year-old adults who grew up on the original and now tune into the spinoff.
(The cast of new kids is offset by alumni from the original series, including Amanda Steptos Spike and Stefan Brogrens Snake.)
With the U.S. mall tour behind them, the cast members will next make stops in four Canadian cities, including Calgary, starting Oct. 19.
In addition to our city, the kids will be meeting fans in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax. How are the teen actors handling the limelight?
Theyve just been wonderful. Theyre remaining surprisingly well-grounded. They seem to be taking it all in stride.