Evergreen Degrassi keeps drawing fans

Evergreen Degrassi keeps drawing fans

By DAVID KRONKE Los Angeles Daily News

Sabrina Szymanski, a 15-year-old from Nevada City, Calif., first saw Degrassi: The Next Generation, a high-school saga appearing on the teen network the N, two years ago.

I thought it was kind of lame in a funny way that was so good you watch it, she recalls. Everyone was unfortunate-looking, and it was not as intense.

Soon, however, the fact that the characters werent all pinups grew on Szymanski, and the series became more intense in addition to the usual high-school concerns like grades and dating, episodes have dealt with date rape, gay-bashing, abusive parents, kids who cut themselves and school violence.

Characters affect you so that over the seasons, it seems like youre friends with them, you know them so well, Szymanski said. Its more realistic. The O.C. is more soap-opera-ish. Not everyones rich and living in (Orange County) and going to the beach all the time.

Degrassi: The Next Generation, the only series still running since the Ns launch in 2002, is a cult favorite lurching toward becoming a runaway sensation. When its fourth season launched in October, more teens watched it that night than Joan of Arcadia and 8 Simple Rules. New episodes returned Friday with repeats shown frequently throughout the week.

The show was created by Linda Schuyler, a former junior-high teacher who first produced the semi-documentary series The Kids of Degrassi Street in Canada in the early 80s. That evolved into scripted melodramas Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High (seen on some PBS stations) as the decade progressed. Characters and actors from the later shows appear in The Next Generation as adults.

People always asked, Why teach junior-high kids? Theyre so miserable,  Schuyler says. I love them. Attitude is just something they wear. Underneath, theyre really scared young kids who arent sure whats going on. I like to meet those issues head-on.

And though the series is produced in Canada, where it airs on a mainstream broadcast network, those working on the show agree their American fans are far more passionate.

The American reaction is absolutely overwhelming, says Miriam McDonald, 18, who plays Emma on the series. We had mall tours last year wed expect 50 kids and hundreds and hundreds would turn out.

Schuyler is also behind Instant Star, which started on the N Friday. Alexz Johnson stars as Jude, a 15-year-who wins an American Idol-style competition but then is constantly pressed to compromise her principles.

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