The scribes: franchise's writers dish about Degrassi [playback mag]

BY: Adam Halpern

Yan Moore

Wrote and/or story-edited every episode of Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. Also a cocreator, creative consultant and writer on The Next Generation. His other show creations include 2030CE and Riverdale.

Have any subjects ever been considered taboo on Degrassi?

“No, not at all. If it was happening [in the real world], we would deal with it. I believe we were the first program to say ‘fuck’ on primetime television.”

Which episode are you most proud of?

“You’re talking about my children here. How can one select one above the other? But the subject I was most scared of was teen suicide, because of statistics that show when there is a show about teen suicide, there’s a blip.”

What is your most controversial episode?

“I believe the one that got the most mail was called “Black and White.” It was where a white girl and a black guy dated.”

Why have kids identified with the series?

“It strives extremely hard to reflect reality. I’ve done a lot of other TV, and we’re not doing that.”

What character are you most like?

“I always tend to identify with the nerd. In the new show, I’d identify with Toby [Jake Goldsbie]. In the old show – Arthur [Duncan Waugh].”

How has the franchise changed the most over the years?

“It’s become a lot slicker. After Dawson’s Creek, you can’t do a show in quite the same manner as the old Degrassi. Dawson’s Creek changed the teen landscape, in a way.”

Were you responsible for naming Joey’s band “Zit Remedy?”

“I’m sorry. That was my fault.”

Aaron Martin

Spent four years heading up the story department on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Currently cowriting the Degrassi feature screenplay along with Tassie Cameron.

Which episode are you most proud of?

“Probably the two-part episode where Marco [Adamo Ruggiero] ‘came out,’ which I thought was pretty groundbreaking for a teen show.”

Why do kids identify with Degrassi?

“I think it’s the honesty that we approach every story with. None of us ever talk down to the kids. We don’t judge the issues that we’re tackling. The thing that teenagers hate the most is being bullshitted, and we never do that.”

Favorite character to write for?

“Paige [Lauren Collins] is my all-time favorite, because she could be a bitch but she could also be very nice. She has many layers to her.”

How does working on the feature film differ from writing the series?

“It’s a totally different kind of writing. The feature has to be something where fans coming to see it will get a payoff from watching the series, yet it also has to be a movie that can stand on its own.”

Are you trying to tailor the script for a more conservative American market?

“No. Our mandate from [Paramount, the film’s U.S. distributor] is to go as far as the series goes, if not further.”

Shelley Scarrow

Worked on the first four seasons of Degrassi: The Next Generation in the capacities of writer and story editor. Currently head writer on Instant Star, also from Epitome Pictures. Named one of Playback’s 10 to Watch in 2005.

What is your most controversial episode?

“It’s a different answer by country. The Americans would say the abortion episode, because, obviously, that got banned. The Canadians would say the oral-sex episode. I remember pitching that at CTV to absolute gasps. If the kids are talking about [the issues], then so should we.”

Would you want your own kids to go to Degrassi?

“I feel like it’s all real… I bet you can find every topic we’ve done [actually unfolding] at virtually any school in North America these days.”

Watching the show growing up, did you have a crush on any of
the characters?

“I was a ‘Snake girl.’ We used to joke that there were three types of girls in the world: ‘Joey girls,’ ‘Wheels girls’ and ‘Snake girls.’ I was definitely a ‘Snake girl.'”

Why do kids identify with Degrassi?

“[Executive producer Linda Schuyler] has got this sensibility of being so honest with kids. She has worked really hard to make sure she’s talking to kids directly. They’re sort of figuring out their own problems.”

How do you account for the show’s popularity south of the border?

“I think there’s a slightly different philosophy in raising children. There’s an American desire to protect children from stuff, and so I think American kids are even hungrier to hear about it.”

Favorite character to write for?

“Manny, because she’s funny and she wears her heart on her sleeve. And I also think that Cassie Steele is a great little actress.”

What character were you most like in school?

“I was probably most like Ashley [Melissa McIntyre], with a little less of the Goth-girl edge.”

Your scripts have a darker edge. Do you ever want to write about

sunshine, lollipops and puppy dogs?

“Yes, and that’s why I’m now working on Instant Star!”

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