The mom of Degrassi Street

Copyright 2005 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
The Toronto Star

September 17, 2005 Saturday

By: Jon Filson, Toronto Star

As you read this, Degrassi: The Movie is in the works.

A script is being scribbled, series co-creator Linda Schuyler confirms. Will it make it to the big screen? Let’s put it this way: if you want to see it, the best thing you could do is go see the Trailer Park Boys movie when it shows up in theatres – if that TV-to-big-screen translation’s a success, then Degrassi’s chances of getting the green light go way up.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the could-only-come-from-Canada show has never been hotter. Consider:

It’s coming off a season in which The New York Times called it the top teen drama.

The show is syndicated in more than 60 countries.

It received a Teen Choice award.

Last year saw Hollywood director Kevin Smith guest star along with Jason Mewes.

“We’re in too good of a place right now to say we’re pulling the plug,” Schuyler says, in what can only be considered an understatement.

In a world in which a television show can be cancelled after an episode or two, the Degrassi franchise is an outstanding example of longevity. “I’m too Canadian to be completely cocky,” Schuyler says.

Executive producer Schuyler should know: she’s one of the few who has been there ever since “Ida Makes a Movie” was made for $20,000 way back in 1980. “Ida” would go on to serve as the pilot for Kids of Degrassi Street, which started off the whole series.

Over the course of the run in production and syndication, the moments that stand out to Schuyler are off-screen. She calls them the “Dear Degrassi” letters: the ones from mothers who watched episodes about oral sex with their teenage daughters – “I know this is an issue going on. I haven’t been able to talk to my daughter about it. …”

And then there are the letters from the daughters themselves, who have never seen anyone discuss “cutting,” the emails from young boys who have wrestled with homosexuality. All of those who have found solace, guidance, reflection and wisdom in the series is what makes Schuyler proud.

The show also stubbornly casts age-appropriate stars – unlike, say, the elders who pass for teens on The O.C. – and the focus has remained on the ensemble instead of creating stars. The scripts are workshopped with kids to stay current. And while consequences are what Degrassi is all about, they often “happen at a peer level, not with an adult coming in saying, ‘You bad children,'” Schuyler says.

Yet it’s the boundary breaking, the I-can’t-believe-they’re-doing-that factor that resonates with viewers. The show never takes the easy way out. When a teen pregnancy happens, an abortion could be the result or the baby could be kept to term. The show’s strongest message is that actions have consequences, and there’s rarely a single outcome. “It’s not like we’re saying one or the other,” Schuyler says.

A movie, a third generation … right now almost anything seems possible for a series once thought to be dead.

“If you had asked me in ’92, I would have laughed and said, ‘Of course not, we’re done,'” Schuyler says, stressing there are no immediate plans to continue the franchise beyond Next Generation.

But by now, it’s been a part of us so long, a Canada without Degrassi is hard to imagine.


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