International Achievement Award – Linda Schuyler Producer broke ground with Degrassi franchise

2006 Chrystal Awards: International Achievement Award – Linda Schuyler
Producer broke ground with Degrassi franchise (Playback Magazine)

by Cheryl Binning

page 18

When Linda Schuyler negotiated her first bank loan as an independent producer 26 years ago, she pretended to be married in order to get approved.

“As a single female entrepreneur, I was definitely treated differently by the banks,” she says. “I had to get a friend of mine – a gay school teacher – to act as my husband for them to give me money.”

Schuyler definitely doesn’t have such problems with banks today.

Her Toronto prodco Epitome Pictures produces the mega-hit youth series Degrassi: The Next Generation, which neared one million viewers for a fourth-season episode on CTV in 2004. It’s also the top-rated show on U.S. cable channel The N, and has sold to more than 150 countries worldwide.

Meanwhile, Epitome’s music biz soaper Instant Star, also licensed to CTV and The N, is viewed in more than 110 international territories.

In recognition of this global success, Schuyler is the 2006 recipient of the Women in Film and Television – Toronto International Achievement Award, a special honor bestowed at the discretion of the Crystal Awards Jury in partnership with CTV.

“I am proud of the fact that I have always produced 100% Canadian content and still managed to have this international reach,” says Schuyler, who runs Epitome with husband Stephen Stohn. “These stories are unabashedly set in Canada – we don’t try to hide this in any way.”

While foreign sales are a point of pride, Schuyler says they never play into her series’ creative development.

“I always start out thinking about a youthful audience and keeping the diversity of that audience in mind – not diversity in terms of international sales, but because multiculturalism is a reality of being Canadian,” she says.

Susanne Boyce, president of programming at CTV, calls Schuyler an inspiration and role model.

“She has created a very successful business model that is nurtured on creative vision,” Boyce says. “For her, it is always about being true to the creative. Business is important, but creative leads.”

Boyce credits the international success of Degrassi: The Next Generation to the fact that the characters and situations are real.

“Linda is fearless – she doesn’t shy away from controversial and difficult topics,” she explains. “The show is authentic and well-crafted. You believe these young people live in that world. And because of that, millions and millions of people have been touched [by Degrassi].”

Schuyler says she learned to produce “on the fly,” starting out in the business at the age of 29, after eight years as a junior high teacher.

“There were no female role models in the business when I started out,” says Schuyler, who, along with former partner Kit Hood, created Kids of Degrassi Street – the first series in the Degrassi franchise – in 1980 for CBC.

And while women have come a long way in the TV industry, Schuyler says there are still barriers to be broken.

“Women are doing well in broadcasting positions and writing and producing, but we still aren’t seeing many female directors, assistant directors, grips and gaffers and other on-set positions,” she notes.

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