Linda Schuyler honoured for "Degrassi"

Linda Schuyler honoured for ‘Degrassi’

Tyrone Warner, News Staff

The Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children has announced that their 2007 program will feature a special presentation honouring the “Degrassi” franchise.

The tribute, conducted as a discussion session about the show, will feature producer-creator Linda Schuyler, key cast members and contributors to the creative team at an event on Saturday April 14, 7 p.m. at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto.

Schuyler talked to about the honour, and says “it’s going to be very exciting to talk about ‘Degrassi.'”

The world of “Degrassi” centres on the lives of teens growing up in Toronto, Ontario, and follows them on their journey through school. The show is known for it’s unflinching portrayal of teen life, approaching such hard hitting topics like rape, homosexuality, suicide, eating disorders, drugs, school shootings, and murder.

“Degrassi” originally aired in the 1980s, and returned to television in 2001 as “Degrassi: The Next Generation” on CTV, which is currently airing it’s sixth season, and is currently on Monday nights at 9:30 p.m. Check local listings for details. Did you ever think Degrassi would become such a big part of your career?

Linda: Never. And in fact when the original gang of us wrapped up the original “Degrassi” show, we really thought that was the end of an era, and it was for a while.

And then it seemed, I thought that from my perspective, even thought there was a lot of shows being produced for young people, there wasn’t the kind of direct and honest storytelling out there that we used to do with “Degrassi.” I wondered why people weren’t still doing that.

And then we realized that Spike in the original show had been a single mom when she was in eighth grade, and we thought, ‘oh my goodness, that baby is now old enough to go to junior high.’ And that became the new hook for us to do the new series, and here we are seven years later and we’re still going strong. How do you describe your relationship to the show?

Linda: Technically I am both the co-creator of both series, and I am the executive producer of “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”

Prior to becoming an independent producer, I was a junior high teacher for eight years. Sometimes I feel to a certain extent through “Degrassi,” I still am teaching in some way. I know our primary mandate is to entertain, but I really hope that we are bringing messages of enlightenment to our young audience. Do you think of yourself as a mother to these characters?

Linda: I certainly felt like that in the original show, I felt like I was a second mom to about 60 kids. I now feel more like a grandma!

In “The Next Generation” I have a very young writing team, and they’re the same age I was when I was producing the original. So I look upon them more as the parental figures. Do you think there’s a big difference between the original and new versions of the show?

Linda: I really love telling stories for and about young people. I think it’s a time of life where I think our protagonists have one foot still in childhood and one foot in adulthood and it’s that push-pull that really forms the dramatic tension of our series.

And what’s happening in that push-pull is a sexual awakening, and coming to terms with being a sexual human being. It’s a very ripe age for storytelling.

The other thing I love about it is that it takes place in a school, and everybody can relate to going to school. We all remember our past experiences. School is a great equalizer for people in all walks of life, and there’s such diversity within the corridors. What kinds of subjects are out there that you still want to tackle on the show?

Linda: It’s funny; my writing team is very good. Brendon Yorke, who is going to be at Sprockets on Saturday, heads them up and they are good at keeping up on what’s going on today.

Right now we are working on a script that involves kids fighting and posting the video on YouTube, and the kids come to hero status because of it. Well, that is a story that could have never been told in the original series, because this kind of phenomena didn’t exist.

There always seems to be fresh angles coming up on how teenagers are reacting with one another and interacting with the media. Even though a lot of the themes might stay the same, the way the stories get told are so dependent on how the media interplays with this generation. Do you think that as the experience of being a teen changes, your show changes with it?

Linda: Exactly, it’s such a vibrant time of life. They are so open; they are like sponges to the world around them. And even though thematically, stories about broken hearts and detentions and first dates span across the generations, there is this bombardment of information and technology that faces this generation and how they deal with human issues in that environment. It keeps “Degrassi” fresh. What has your experience been like working in the Canadian television industry? Have you ever thought about leaving and moving to work in the states?

Linda: I would say that thought crossed my mind during the time that I had finished the first “Degrassi” and I thought I was through with youth programming wondering where I should go next. I did have some talks with L.A. agents, but it was only a fleeting thought. I love Canada too much.

Our entertainment industry is fraught with problems, in terms of how to finance our projects, but at the end of the day I love living here, I love telling stories, I love working with our Canadian broadcasters, and I love being part of the solution.

We’ve had difficulties, and I’ve worked not just as an independent producer, but I’ve worked on the CFTPA (Canadian Film and Television Production Association) trying to find solutions to our funding issues. Despites all it’s complexities, I love being a part of the Canadian entertainment industry. What other work are you involved in now besides Degrassi?

Linda: We’ve got another fantastic show that’s on CTV and on The N in the states, called “Instant Star,” about our young protagonist Jude Harrison, a winner of Canadian Idol type show that is actually a singer-songwriter contest. It’s about what happens when you take a young person with talent, and instantly they’re famous, and how they juggle everything in their new life. I love it because every week we feature an original song in an original way and it’s part of our storytelling. It’s a very fresh, young, exciting show. How much longer do you see yourself continuing the series?

Linda: When we did the classic show, when our students going through graduated, we stopped the show. And we figured it had run it’s course and felt successful, and it felt right.

This time we’re being smarter. As our older gang is graduating, we are seeding the school with younger students. So we are leaving our school so that as long as the broadcasters and the audiences wanted it, we could be around for quite a while. Do you ever see yourself passing the show off to someone else?

Linda: Certainly this year I am working with a new young producer, his name is Stefan Brogen, we’ve been working together for 20 years because he used to be “Snake” in the original series. He’s now “Mr. Simpson” in the new show, and last year he produced all our “mini-Degrassi” episodes that went on the internet, and we’re trying to get on mobile downloads. He is working with me now as a creative producer. I am hoping that he is the first of a couple of people that I can mentor. The finale is coming up soon; can you reveal anything that may happen?

Linda: There are three episodes left, in our timeslot that we just got moved to, 9:30 Monday night after “Dancing with the Stars.”

But let’s put it this way, one of our young, female protagonists is in dire straits financially, and contemplates stripping for money. It’s a great episode, and it’s going to be a two-parter!

The Sprockets festival is geared towards children and youth, and draws upon Canadian and international cinema, with films in 25 different languages and 28 different countries. Sprockets runs from April 13 to April 22. More details about the festival are available at

Confirmed guests at the discussion include Schuyler, Amanda Stepto (Spike), Stefan Brogen (Snake), Lauren Collins (Paige), Cassie Steel (Manny), Adamo Ruggiero (Marco), Sarah Barrable-Tishauer (Liberty), director Phil Earnshaw and writer Brendon Yorke.

The Toronto International Film Festival Group (TIFFG) is a charitable, not for profit, cultural organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world. Its vision is to lead the world in creative and cultural discovery through the moving image.


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