School's even more of a grind; Principal Snake's busy as show moves to Much & becomes a serial

The Toronto Star

July 18, 2010 Sunday

Degrassi: School’s even more of a grind;
Principal Snake’s busy as show moves to Much and becomes a serial

SECTION: ENTERTAINMENT; Pg. E3

LENGTH: 577 words

It’s true – Snake has taken over the school.

Stefan Brogren, who started playing Archie “Snake” Simpson in 1987 on Degrassi Junior High, has now graduated to principal as Degrassi: The Next Generation enters its 10th season.
Except it’s not called that anymore, just Degrassi, and starting Monday, it switches networks and formats. The series premieres as a Monday-to-Thursday serial starting July 19 at 9 p.m. on MuchMusic.

Brogren admits he never imagined he’d ever turn a child actor job into a full-time adult career. After Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High finished their runs on CBC, the lanky blond actor went away to school figuring “the show would fade away and no one would know who I am.” Instead, a whole new generation of fans discovered the originals in reruns and even online.

He says things quickly get snake-y for principal Simpson this season. “He’s a little too easy on them and traditional Degrassi trouble ensues,” he says.

A major storyline involves a transgender student played by Jordan Todosey (Life With Derek). The 15-year-old had to chop off her locks and darken her hair to appear as a boy. “She’s absolutely amazing in the role,” says Brogren, 37.

As a producer, director and actor on Degrassi, Brogren notices strong performances but can’t linger on them, especially this season, where a record 44 episodes have been ordered – twice the usual number – now that the series has been serialized.

Brogren says the new telenovela format will allow the series to expand its storytelling. “Before, each episode was self-contained and had to be wrapped up in 22 minutes,” he says. The daily format allows the storylines to be spread over days and even weeks, with various cliffhangers in between.

The serialized format will extend for six weeks, after which the series will revert to a weekly basis. To crank out all that new copy, the writing staff has been expanded this season, from four to eight writers.

Yet no extra time has been added to accommodate the larger production order. Brogren says switching to digital “red camera” (which provide film quality on a quicker-to-edit digital basis) makes it possible to crank out an episode every two-and-a-half days.

The teen drama – still supervised by original executive producer Linda Schuyler – is produced at Epitome Studios in Toronto, a self-contained show factory where a rambling, Hollywood-style backlot provides easy access to exteriors. An entire high school is constructed there, complete with classroom interiors; some of the younger cast members take actual tutored classes within those walls.

Brogren directed last week’s TV-movie, The Rest of My Life: Degrassi Takes Manhattan, and directs four more episodes this season.

He feels the switch to MuchMusic could add years to the franchise. Slotted in the early evenings on CTV, the long-running series lost half its audience the last two seasons in Canada.
“Our fans are over at MuchMusic,” says Brogren, “It’s a perfect fit for us and for the viewers.”
Degrassi, which began over 30 years ago with The Kids of Degrassi Street, may be the most exportable TV brand Canada has ever produced. It is currently licensed in 147 countries and most important, Degrassi is hotter than ever in the United States where it’s the No. 1 show on Teen Nick.

That channel was once known as Noggin, the name of a large furry cat which roams the halls of the Degrassi studios. There will be no changing of the cat’s name, says Snake, who’s principal now, dammit.

LOAD-DATE: July 18, 2010

LANGUAGE: ENGLISH

DOCUMENT-TYPE: COLUMN

PUBLICATION-TYPE: NEWSPAPER

Copyright 2010 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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