OriginLinda Schuyler, a former teacher, and Kit Hood, a video editor and former child actor, first established the Playing With Time company in 1976. The first few productions were fun, educational videos for children and adolescents in junior high school. After their adaptation of the children's book Ida Makes A Movie by Kay Chorao, the idea for the mini-series The Kids of Degrassi Street was born.
In 1979, CBC Television and Magic Lantern agreed to give partial funding to make the mini-series of six episodes, initially intended to continue on from Ida Makes A Movie. Several years passed before Playing With Time was able to afford the seven episodes per year deal, and by 1986, 26 episodes of The Kids of Degrassi Street had been produced. They auditioned a small group of young actors with little, if any, acting experience and on a modest budget started filming around the area where their company was located. This series focused on elementary and primary school children, and when all the characters reached grade six, the series finished. The production company began work on a sequel-like series, Degrassi Junior High, re-using seven of the actors who had acted on the original series, but with different character names. The series focused on more adult issues and used a larger cast. The show aired on CBC in Canada, PBS in the United States, and in Australia with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High
Degrassi Junior High first aired in 1987 on CBC in Canada and PBS/WGBH Boston in the United States. It delivered 26 episodes in the first two seasons (1987, 1988) and sixteen in the third season (1989), developing a cult following for its realistic and gritty portrayal of teenage life, without resorting to melodrama. It should be noted that these seasons typically began in the winter of their respective years. There is some speculation whether the producers intentionally tried to conceal the series' Canadian identity in the earlier episodes. For example, in one episode, a Canadian $20 bill is replaced with an American one in the version that was aired in the United States.
After the cast of Degrassi Junior High grew a few years older, their stories continued in the spin-off series, Degrassi High, where the cast was once again expanded and a larger building was used to portray the high school. Degrassi High aired on CBC and PBS / WGBH Boston for two years until early 1991. These series are often compared to Beverly Hills, 90210, a much more melodramatic series, which began airing in the United States at the same time, except 90210 used twenty-something actors to play teenagers, where as Degrassi actually uses people who are the age they are playing. This series is also compared to Saved by the Bell. Like Saved by the Bell, this series follows teenagers going through everyday normal teen social issues. But unlike Saved by the Bell, problems are not solved within the episode; some plotlines often continue through multiple episodes.
A few months later, the 90-minute Degrassi made-for-TV film School's Out was produced, which concluded the series. It sparked controversy and anger amongst fans and critics for the unusual characterization of familiar characters and infamous scenes of sexuality and coarse language (U.S. viewers saw a toned-down version when it aired in 1993, which did not feature the infamous "F-bombs" Canadian viewers got to see). A six-part documentary series entitled Degrassi Talks was aired soon after to moderate success.
Hood and Schuyler subsequently worked on a similar series, Liberty Street, which applied the Degrassi format to a series about twentysomethings living on their own for the first time. Pat Mastroianni, one of the most famous actors from the Degrassi series, appeared in Liberty Street as well, although playing a different character.
Degrassi: The Next Generation
Almost a decade later, the Degrassi series was revived by Schuyler and Stephen Stohn as Degrassi: The Next Generation. This Degrassi series deals with similar issues as its predecessor, yet in a more contemporary setting. It has been extremely successful thus far and has grown its own distinct cult following amongst teenagers and adults alike. This series is broadcast on CTV in Canada and rebroadcast to the United States on the cable channel The N, to Australia on the ABC and Nickelodeon, and to Mexico, Peru and Chile on the cable channel MTV Latin America.
This newer, hipper version of Degrassi has thus far dealt with very mature topics, such as homosexuality, rape, various sex-related subjects, suicide, self-harm, eating disorders, drugs, school shootings and relationships and most recently, murder.
Although US rights are exclusively owned by The N, there could be a market for this show on broadcast syndication as it would meet the criteria for E/I programming. On September 25, 2006 Program Partners, a American company whose Canadian-produced programs are distributed through Sony Pictures Television, announced that they have acquired the syndication rights to the show, which will start stripping daily on local stations in the US during the early evening fringe hours (between 5 and 7 pm) beginning in September 2007. The requirement of using the E/I bug throughout the entire show, along with limits on the amount of commercial advertising may be factors against broadcast stations using Degrassi to fulfill E/I requirements.
Note also that, until the move to MuchMusic for season 10, Degrassi had always been carried free-to-air in Canada, meaning that US viewers in the northern border states who could pick up a CTV (or, earlier, CBC) signal could legally watch the show that way.
Seasons 8 and 9 will be released in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Scandinavia, UK, Brazil, Germany, Benelux Australia, and New Zealand on October 23 on MTV.
Each episode of Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High and Degrassi: The Next Generation follow a plot formula as well as a set of plot rules that was created by the writers. In Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, the plot formula consists of three plots, Plot A, B and C. Plot A takes place within one week and comes to a resolution at the end of the episode. Plot A is often the most serious plotline and the episode always begins and ends with Plot A. Plot B often has a connection to Plot A. Plot C often finishes or sets up an on-going storyline or is used for comic relief. One rule that was always enforced except for on two occasions is that no adult can appear in a scene without a Degrassi kid present.
Degrassi: The Next Generation operates on a similar plot formula. There are two plots, Plot A and B (there can be a Plot C). Plot A is usually driven by one character dealing with one issue. Plot B is usually more comedic or is used to move season-long storylines forward. Like Degrassi Classic, the show ends and begins with Plot A.
The show has specifically dealt with seven different pregnancies, and finds some of its most popular storylines with those particular plots. The first pregnancy happened to Spike (played by Amanda Stepto) and was fathered by Shane (who later suffered brain damage as a result of jumping off of a bridge while high on acid after a Gourmet Scum concert). Both were original Degrassi Junior High characters. The birth occurred just after the second season finale. Spike gave birth to a girl, Emma, who became a primary character in The Next Generation (in fact, Emma's story was the catalyst for the series' creation).
The second occurred in the Degrassi High episode "A New Start", when Heather must comfort her twin sister Erica as she seeks an abortion after her summer romance. This episode sparked controversy because of the topic of abortion; the American version, which originally aired on PBS, was edited to not show the protesters and no final decision on whether to get the abortion was ever made. (In October 2005 the American broadcaster of the new Degrassi series, The-N, decided not to air episodes 101/102 'A New Start' because Erica chooses to get an abortion, and episode 103 'Breaking Up Is Hard To Do' due to the reference to the abortion in the previous two episodes.)
The third occurred during the School's Out movie, with Joey impregnating his on-the-side girlfriend, Tessa Campanelli. This also ended in an abortion, without Joey ever knowing he could have been a father.
The fourth pregnancy was once again Spike's, who, as an adult, gives birth to Snake's son, Jack.
The next pregnancy was Manny (played by Cassie Steele) and Craig's (Jake Epstein), which also ended in an abortion. This particular episode, entitled "Accidents Will Happen", sparked a very public controversy in the States, where The N refused to air it. This brought massive attention from the American mainstream media to the show in response to The N's censorship. Also, Accidents Will Happen became a popular internet download, so The N's decision did little to keep the American Degrassi audience from seeing the episode. American fans who hadn't yet seen the two-part episode via internet downloads finally got their chance when it was released on the Degrassi Season 3 DVD Box Set. The N recently aired the episode for the first time in a Degrassi: The Next Generation "Every Episode Ever" Marathon.It is listed as an episode on the N website,and they will run it as part of the rotation, but only after 10pm Eastern and with a TV-14 rating. (A TV-PG rating was used for other episodes including Secret,which was aired with a 14+ rating on CTV.)
The sixth pregnancy was that of Sarah Barrable-Tishauer's character, Liberty van Zandt, and J.T. (Ryan Cooley). After the attempted suicide of J.T; Liberty, along with her parents and J.T's grandmother, decided to put the child up for adoption after it was born. We learn later in future episodes that Liberty had a boy, and that the child and its adoptive parents move to Seattle.
The seventh pregnancy is that of Jenna Middleton (Jessica Tyler) and K.C. Guthrie (Sam Earle). Their baby was born on April 22. His name is Tyson (nicknamed 'Ty' by his parents and 'Little T' by his uncle, Kyle Middleton). Jenna and K.C. later give Tyson up to the Powell's since they want different things.
The most notable booster of the Degrassi series is popular director Kevin Smith. His first exposure to the Degrassi series came when he worked at a Quick Stop in Leonardo, New Jersey around 1990. His friend, actor Jason Mewes, who was also his co-worker at the time, became a fan after being introduced to the series by Smith. Every Sunday morning at work, Smith and Mewes watched re-broadcasts of Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. Drawn by the drama of the Degrassi series, Smith became an obsessed fan. The climax of his Degrassi obsession was realized when he landed guest appearances on Degrassi: The Next Generation while writing all his dialogue for the shows he appeared in. He first appeared in a 3-episode story arc to conclude season 4. In those episodes, Smith, portraying himself, visited the school to work on the (fictional) film Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian, Eh!. Smith re-appeared in a 2-episode arc in season 5 when the film premiered in theatres. Mewes also landed guest appearances with Smith in four of those episodes, three of them as their characters, Jay and Silent Bob. Smith was originally slated to play the part of Caitlin's fiance in the original pilot episode, but, due to filming commitments, the role was recast with Canadian director Don McKellar. A fan of both the original and current shows, Kevin Smith pays homage to Degrassi by making reference to it in several of his films. An example of this is when he named Caitlin Bree from the movie Clerks after his favourite Degrassi character, Caitlin Ryan. He also had Shannen Doherty's character Rene wear a Degrassi jacket throughout his Mallrats film.
- Lemon Demon wrote a song about the Degrassi; Next Generation series, which has a song download and a video by redk0de.
- Skankin' Pickle have a song about Amanda Stepto's character entitled "I'm In Love With A Girl Named Spike."
- Rachel Blanchard, of Clueless and Road Trip fame, got her start on The Kids of Degrassi Street as an eight year old.
- Gertie Fox, a Los Angeles rock band makes reference to "Degrassi Jr. High" at the end of the closing track of their album "An Imaginary Meeting in the Woods".
- The Canadian punk rock group Propaghandi has a song entitled "Degrassi Jr. High Dropouts."
- Once Aaron Spelling saw Degrassi Junior High he offered to buy it; the creators refused. He later came out with Beverly Hills 90210, which resembles Degrassi in many ways.
- Ryan Cooley's character J.T. Yorke in Degrassi: The Next Generation who was murdered midway through Season 6 was the first major character in all the Degrassi series to be killed off.
The individual TV series and their original air dates are as follows:
- The Kids of Degrassi Street (1979–1985)
- Degrassi Junior High (1987–1989)
- Degrassi High (1989–1991)
- Degrassi Talks (1992)
- Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001–present)