“Isn’t it extraordinary that it’s gone this long?” There’s definitely a hint of wonder in Linda Schuyler’s voice when she says that. And why not? In a television world where fickle viewers and nervous networks can mean the end of series before it ever gets a footing, Degrassi marches on.
Tuesday’s return of the teen drama to MTV is Season 14 of the current incarnation, a stunning achievement on its own. But factor in the fact the franchise will be celebrating 35 years in 2015 and the mind boggles. You’d think that after that amount of time, Schuyler or Stephen Stohn would consider walking away and resting. You would be wrong.
“I love it. We learned something early on in The Next Generation, which was to have the courage to graduate our kids,” she explains. “There is a fear in TV that if you lose a tranche of people you’re going to lose your audience. We were scared to graduate that first group because in the classic show we basically stayed with the same kids for almost 100 episodes.” Schuyler and the Degrassi team have found a formula for success by bringing in new students and allowing the audience to get to know them while the old favourites are still in class. Aside from constantly replenishing the performers, the writing room is injected with fresh voices too. The result? A project continually rejuvenated by fresh blood.
From the very beginning Degrassi dared to tell real-life stories about teens to teens. Teenage drinking, pregnancy, bullying, abuse and sexual lifestyle choices have always been front and centre in scripts, a trend that continues Tuesday night with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Clare (Aislinn Paul) sees her carefully planned world turned upside down over a dalliance with Drew (Luke Bilyk), Miles’ (Eric Osborne) relationship with Tristan (Lyle Lettau) may have an impact on his father’s political plans, and Zoë (Ana Golja) and Becky (Sarah Fisher) butt heads over cheerleading. Those three storylines aren’t necessarily new to the franchise, but fresh cast means they can be tackled from a new point of view.
“We’ve run many different gay storylines, but when you bring in different characters you can look at it from a different side of the prism,” Schuyler says. “You get a new take on an old storyline, plus there are new things happening in the media all the time that keep us inspired and thinking. Nothing is taboo.”
Degrassi airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on MTV.