1 9 7 9 – 1 9 8 6 (Canada)
26 x 30 minute episodes
Throughout the 1980s, three Degrassi drama series’ appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Canada’s public television network. The programmes, all in a half-hour format, began with The Kids of Degrassi Street (filmed on Toronto’s Degrassi Street in an inner-city neighbourhood), which was followed by Degrassi Junior High, then Degrassi High.
The Degrassi series achieved international success but confronted broadcasting and censorship standards which revealed cultural differences between Canada and the USA. A two-part Degrassi High episode concerning abortion, for example, was truncated by PBS for American audiences. This was not the case, however, with the CBC, which ran the complete version.
The writers of the Degrassi series honed the scripts with the participation of the cast – all young people drawn from schools in the Toronto area.
The situations, topics and dialogue were vetted in workshops involving the young actors in the interest of constructing valid actions and responses for the characters, and ensuring the series remain youth-centred.
As the actors grew into their roles over the first three series, and as new characters were added, a naturalistic acting style prevailed. If the acting at times appears untutored to some viewers, it remains closer to the look and speech of everyday youths than those of precocious kids and teens common to Hollywood film and television sitcoms.
From The Kids of Degrassi Street to Degrassi High, various schools serve as the essential narrative settings, though the dramatic situations mostly pivot on action that occurs outside the classroom: in the corridors, around lockers and yards, to and from school, at dances and other activities, in and around latch-key homes with parents usually absent or at the edge of these situations.
The evolutionary Degrassi series developed depth and avoided formulas. Abortion, single parenthood, sex, death, racism, AIDS, feminism, gay issues all became conditions the characters had to work through, largely on their own terms.
A generation of Canadian kids has grown up with the Degrassi series. The shows carried lessons for the targeted youth audiences (and for parental viewers).
A two-hour television movie special, School’s Out! (1992), completed the Degrassi coming-of-age cycle that had structured the three dramatic series and the magazine show. Programmed into a CBC Sunday evening slot, in early fall, School’s Out! was scheduled to coincide with the school year calendar of returning students.
In the movie, various Degrassi characters are confronted with the transitions that follow high school graduation – Anticipation of university; the dissolution of a high school romance; a tragic highway accident; poor work prospects and, ultimately, a fall reunion at the wedding of a long-standing couple.
An outgrowth of the Degrassi project is Liberty Street, which features only one of the former actors, Pat Mastroianni, who plays a different character than previously but with a similar cocky persona.
Liberty Street continues the Degrassi coming-of-age chronology, focusing on “twenty-something” characters struggling for independence in a downtown Toronto warehouse apartment building. Launched on the CBC as a series in the 1994-95 season, the characters were introduced in an earlier television movie special, X-Rated.
Central Degrassi actors reappeared in the CBC’s 1991-92 season as roving interviewers and hosts of a youth magazine show called Degrassi Talks. The programme focused on topics such as sex, work, and abuse, all examined from the perspectives of Canada’s youth – “Real kids talking to real kids from the heart”.