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9/23/02

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Double Take

Tales from the comeback files

Degrassi comeback goes for dual-demo appeal
B Y M I K E C O N N E L L

couple decades ago, a Canadiancharacters from the original show had a born property called Degrassi forevbaby in junior high that would be 12 years er broke the mold of teen drama old today. The new series will feature Spike’s series by throwing untried kid actors at daughter Emma as a main character—with a hard-hitting story lines that touched on real whole cast of other new kids going through youth issues like teen pregnancy, AIDS and the old Degrassi paces. suicide. The original shows, Kids of Degrassi But times have changed in 11 years. (1979 to 1985), Degrassi Junior High (1986 to Although some kid issues remain the same, 1988) and Degrassi High (1989 to 1990), there are obviously new topics that need to quickly developed a cult-hit status both at be addressed—many of them revolving home on the CBC and abroad, where it around the impact of technology on social sold into roughly 100 territories. In fact, life. For example, the reunion special that even 11 years after the shows stopped airmarks the debut of the series focuses on an ing in Canada, episodes are still running in Internet stalker. Emma has developed a territories like Denmark, Greece and Israel. long-distance on-line relationship with a The franchise has even spawned a successboy from Alaska. He tells her he’ll be in ful video series. town and arranges a meeting, but it turns out Looking to recreate the magic for a that the boy from Alaska is actually an older modern kids audience, Epitome Pictures man preying on kids over the Internet. (formed by original Degrassi co-creator Convergence is also at the heart of the Degrassi: The Next Generation aims to hook Linda Schuyler) has hooked up with comeback, and the show’s website today’s kid viewers with edgy subject matter Canadian broadcaster CTV and interna(www.degrassi.tv) aims to drive kids back tional distributor AAC Kids to roll out and forth between the tube and the Degrassi: The Next Generation. Consisting of 15 half hours budgeted at Internet throughout the first season. The big-budget initiative feajust under US$6 million in total, the series bowed this month on tures elements that are integral to on-air story lines, and it was CTV and is set to air in Q1 2002 on Noggin in the U.S. Overseas, that synergy that sold Bill Mustos, senior VP of dramatic proBBC Worldwide will handle rights in Europe and Africa. The fran- gramming at CTV. Developed with Toronto-based Snap Media, chise’s past success and this level of initial broadcast interest cer- the Degrassi site has an on-line school (in which viewers can tainly bode well for the revamp, but the question is whether the enroll and take part by voting for presidents), chat rooms (faciliCanadian comeback kid can bat one out of the park again. tating school gossip and general conversation about Degrassi Schuyler is adamant that everyone involved in the project fully developments), journals and newsletters. understands that a nostalgic hook is going to be lost on today’s kids, But a fancy website and working technology into story lines but she’s betting that the show’s edgy subject matter will be as much does not a hit show make. Mustos asks: “Are we taking a risk? a draw today as it was in the beginning. Back in the days before Absolutely.” Despite, and perhaps because of, cult popularity, Degrassi, there were few programs that dealt with the kinds of top- there are challenges in making Degrassi work again. “There were ics that parents and kids preferred not to talk about. Schuyler’s posi- no expectations the first time. Just passion, and it caught,” he tion is that those are just the sort of areas that needed—and still says. Obviously everyone involved wants to capitalize on the need—to be addressed. original’s popularity, but that can also cut the other way, warns The CBC started airing all of the old episodes last fall during Mustos. “Degrassi: The Next Generation won’t have the luxury of time its after-school block, attracting 300,000 viewers on average. In to find its feet like the old series had. This time, we’ll be under a addition to older eyeballs—most likely belonging to long-stand- very different microscope.” ing Degrassi fans—a siginificant early teen audience also tuned in, leading Schuyler to assume that there was a new market for her Double Take is a new monthly column that breaks down the game plans of veteran properties attempting one more round in the kids entertainment Degrassi messages. The initial popularity of the reruns started her thinking about arena. If you would like to suggest a candidate for this feature, please e-mail how a relaunch could play out, and it turns out that one of the Simon Ashdown (sashdown@brunico.com).

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www.kidscreen.com • KidScreen October 2001

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