“Degrassi has shown not one, not two, but three generations of kids dealing with [countless horrible issues] – am I the only one who thinks this school’s cursed? I say they should burn it to the ground! But they actually tried that in one episode and it didn’t work. No, the kids of Degrassi, they don’t need an education, they need an exorcist.”—Cory Monteith.
Of all the television series that the nation of Canada has ever produced, it’s safe to say that the Degrassi franchise is one of the more successful ones. In fact, it’s become one of the most successful franchises on North American television! Originally starting in 1979, more than 600 episodes have been made across multiple different series bearing the name ‘Degrassi’, all of which follow groups of students going to school in Toronto. So what is it about this series which allowed it to endure for so long? How did the franchise come to be, and then change over the years? Get a better idea of the show with these 42 points!
42. Meet Your Maker
The creator of the first Degrassi series is Linda Schuyler. She has been involved in every single series produced under the Degrassi banner. Appropriately, before she ever became involved with television, Schuyler worked as a teacher in Toronto for four years. Even then, she filmed a series of short films during her time as a teacher which later inspired her to make the first Degrassi series.
41. Going on Five
As of 2018, there have been five series (and a few TV movies) produced as part of the Degrassi franchise, the most recent one being the Netflix series Degrassi: Next Class.
40. Alumni Actor
Stefan Brogren has appeared in more series of Degrassi than anyone else, having acted as a series regular in all of them except for The Kids of Degrassi Street. His character (Archie ‘Snake’ Simpson) went from being a student in Degrassi Junior High to a teacher and principal in Degrassi: The Next Generation.
39. Starting Small
Originally, Linda Schuyler and her collaborator Kit Hood made four short films focusing on youth: Ida Makes a Movie, Cookie Goes to the Hospital, Irene Moves In, and Noel Buys a Suit. The short films were aired on CBC as after-school specials, with one being released per year. This was followed up by The Kids of Degrassi Street, which ran for 26 episodes.
38. Nostalgic Namesakes
Aside from a few exceptions in the show’s first season, all of the episodes in Degrassi: The Next Generation are named after songs from the 1980s.
37. Overlapping Shows
In the early 2000s, a lesser-known Canadian-American TV show, Radio Free Roscoe, premiered and aired featuring a mostly Canadian main cast. Three of the main cast—Ali Mukkaddam, Nathan Stephenson, and Kate Todd—made appearances on Degrassi: The Next Generation in small roles. Interestingly, Kate Todd also starred in the short-lived series L.A. Complex, which was directed by longtime Degrassi actor Stefan Brogren.
36. Simple and Effective
In order for the show to appear completely natural and have the teenagers actually look like real teenagers, the cast of Degrassi were mostly allowed to do their own makeup and wardrobe. It also helped the network save some money in the costuming department!
35. Grassroots Casting
The casting process for Degrassi Junior High was so low-key that the auditions were announced in flyers placed around Toronto and ads placed in Toronto newspapers.
34. Find That Audience!
Degrassi: Next Class was originally meant to be the 15th season for Degrassi: The Next Generation. However, creator Linda Schuyler realized that a whole new generation was coming of age which didn’t connect with the show like Millennials had, so they went with a reboot instead.
33. We’ll Be Back
Originally, the Degrassi franchise was meant to conclude once and for all with the made-for-TV film School’s Out, which was released in 1992. However, with the release of Degrassi: The Next Generation in 2001, the franchise was revived.
32. A Reboot? How About a Sequel?
In 1999, Degrassi creator Linda Schuyler returned to the idea of making a new Degrassi series focusing on high school graduates reuniting, but she realized that focusing on adults wouldn’t work. Around this time, Schuyler realized that the character of Emma Nelson, born at the end of the second season of Degrassi Junior High, would be going to high school in 1999. This inspired her to make a show following Nelson’s high school experiences, turning into Degrassi: The Next Generation.
31. To Boldly Go Where We’ve Gone Before
In case you’re curious, Degrassi: The Next Generation was totally named after Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was suggested by Linda Schuyler’s husband, a Trekkie at heart.
30. Recycling Actors
A lot of the young actors who appeared in The Kids of Degrassi Street, the original series to bear the ‘Degrassi’ name, went on to appear as different characters in the subsequent series Degrassi Junior High. Does that count as a crossover?
29. Home Sweet Home
While the previous four series of Degrassi were at least partially shot on or near the real-life De Grassi Street in Toronto, Degrassi: Next Class is mostly filmed on soundstages and a backlot. At least those are still located in Toronto, right?
28. Do We Get Paid Extra Too?
Several members of the crew doubled as cast members or extras on Degrassi High. These included one of the writers and the art director of the show.
27. Realism at its Finest
Most of the cast in Degrassi High had had zero acting experience prior to appearing on the show.
26. Canadian Content Policy
In an effort to promote Canadian music, the producers behind Degrassi High would only allow tunes made by Canadians to be included in the show’s soundtrack. Luckily, this gave them access to more than enough great artists such as Gowan and Michael Burn.
25. It Was a Bumpy Start
Despite such a long-running franchise with so many seasons across several series, the original series, The Kids of Degrassi Street, only lasted twenty-six episodes—although they did air over a 6-year period.
24. Name Change
When Degrassi: The Next Generation released its 10th season, the show was renamed to simply Degrassi. It kept that name until its 14th and final season. Guess calling it “The Next Next Next Generation” was too complicated.
23. High School isn’t just Part of Work!
Because most of the cast was made up of teenagers, the filming for Degrassi High took place from April to November so that the actors lost a minimal amount of school time. Because it doesn’t matter how famous you get on TV, education is important, kids!
22. Boy, What a Heat Wave…
This filming schedule came with an interesting side-effect, however. The summer weather meant that the students of Degrassi High would constantly be dressed in summer clothes, even when the show’s timeline took place in fall or winter. Maybe this universe’s Canada switched places with Mexico?
21. At Least She has the Hairstyle For it!
After playing Spike on Degrassi Junior High, Amanda Stepto got her degree from the University of Toronto and now works part-time as a DJ in Toronto.
20. Retroactive Censorship
During the 1990s, episodes of Degrassi High were first aired without any cuts in Australia, but when they became reruns on Nickelodeon Australia, certain episodes were censored. It turns out they took issue with the episodes dealing with teen pregnancy and teen suicide. Though it makes us scratch our heads, since they had already aired in full before the cuts were made. Must have made a lot of Australian youth scratch their heads too.
19. My Bad…
After playing Winston Chu in the Degrassi franchise, actor Andre Kim came under fire after he released a gaming video which featured him using a series of racial slurs. He made a public apology soon afterward.
18. George Carlin Would be Proud
Because of their efforts to push new ground in trying to accurately depict teenage life in the shows, Degrassi didn’t shy away from using suggestive language. It was actually the first show on a network owned by Viacom to use the word ‘blowjob’.
17. Started from the Bottom…
The most famous alum from Degrassi: The Next Generation is arguably the Canadian hip-hop artist known as Drake. At 15, he appeared on the show as Jimmy Brooks, a basketball player who is shot by a classmate and becomes physically disabled as a result. According to Drake, he and his family were living in poverty, and Drake’s money earned from acting helped keep them afloat. He would appear in 145 episodes before he moved on to music stardom instead. No doubt Drake would say it was part of “God’s Plan.”
16. A Show About Life
Degrassi: The Next Generation came under fire during its third season with a subplot wherein one of the teenage characters becomes pregnant from consensual sex with her partner and has an abortion in response. Certain groups criticized the show for the decision to show her lack of regret for making such a decision, while others praised the show for maturely tackling real subjects that teenagers of today faced as opposed to the glamorous and unrealistic worlds portrayed on The OC or One Tree Hill.
15. Talbot on Trial
After playing Billy Martin on The Kids of Degrassi Street, Tyson Talbot had a less-than-stellar adventure with the law. He was put on trial for aggravated assault and murder in 2002. He was ultimately acquitted, though he did end up being sentenced to serving time in prison and was on probation for 18 years.
14. Also Featuring Silent Bob
Famous nerd filmmaker Kevin Smith, creator of the View Askewniverse movies, was such a big fan of Degrassi as a kid that he made a three-episode guest appearance as himself in Degrassi: The Next Generation. He apparently wrote all his own dialogue for his appearances, and he even got to kiss Stacie Mistysyn, who had reprised her role as Caitlin Ryan from Degrassi Junior High, fulfilling a bucket list spot since Smith had had a crush on Caitlin when he was watching the show as a kid.
13. Backing Out of Bisexuality
One of the regular characters in Degrassi: The Next Generation was originally meant to come out as bisexual. Peter Stone, played by Jamie Johnston, was originally meant to pursue a romantic relationship with the character Riley Stavros (after he’d been shown in relationships with several girls), but the writers ended up changing their minds, so it became Riley who harbored unrequited feelings for Peter instead.
12. Speak Out
In 2013, Degrassi actor Andrea Lewis posted a blog where she clarified that while she was grateful for the opportunity to take part in a TV show like that, she felt that there was a serious race issue behind the scenes. Lewis felt that she and the other minorities on the show were not only used to portray stereotypical behavior on the show but were also treated as tokens who only contributed to storylines focused on white characters.
11. They Bleeped Us Out? What the-
“You _____ Tessa Campanelli?” It was the F-bomb heard around the world—or actually, just in Canada. The first Degrassi TV movie, School’s Out, broke ground by containing the first ever use of the F-word on Canadian broadcast television. The line proved too much for American broadcast television, and when they released the TV movie a year later in 1993, they bleeped out the infamous curse word.
10. We Don’t Talk About Him Anymore…
Byrd Dickens spent his time on Degrassi High playing the character of Scott Smith, Kathleen Mead’s abusive boyfriend. In a tragic situation of life imitating art, Dickens was hardly a model citizen off the set. He was arrested in 2016 for possession of child pornography, along with a female accomplice.
9. “They Did Us Foul”
At one point during Degrassi: The Next Generation, the cast was completely overhauled and switched out for new characters to take their place. Unfortunately, they didn’t tell any of the cast what was going on until it had already happened! Years later, former co-star Aubrey Graham (AKA Drake) bitterly reflected that he had no idea what was going on until he arrived on the set one day and saw all the names were changed.
8. … And a Partridge in a Pear Tree!
Among many other things, the Degrassi franchise has covered eight main character deaths, four storylines involving cancer, three storylines regarding abortion, eight pregnancy storylines, and more than 50 different love triangles. Safe to say that’s a lot of ground covered!
7. Shedding Light Where It Hadn’t Shone Before
In 2010, Degrassi: The Next Generation broke incredible ground with the introduction of the character Adam Torres. Adam was the first transgendered teen character to ever appear as a series regular on any scripted TV series. Reportedly, the producers sought out help from the LGBTQ group known as GLAAD to properly portray a transgendered teen’s life experiences.
6. Mixed Response
Sadly, with such a groundbreaking character, several conservative groups objected heavily to the inclusion of a transgendered male into the character list of Degrassi and tried to persuade advertisers to back out of supporting the show. We’re not sure if their efforts were successful, but for their part, Degrassi kept the character of Adam around for 75 episodes.
The character of Adam Torres was eventually written off of the show after getting into a car accident and dying during surgery. The death created a serious controversy amongst fans, with even GLAAD commenting that they had been so impressed with Adam’s inclusion and development and felt it a serious letdown that he was killed off. Creator Linda Schuyler defended the decision by pointing out that the actor who portrayed Adam was nearing the end of her contract anyway, and she felt that the storyline’s conclusion would at least affect “even more lives in an authentic way”.
4. Gives New Meaning to the Term “High School”
Speaking of Drake’s time on Degrassi, it turns out that Drake was apparently high on marijuana during the auditioning process! We’re not sure if he managed to convince everyone he was just acting, or whether the producers decided that it was just a case of method acting at its finest.
3. Smile for the Camera!
In one incident, several female cast members of The Vampire Diaries (including Degrassi alum Nina Dobrev) were arrested in LA after creating a disturbance on a bridge near the freeway. Reportedly, they were posing for a photo shoot during which they posed dangerously close to the edge of the bridge. They cooperated with the authorities when they arrived, showing they had no hard feelings by posing for their mug shots as well.
2. Nobody Should Die Alone
Famous for playing Wheels on Degrassi: Junior High, Neil Hope tragically became estranged from his family and friends later in life. Hope died in 2007 while staying in a rooming house in Hamilton, Ontario. His family—and the rest of the world—didn’t find out about Hope’s passing until 2012.
1. This is Too Much, Man!
The episode “Rock This Town” in Degrassi: The Next Generation was one of the darkest in the show’s history, featuring the fourth death in the entire history of Degrassi, caused by the first stabbing in said franchise’s history. In fact, it was so sad for the cast that they couldn’t initially finish the read-through because they were crying too hard.
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