Radmila Malobabic

The Degrassi series is a true testament to staying power in the Canadian television industry. Today, people from countries worldwide have either heard of Degrassi or watched it in one form or another.

“Degrassi is something people can relate to,” explains Linda Shuyler, executive producer and co-creator of the award-winning series.

More than a third of the latest Degrassi’s 450,000 viewers are between the ages of 18 to 34, even though the show is pitched to a target age group of 12 to 17. 

Degrassi routinely explores controversial topics such as teen pregnancies, drugs, peer pressure, street racing and high school shootings.

“We try to plan something that fits with this day and age,” Schuyler says. While consulting with experts and the show’s writers enable her to judge the show’s subject matter, knowing that her audience is mature and receptive to risqué topics also helps.

Liz Iozzo, a 19-year-old student from Toronto and a professed Degrassi fan, says the themes the series addresses and the quality of the acting are what first sparked her interest in the show. “I was hooked,” says Iozzo, remembering the first time she watched an episode. “It was the actors and the fact that it was Canadian.”

Former Degrassi enthusiast Tony Fusco, however, says he’s outgrown the series. “I’m older now,” says the 28-year-old Torontonian. “When I used to watch Degrassi, it was back in the ‘80s. It was cool to watch.  Now when I see the new shows, it’s all the same stories I watched 20 years ago.”

Degrassi began in 1979 as a six-episode mini-series. Due to its extreme popularity, The Kids of Degrassi Street was born in 1986 with a 26-episode commitment. By 1987, it was time for the kids to grow up, so it evolved into Degrassi Junior High. After three seasons in junior high, the students graduated to Degrassi High and ended their saga with a 90-minute drama called School’s Out.

Degrassi: The Next Generation, a modern re-creation of the Canadian classic, premiered in 2001 and is now in its seventh season.

Whether or not the show recycles its plotlines, the revamped Degrassi is definitely doing something right. With a 24 per cent increase in viewers in its fifth season, Degrassi reached an all-time peak of one million viewers. The series has proven so popular that it has won two International Emmys, 14 Gemini Awards, two Prix Jeunesses and other honours.

 “We’re still going strong,” Schulyer proclaims. “We reached a broad [audience] range on the classic show and now we are reaching an even broader range.  We have history with our viewers and they know we are very true to our  roots.”