Degrassi is a long running Canadian television franchise, created by Linda Schuyler and Kit Hood, that focuses on the lives of teenagers attending the eponymous secondary school. Named after (and originally set in) the real De Grassi Street in Toronto, Ontario, it is one of the most iconic franchises in Canadian history. Degrassi can be separated into two distinct phases: the "classic" series, produced from 1979-1992 by Playing With Time, and the revival era, produced from 2001-2017 by Epitome Pictures. Co-creator Linda Schuyler has been the sole mainstay of the franchise since its inception; her original creative partner was co-creator Kit Hood from 1979 to 1992, and then executive producer Stephen Stohn from 2001 to 2017.
Linda Schuyler was a Toronto schoolteacher in the mid 1970s who incorporated media into her curriculum and got into filmmaking to create material to show her class. She met experienced editor Kit Hood in a local filmmaker collective and found that they suited each other's creative needs, forming a partnership and the company Playing with Time to produce documentaries. What would become Degrassi had its roots in a 1979 after-school special Ida Makes A Movie, which they adapted from a children's book of the same name. They subsequently created three more films over the next three years, with the same continuity and characters. By late 1982, the CBC turned it into a weekly series, which is now known as The Kids of Degrassi Street.
The show gained some serious critical attention in Canada for its down-to-earth portrayal of children, and by 1985 had won an International Emmy and other prestigious awards. By this point, Linda and Kit wanted to tackle more complex and mature issues. Fed up with the Anvilicious nature of most American programming directed at teenagers and noticing the largely untapped nature of the teen media market, they developed a new series with the Degrassi name throughout 1986, with many of the Degrassi Street kids retained playing new characters. The aim was to create a series that would simply portray the lives of teenagers and the things they went through, as accurately as they could and without moralising. The result, Degrassi Junior High, began in 1987 and soon became the show that cemented the Degrassi name as a Canadian institution, introducing important characters such as Joey Jeremiah, Caitlin Ryan, Christine "Spike" Nelson, and Archie "Snake" Simpson. Tackling teenage pregnancy, abuse, eating disorders and many other complex topics, it was Darker and Edgier, took on many Soap Opera tropes and featured a large ensemble cast, the result being what many consider to be the true Trope Maker for the Teen Drama genre. After having gained serious critical attention, became the country's number-one drama, and won numerous awards, Degrassi Junior High evolved into Degrassi High and tackled even more serious topics like HIV/AIDS and suicide, before ending with the controversial feature-length finale Degrassi: School's Out!, which is said to have featured the first F-bomb in Canadian television history.
Despite ending in 1992, Degrassi found a strong and loyal fanbase on the nascent internet throughout The '90s, and this continued interest culminated in Jonathan Torrens reuniting the Junior High/High cast on his show Jonovision in December 1999. Around that time, Linda Schuyler and original head writer Yan Moore conceived a revival on the basis that the daughter of Spike would be old enough to be a junior high student. In 2001, Degrassi: The Next Generation, helmed by Schuyler and new partner Stephen Stohn, made its premiere on CTV and did pretty fine at home, but it was American audiences that proved to be the largest and most loyal; while Degrassi previously had a small stateside following, it was the revival that really cemented its notoriety south of the border, so severely that a large amount of people to this day are unaware that it was a revival of an iconic Canadian cultural touchstone. This iteration was the one that boasted pre-fame Drake, whose character was famously paralyzed by a school shooter, and Nina Dobrev before her breakout role in The Vampire Diaries.
Despite its continued US success through the late 2000s, The Next Generation was actually declining in popularity back home after peaking at a million or more viewers halfway through, and CTV cancelled it in 2009, but before too long Stephen Stohn was able to rescue the series after striking a deal with TeenNick. This brought a wave of changes to the series, such as it being renamed to simply "Degrassi" and adopting a telenovela approach. The rebrand fared pretty well, but after changing networks multiple times, it was finally cancelled in 2015, but the show was again saved when what would have been season 15 of The Next Generation was instead retooled into the Netflix produced Degrassi: Next Class, which managed four seasons before cancelled.
The Degrassi franchise comprises:
- The Kids of Degrassi Street (1979 — 1986)
- Degrassi Junior High (1987 — 1989) and their book tie-ins Degrassi Junior High
- Degrassi High (1989 — 1991) and its Made-for-TV Movie Degrassi: School's Out! (1992)
- Degrassi: The Next Generation note (2001 — 2015)
- Degrassi: Next Class (2016 — 2017) note
- Degrassi Talks, a documentary mini-series where Degrassi High actors interviewed teens on the street, aired after School's Out from February to March 1992.
See also The L.A. Complex, a What Might Have Been series originally conceived as a Spin-Off of The Next Generation, but was later made a freestanding franchise, presumably so it could be sold to a US network outside the Viacom group.
Tropes relating to the entire franchise include:
- Canada Does Not Exist: As historically Degrassi has had a degree of American involvement, this trope is present in almost every iteration, although hindsight shows it didn't really work. For example, Junior High was said to be set in an "unnamed North American city". The post-Next Generation seasons in the early 2010s start moving into Eagleland Osmosis territory with the frequent mentioning of American universities and the like.
- Canada, Eh?: As stated above, the previous trope has not stopped anybody from commenting on the show's Canadian-ness, whether it'd be with the accents (e.g. Wheels) or the obvious fact it is set in Toronto regardless of what any press release tells you.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: The Kids Of Degrassi Street differs extremely from the format Degrassi came to be known for by centering on children living in and around the real life De Grassi Street rather than teenagers attending the titular middle/high school. In addition, Degrassi Street did not even start as a series but as a bunch of short films with the same continuity.
- Fleeting Demographic Rule: Being a long-running show aimed at teenagers it has consistently recycled plotlines every generation as certain issues have pervaded throughout the last half century. Teen pregnancy was dealt with a total of seven times from Junior High to Next Class (three carrying to term, three having abortions, one having a miscarriage). Suicide was visited twice, once in 1991 and again in 2012. Other less serious plotlines have also been recycled; the second episodes of both Junior High and Next Generation revolve around a character getting drunk before going to the school dance, and both of their second seasons feature an episode where a kid and his friends joyrides a parent's vehicle.
- Line-of-Sight Name: The name "Degrassi" came from the real-life Toronto street the first series was set in, which is actually called De Grassi Street after Italian-Canadian soldier Filippo De Grassi. In 1979, Toronto used all-caps stamped street signs, leaving it ambiguous whether the name was one word or two; newer mixed-case screen-printed ones appeared well after the producers had committed to "Degrassi" as one word.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Quite a few of the storylines in the show, particularly the "classic" era, were influenced by real events in the actors' lives, whether for better or worse. Other episodes, particularly the "Next Generation" era, were influenced by real life events and tragedies.
- "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Degrassi Junior High was hailed as a breath of fresh air by critics and fans alike for subverting many tropes and being more down-to-earth than most of what teen media had to offer, and many who are aware of the show believe it to be the Trope Maker, or at least the Ur-Example of Teen Drama. Later teen drama and teen drama-adjacent TV shows, including future versions of Degrassi, would push that envelope significantly, so to some Junior High might look a bit tame.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Bar Degrassi Street, each series has an upbeat theme with motivational and inspirational lyrics, which leads to Mood Whiplash if it follows, precedes, or accompanies an extremely dramatic scene.
- Teen Pregnancy: As noted above in Fleeting Demographic Rule, this is a frequently revisited storyline in each generation. Most notably, Spike gives birth to future protagonist Emma in Degrassi Junior High. After this was Erica in Degrassi High who had an abortion, Manny in Degrassi: The Next Generation who had an abortion, Mia from The Next Generation whose daughter was already a few years old when she was introduced, Clare in 2010s Degrassi who had a miscarriage, and Lola in Degrassi: Next Class who had an abortion.
- Unbuilt Trope: Despite being the Trope Maker of Teen Drama, Degrassi Junior High feels like a deconstruction reacting to stereotypical teen drama tropes.
- Very Special Episode: Practically every episode in the franchise is one as its roots partly lie in a need for educational material for teenagers. However it is generally considered an exception to the stereotypical examples of this trope.
- Vox Pops: A major part of Degrassi Talks, the real-life documentary miniseries that followed Degrassi High, where they would ask teens in the street about social issues.