5 International Teen Dramas Degrassi Can Learn From

Since Degrassi Next Class ended in 2017, the teen drama genre has changed dramatically. Traditional TV networks are under increasing competition from streaming giants. And many of the players have shifted their focus to older demographics that are more appealing to advertisers. However, as North American teen shows become more and more rare (especially on network television), we have seen a rise in popularity for teen shows in languages other than English set and filmed outside of North America. While these series typically do not make a ton of money or get a lot of views, they have passionate and loyal fanbases on social media. When Degrassi does return, the producers will need to think about where Degrassi fits in with this modern teen drama landscape. Here are 5 superb international teen dramas that I think Degrassi can learn from when deciding on a new direction for the franchise.

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Degrassi Fans: How Degrassi Has Impacted Our Lives

Last week, I asked the Degrassi community to send in your stories about how Degrassi has impacted you. As someone who has watched Degrassi since the age of 12, I know how much this show means to me. I watched Degrassi throughout high school and university. It taught me so many important life lessons when I was younger, and I love watching how it continues to inspire the next generation as well. It seems that many of you feel the same way. Here are a couple of the amazing responses we received from Degrassians all around the world:

Grade 9 student Andrea talks about how My Body Is a Cage led to an unlikely friendship and made her re-evaluate some of her actions:

Last year when I was beginning high school I just wanted to fit in, and we had this trasgender kid who came to our school. He was bullied on all the time and I didn’t want to be unpopular, so I would tease him. Then I was flipping through the channels one day when I stumbled across TeenNick and they were doing My Body Is A Cage…at first I just continued watching because I thought the older brother was hot. Then they showed all the issues, and how hard it is to be a trans kid. I felt so bad for the way I had treated the poor kid at our school. After that Degrassi has also become my favorite show and it’s just so amazing because it deals with so many issues. And after that I also stopped teasing the kid and began talking to him. I’m now about to be a 10th grader and me and him are bestfriends. I also may not be the most popular kid at school but I don’t care because I made the right decision.

19-year-old New Jersey resident Colleen has been watching Degrassi since she was 9 years old. She sent us a beautiful email, talking about how Degrassi has respectfully portrayed young people living with mental illness:

As I got older Degrassi was not just a show I watched to prove that I was mature or a show I watched to see cute boys or be entertained, it was a show I watched because the characters were real and relatable and it taught me so much. Like back in season 4 with Craig’s bipolar story line – it really hit home for me because my cousin is bipolar. A few years later, Craig’s storyline became even more important to me. During my sophomore year of high school I started not getting a lot of sleep. I was becoming very irritable and not acting like myself. I would have so many thoughts going on at once, and would not be able to concentrate along with getting very angry which was very out of character for me. It turned out that I was bipolar. If Degrassi was any other TV show, Rick Murray would have been depicted as the character to be bipolar, but instead they choose Craig who was a beloved character (even though some people might not have thought so with the whole Ashley/Manny thing). Degrassi showed that you anyone can suffer bipolar disorder, and live a normal life, and not be some school shooter or murder. It was hard and still can be to have a mental illness that was so misunderstood, but the fact that I knew other people, like Jake Epstein’s character, were getting by with this disorder gave me hope that everything would get better. Degrassi gave a face to my illness, and played a part in educating people about the truth behind it – that people who are bipolar have a treatable illness and are not horrible people.

Knowing that Degrassi is willing to talk about subjects that most other shows wont in an honest and real fashion is why I love this show. And I am so happy that it helps so many different people feel better about whatever problem it is they may be dealing with, as well as educating others about those problems. Now I give talks to teens about my struggles and overcoming them, and I am in school studying social work to hopefully one day play a part in helping others in working through their issues and accepting themselves. And I have Degrassi to thank for giving me hope when I needed it most and giving me the strength to be the best and make it through.

Thank you for these amazing responses! You can still send your stories to DegrassiTalks@gmail.com.

Media Responses to the FFA Controversy

The FFA/Degrassi controversy is continuing to make headlines this week. Various media outlets have commented on the situation, showing their support for Degrassi, and giving their thoughts on why this is still an issue. The Much Music article in particular, written by Much contributor Allison, goes beyond the FFA controversy and discusses the impact Degrassi has had on generations of young people. Here is some of what Xtra, Perez Hilton, and even Much Music had to say.

Xtra: Conservative group slams transgender plot line
During the two-part transgender episode, the organization Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) ran a public-service announcement and an online educational program on its website.
All I can say is thank goodness that for every rightwing bigot out there, there is also someone with an open mind and a willingness to educate people on different lifestyles and the struggles that many of us go through.

Perez Hilton: Boo! Florida Family Association Boycotts Degrassi Due To Gay/Transgender Characters
We continue to thank you for supporting an important cause and helping spread awareness/understanding about gay and transgender issues, Teen Nick!
As for the Florida Family Association, we can only hope that one of these days they’ll come to their senses and realize that they’ve been acting out of ignorance. Such a shame!

Much Music: Sex, Drugs, and Degrassi: Why We Need To Keep The TV On
In its 30 years on air it would seem that Degrassi has covered every topic imaginable. From the death of parents to the death of classmates, domestic abuse, homelessness, bullying and more, it was difficult to believe that any waters had been left unchartered by the Epitome production company. That was until the tenth season of the new generation hit MuchMusic and Teen Nick last fall and viewers met Adam Torres, played by the brilliant Jordy Todosey, the first transgender character on youth programming. Suddenly, Degrassi was once again reminding viewers and critics why the longevity, praise and loyalty that had followed the little show from Toronto was more than warranted – Degrassi was and is the institution that gives a voice to the voiceless in mainstream media.
The outpouring of support and acceptance of Adam’s character has been undeniable. When the episode My Body is a Cage aired, viewers discovered that Adam had been born Gracie and transferred to Degrassi as a result of bullying received because of his transgender identity. On the MuchMusic website viewers expressed compassion and understanding for the teenage character, with many relieved to finally see their struggle identified by a character on TV.

How has Degrassi impacted your life? Is there one particular storyline that made you look at things differently? Can you relate to a particular character? Send your story to DegrassiTalks@gmail.com, and we’ll share some of our favourites.

Degrassi Boycotted by FFA; Author Sarah Dessen Responds

Yes, this is happening again Degrassians.

The Florida Family Associations‘ campaign against Degrassi has caught the attention of The Huffington Post as well as author Sarah Dessen.

The FFA continued its email campaign against Degrassi with an email blitz last Tuesday. Their main target is Adam’s storyline, in which “millions of young teens and children witness this irresponsible affirmation of a transgender lifestyle.” Once again, they are going after Degrassi’s advertisers. However, this time, they are clearly aware of the intense support from Degrassi fans. Choosing not to publically post articles, the FFA instead is simply emailing their supporters. They recently sent out an email which said: “Many large main stream companies have since stopped advertising on Degrassi. However, this article will not include the names of the dropped advertisers to prevent the very active proponents of Degrassi from launching a reverse email campaign as they did with Kodak and State Farm.”

This blatant promotion of intolerance, hate and ignorance has already caught the attention of the Huffington Post. They interviewed David Canton (the founder of the FFA) who said “How many high schools have a gay first-string quarterback who becomes lovers with someone else on the team? This relationship is extremely unlikely and they shouldn’t open this to dialogue … And I think that it is statistically improbable that you will have a female-to-male transgender who is in love with a lesbian or bisexual in a school setting.” Because apparently Degrassi is guilty of promoting acceptance and inclusion. Liz Owen, the Director of Communications for PFLAG offered support for Degrassi, telling THP that “the episode acknowledges that there are trans people out there and, due to bullying and harassment in a school setting, they really have a hard time … Our message boards got overwhelmingly positive feedback, from trans kids saying how much it helped them to kids saying that, while they didn’t have any transgender kids in their school, they would act positively if they did.

Best selling author Sarah Dessen also responded to the controversy, after she found herself a target of the protest. Apparently her publisher had bought advertising time during Degrassi, and Dessen suddenly discovered that she had 1,060 new emails. Despite the fact that Dessen has little control over where and when her ad airs, she found that many of these emails were personally attacking her. Dessen took to her blog to react, saying:

I will say this, though. I don’t watch Degrassi, it came along after my time. But I believe in equal rights for ALL people, regardless of race, sex, or sexual orientation. If that makes me “depraved” and “lacking integrity” (both things I have been accused of today, more than once) then, well, okay. I’ll take it. I was raised to stand by what I believe, and I believe in equality. You don’t have to agree with me. That’s what’s great about this world. But you don’t have to be nasty about it, either.

I encourage you all to read Sarah Dessen’s full blog entry on the controversy right here!

As Degrassi fans, we have all been influenced by the show in one way or another. Whether you’re life has been personally changed by a storyline, or you just enjoy Degrassi for the characters and the drama, we have all seen the impact that this show has had. Adam’s storyline, in particular, has been groundbreaking for teen television. Just like Marco paved the way for more gay characters on TV, I have no doubt that Adam will do the same for the transgender community. As young people, we have an obligation to stand up for our peers and fight for what we believe in. I hope that we can all take this for what it is. There is always going to be negativity in this world, but Degrassi fans will continue to move forward and support this amazing TV show.

I have no doubt that other media outlets will pick up on this soon. I will keep you guys updated, and edit this post as new information becomes available.

EDIT: Unsurprisingly, this story made it to Perez Hilton.

Degrassi Cast PSAs: Free the Children, Kids Help Phone

When you’re a Degrassi cast member, you have to be good at public service announcements. That is especially true for Munro, Charlotte, and Melinda who have all participated in various PSAs recently.

Munro and Charlotte each did a PSA for Free the Children’s “Five Days for Freedom” campaign. They each tell a personal story from someone who has been helped by Free the Children. Other celebrities involved in the campaign include Jacob Hoggard from Hedley and Jessi Cruickshank from MTV Canada. To learn more about the Five Days for Freedom campaign, check out their website. You can view Charlotte’s PSA on YouTube right here and Munro’s over here.

Munro also joined Melinda in a PSA for Kids Help Phone. The PSA encourages Canadians to get involved in the 2011 Walk for Kids Help Phone. Kids Help Phone provides free counselling services for any kid across Canada. Whether it be suicide, depression, uncertainty, eating disorders, etc. Kids Help Phone really makes a difference in the lives of children and teenagers. Visit their website for more information on how you can get involved. Check out Munro and Melinda’s PSA right here!

The TV Addict Leaks More Season 11 Spoilers

Even more S11 spoilers this week via The TV Addict. This time they hint at issues we can expect to see played out in season 11. Although they don’t specifically name which characters will face these issues, we can make a guess based on the statement below:

Your recent streak of DEGRASSI scoop has been nothing short of astounding. Care to keep the streak alive? — Mandy
The TV Addict: Despite the fact that we would very much prefer you characterize our recent streak of DEGRASSI scoop as “remarkable” rather than “astounding,” we are more than happy to oblige. If only to put to rest one of the big concerns we’ve been hearing from a handful of DEGRASSI fans since we broke the news about cast additions for the upcoming eleventh season. Rest assured, said additions will in no way take away screen time from the current cast you’ve come to know and love. So much so that upcoming eleventh season episodes will have one student of the male persuasion tackle the taboo that is shoplifting, another who is no stranger to trouble finding herself confronted with cocaine, while a third fan favorite is forced to deal with the baggage that comes when two squabbling parents fail to handle their divorce as maturely as one might hope.


Degrassi Wins a Peabody Award!

The 70th Annual Peabody Awards were announced today by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. And I am proud to say that Degrassi has won for My Body is a Cage (Adam’s episode last summer)! The winners were chosen as the best in electronic media for the year 2010. Other entertainment programs honoured include The Good Wife and Temple Grandin, among others. This is what they had to say about Degrassi:

Degrassi (TeenNick): True to its history, the durable high-school serial’s two-parter about a transgender teen neither trivializes nor overdramatizes its subject.

This is such a special honour for Degrassi. It’s great to see the show get the recognition is deserves, and to be honoured alongside so many other forms of media. Check out the press release for the awards, or more information from the Canadian Press.

Stefan Brogren Weighs in on ‘Skins’ Controversy

Degrassi producer/director/actor Stefan Brogren was recently part of a panel discussion with The National Post talking about the controversy surrounding the North American remake of the hit British teen drama Skins. While the North American version is getting mixed reviews, the British version is definitely popular amongst Degrassi fans. Like Degrassi, Skins is known for pushing boundaries and dealing with difficult subject matter. However, with its debut on American soil, groups have called Skins “dangerous” and compared it to child pornography. Here is some of what Stefan had to say on the topic:

Stefan: I might be a little biased on this subject for a couple reasons. One: I really liked the U.K. version of the show. I think they pushed the subject matter in a way that teens respond to. Two: Samir Rehem, who directed several episodes of the U.S. Skins, also happens to be one of my best friends — so I have to like it. Three: I work on a show that has always tried to push the boundaries of teen television. Yeah, we like to show moral consequences. If one of our characters has sex, half the time they’re going to pay for it with a nice case of gonorrhea. But I can appreciate a teen show like Skins showing the ugly side of teendom — without consequences. Young audiences are smarter than we give them credit for … and I’m tired of Gossip Girl.

Click here to read the full discussion with Stefan and other TV experts.

Celebrating Diversity With the Cast of Degrassi

In this latest blog from Much Music VJ Sarah Taylor, Degrassi cast members join Sarah in discussing their own diversity. Not just race or ethnicity, but also personal characteristics that make us who we are.

Sam Earle, Annie Clark, and Shannon Kook-Chun are all featured in this 5 minute vignette exploring what makes them unique. Each of them share personal stories about other people’s perceptions, and why we should all celebrate diversity!

Entertainment Weekly Writes About Degrassi. And Abortion.

Degrassi got a little plug in Entertainment Weekly when the magazine featured an article about how abortion is dealt with on TV. Click the image above to see the full size scan. The “special report” talks about how abortion is less controversial in TV land than it once was. They used Degrassi’s two abortion storylines (Erica on DH & Manny on TNG) as examples.

On a side note – in my opinion abortion is still a subject that is rarely discussed on television. Despite the high number of teen pregnancy storylines on TV today, there are still hardly any characters who actually get an abortion. Like this article mentions, there are a few characters on TV who consider abortion. But more often than not it is brushed aside by the next episode. The fact that 2 out of EW’s 8 examples are from Degrassi says a lot… JMHO.