By now you’ve probably heard about the merger between WarnerMedia (owner of HBO Max) and Discovery Inc. into WarnerDiscovery earlier this spring, and the rumours that this has delayed the Degrassi HBO Max reboot that was originally supposed to start filming this month.
I’m not going to get into the details of that, because Degrassi Source has already created a very detailed timeline that has all the information. You can refer to that if you want to catch up on everything that we know so far.
This post is more going to be my thoughts on how the Degrassi brand is being managed what we can expect from the Degrassi reboot whenever it actually happens.
The Sound of Silence
One thing that I’ve found interesting over the past couple of months is the silence on the part of WildBrain as well as Degrassi’s new showrunners Lara Azzopardi and Julia Cohen. Being kept out of the loop is nothing new for us Degrassi fans. We also experienced this throughout 2017 – 2021 when Degrassi: Next Class was left in limbo by Netflix and nobody was willing to provide any public explanation as to what actually happened. But considering the fact that Degrassi is (supposedly) soon to be in production, it is sad that they have done nothing to build any interest or excitement.
During the TNG and S10 eras, we used to get updates all the time from people like Stephen Stohn, Stefan Brogren, and the Degrassi writers. Before social media, Stephen created a thread on Degrassi.tv in 2003 called “Shooting Season 3″ where he would share updates with us on what the Degrassi team was working on. A few years later, he started sharing these types of updates on his MySpace page, and then later on Twitter. During the S10 era, Stefan would regularly share pictures and updates from the studio on Instagram, such as behind the scenes of auditions and other pre-production preparation. And the Degrassi writers had their own Twitter account where they would solicit our feedback for their brainstorming sessions and post out of context photos of their whiteboard for us to mull over.
In contrast to that, Julie and Lara have been completely silent about Degrassi since the reboot was first announced. Neither of them have tweeted anything since January 13, 2022 (the day of the reboot announcement). They have liked some tweets, but none of them are related to Degrassi. They also haven’t posted anything on Instagram. Everything we know about the reboot outside of the official press release we’ve found through our own detective work, like looking for the audition information through various casting websites. But nothing has been shared with us willingly.
Epitome Pictures vs WildBrain – What Has Changed
What this comes down to is Degrassi now being owned by a large publicly traded children’s media company instead of a small independent production company. When Degrassi was owned by Epitome, it was a big fish in a small pond. While Epitome did have other TV series they were producing like Instant Star and The LA Complex, Degrassi was what the whole company was built around. But for WildBrain, Degrassi is just one of many brands they own and manage. It’s also their only ‘teen’ brand, as pretty much all of their other media franchises like Teletubbies, Strawberry Shortcake and Peanuts are all aimed at children under the age of 12.
If we look at the communication strategy, Stephen didn’t create that “Shooting Season 3″ thread back in 2003 because he thought it would be good for business. He did it because he loved making Degrassi and wanted to share information with the fans who loved it too. And he was the boss, so he could share whatever he wanted (within reason).
But WildBrain doesn’t share that same passion for Degrassi*. From what I can tell, they are only interested in Degrassi if it can make them money. And that’s not meant as a critique against WildBrain (afterall this is their job as a publicly traded company). It’s more just the reality of the situation we are now in.
One of the things that made Degrassi special was that it was this little Canadian production owned by a husband and wife duo who were passionate about telling stories for kids**. But now Degrassi is just like any other TV show managed by a giant media conglomerate (i.e. distant and shrouded in mystery).
A Canadian TV Show Being Made for Americans
Another aspect of this reboot that I have concerns about is the fact that it still doesn’t have a Canadian broadcaster. Back in January when the reboot was first announced, a WildBrain representative stated “we look forward to sharing additional exciting announcements down the road about availability of the new series in Canada and other territories.” It’s now been 6 months since then, and there has been no movement on this (at least from what we know — although again they don’t tell us anything ☺).
I’m not sure if this delay is because (1) no Canadian broadcaster is interested in acquiring the rights, or (2) negotiations are ongoing in order to WildBrain to get the best possible deal. I hope it’s the latter. But it has me wondering: Who is this show being made for?
Assuming that Degrassi is still going to start filming this summer (that is a BIG assumption but let’s go with it), I would have to also assume that they already have the scripts complete or nearly complete. So did they do that without any input from a Canadian broadcaster?
What does it mean to have a Canadian show being produced for Americans? Is it even Canadian anymore? Are we going to see storylines about school shootings, abortion legislation, etc. that are more US-specific, even though these things don’t directly impact the Toronto teens that these stories are being told about? Are we going to see more Americans involved (as writers, actors, directors etc.)?
My concern is that Degrassi is straying too far from its roots as a local show made by and for Toronto teenagers. If no Canadian broadcaster is interested, perhaps this isn’t WildBrain’s “fault” per se. But what are they doing to promote Degrassi in Canada and protect its legacy here? Is Canada just too small of a market for them to give any consideration to?
Television in the Age of Streaming
Lastly, I wanted to talk a little about Degrassi in the age of streaming and how this could help or hinder the reboot. This reboot is not Degrassi’s first experience on a streaming platform. Degrassi: Next Class was distributed internationally on Netflix (although still aired through linear TV in Canada), and it did okay but it was never hugely successful.
I’m curious to see what lessons this Degrassi reboot takes from Degrassi: Next Class in terms of how to keep fans engaged. For me, when it comes to Degrassi on any streaming platform, I have 2 main concerns:
1. Streaming restricts the possibility for longevity. Degrassi has always been a long-running ‘soap opera’ type of show. Part of the fun of Degrassi is following the characters over many years or even decades. But streaming platforms aren’t really conducive to that. Most ‘streaming’ shows last 3 or 4 seasons max. Even if the Degrassi reboot is successful, I don’t see it lasting any longer than Degrassi: Next Class. Are we going to just be back to waiting for the NEXT reboot announcement in a few years time?
2. Streaming makes it difficult to create an engaging fan experience. One of the issues with Degrassi: Next Class was that it was a very lonely experience from the fans perspective. When a TV show is on a streaming platform, everyone is watching it at different times. Unlike Netflix, HBO Max does tend to release new episodes weekly instead of releasing them all at once. I assume that they will do this for the Degrassi reboot, which will definitely help keep fans engaged over a couple of months instead of binge-watching the season in 1 day.
However, my ultimate wish for Degrassi is something like the Skamverse with daily new content in real-time on digital platforms. But I also acknowledge that is unlikely to ever happen. Almost all of the SKAM remakes were produced for public broadcasters, and served their audience beyond purely commercial interests. I don’t see WildBrain ever doing something like this without some major partnership with the CBC. And again, with Degrassi so heavily focused on the US market, a CBC Degrassi series seems pretty much impossible.
I know this post may come across as being very pessimistic for Degrassi’s future. But it’s more that I’m just now coming to terms with how special Degrassi was from 2001 – 2017, and how we’ll probably never get to experience something like that ever again. I am happy that Degrassi is getting another reboot, and I do agree that they need to embrace change in order to keep up with the times. I just hope that Degrassi as a brand and as a community will be protected for decades to come.
*I do think there are people who work for WildBrain who care deeply about Degrassi; I’m more talking about the execs
**I’m definitely not saying that Linda and Stephen shouldn’t have sold Epitome. They did what they had to in order to ensure that Degrassi was able to live on without them.