As a young Toronto school teacher, Linda Schuyler decided to introduce her Grade 8 students to the art of filmmaking. As it says on the inside flap of her new book, “The Mother of all Degrassi: A Memoir” (ECW Press), this was a momentous decision. “It set in motion a career of storytelling for an age group largely ignored by TV executives… and creates one of the most-loved television franchises of all time.”
The first episode of what would turn out to be the pilot for “The Kids of Degrassi Street” was based on a children’s book about cats. “Ida Makes a Movie” was a book suggested to Schuyler by her friend and school librarian Bruce Mackey. Her first idea was to animate; but she took a suggestion to cast real kids to heart and basically laid out the blueprint for the most successful TV franchise in Canadian TV history.
“It was always about the kids making choices,” says Schuyler. “The fact that it was in a lower income area in the inner city — all of that stayed with the show, the whole time.”
In all its incarnations, starting back in 1979, Degrassi has spanned several decades, many fan-favourite cast members and over 500 episodes. The various series have many admirers, including filmmaker Kevin Smith, who calls Schuyler, “The greatest ally in entertainment young audiences have had since John Hughes.”
Listen in as Schuyler recounts her early struggles — including a serious car accident — and how she was able to stick to her vision in presenting a series that championed adolescents in all their diversity. Taboo topics including abortion, school shootings and other issues have all been fearlessly tackled on Degrassi. As Schuyler sees it, the series is really, “the world’s longest-running anti-bullying campaign.”
She also comments on recent reports about the future of the franchise, including HBO Max’s decision this month to push pause on a brand new Degrassi incarnation. Schuyler and her husband/business partner Stephen Stohn sold Degrassi to DHX Media (now WildBrain) in 2014. Her author proceeds to “The Mother of All Degrassi” are being donated to a cause close to her heart: Kids Help Phone.
To listen to Linda, simply click on the blue and white arrow at the top of this page.