Inspired by the changing culture of teenagers in multicultural Toronto in the late 1970s, producer Linda Schuyler created a series that established a new view of kids and teens on television: The Kids of Degrassi Street.
Debuting on the CBC in September 1979, The Kids of Degrassi Street were loosely connected to a series of afterschool specials and focused on teens’ life – friendships, relationships, divorce, drugs, school politics and anything and everything.
Filmed in downtown Toronto, the realistic view of their world was layered into everything – from the depiction on the small screen, everyone looked like they could live next door, a decided move away from depicting the characters as perfect and pretty.
Each half hour focused on an issue – whether it was coping with school stresses or trying to figure out a new relationship. This series depicted life as it was, without sugar coating or making it always finish neatly by the end of the half hour.
All the characters lived on Degrassi Street and attended the same school – there were the older ones: Noel, Catherine, Chuck and Tina or the younger ones: Lisa, Griff, Connie, Pete, Rachel and Casey. The show began airing on PBS in the United States, finding an equally interested audience of kids and teens south of the border.
I remember seeing a few episodes and it made me curious about the city of Toronto – wondering how big the city was and all the different people who lived there.
In the next decade this series expanded – not only in scope, but in popularity beyond the borders of Canada with Degrassi Junior High. The kids may have changed and grown a bit older, but the series’ intent to show the changing life of an urban kid and teen stayed the same.