“Degrassi” is nominated for an Emmy for Best Children’s Program, but it’s not your typical kids’ show. Aimed at teens, the Canadian drama addresses subject matter more mature than the category’s other four nominees: Disney Channel’s “Good Luck Charlie” and “Wizards of Waverly Place,” and Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” and “Victorious.”
“We pride ourselves at ‘Degrassi’ on being fearless in terms of the issues that we will take on,” says executive producer Linda Schuyler (pictured, inset). “When we won the Peabody a couple of years ago, it was for the current storyline we have that we’re very proud of, which is our transgender character. When we received that award they said to us, ‘”Degrassi” neither trivialized nor over-sensationalized the issue,’ and … that’s what we aim for.”
This year, the show is nominated for its episode “Extraordinary Machine, Part 2,” which focuses on three similarly mature topics: Eli (Munro Chambers), who struggles with bipolar disorder while putting on a school play; Anya (Samantha Munro), whose plans to join the army are derailed by her drug use; and KC and Jenna (Sam Earle and Jessica Tyler), who put their infant son up for adoption.
The “Degrassi” franchise started back in 1979, when Schuyler created “The Kids of Degrassi Street,” which was inspired by her previous career: “There’s no question that my inspiration goes back to the eight years I spent as a junior high school teacher … When I first started as a producer, there really were no live-action shows that were geared to adolescents.”
The “Degrassi” franchise has since won two International Emmys – for “Kids” in 1986 and “Degrassi Junior High” in 1987 – but the current version of the series didn’t break through at the Primetime Emmys until 2011, 10 years into its run. Says Schuyler, “One never takes anything for granted in this business, and it was thrilling to know people are watching our show and people are thinking it’s worthy of putting forward as a nominee.”
Schuyler admits feeling maternal affection for her ever-changing cast of teen characters. “I fall in love with all of them,” she explains. Those “Degrassi” alumni include well-known stars like Nina Dobrev (“The Vampire Diaries“), Shenae Grimes (“90210”), and musician Drake. “He’s not Drake to me, he’s Aubrey Graham. I hired Aubrey Graham for his first acting gig when he was 14-years-old. I’m very fond of Aubrey.” Former “Degrassi” stars have also done work with the youth-outreach organization Free the Children. “I take equal pride in the kind of work that they’re doing as I do in my boy Drake.”