Image for “The mother of all Degrassi”, Finding Your Bliss

And then, September 11, 2001.

We were a few months into production and had settled into a comfortable rhythm. I was at home reading scripts for a late morning writer’s meeting. An hour and a half earlier, I had received my customary call from our production manager, David. He assured me all the cast and crew had arrived on time and confirmed the time of the first shot. We were off to a good start. I sat back on my front porch and began to mark up my scripts. My PM unexpectedly called again, “Have you seen the TV?” he anxiously asked.

“Er, not watching TV — reading scripts here.”

“A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center,” David said with forced calmness.

“Oh,” I thought out loud. “What an awful accident.”

“I don’t think so. Turn on your TV now, and then please get to the office ASAP.”

I went to our media room, just in time to see the second plane crash into the south tower. Oh my God. Terrorists. The drive from our house to the office typically took about eleven minutes. I made it in seven.

Production had ground to a halt. There were tears in every corner of the set. Actors, crew, writers, administrators — all crying. No one could comprehend what had just happened in our time zone, on our continent — in our world. Stephen and I split our duties. We travelled around set, offering hugs of support and sharing tears. Yet we remained resolute. Production would continue. Some of our cast considered us harsh and uncaring. We empathized, but explained, “If we stop work, the terrorists win.” We didn’t realize it at the time, but this would be a mantra in the post-9/11 world. This attitude was influenced by the 1989 conversation Ivan and I had had on the terrible day of the Montreal massacre. In spite of the gravity of the situation, Ivan and I agreed that our episode of sexual abuse should continue to air. The misogynists and terrorists would not win.

We pushed through the production day and hastily made counselling available. When we called wrap for the day, we had not accomplished our scheduled scenes, but we had established a work attitude that we considered critical in the age of terror.

September 11 proved to be a pivotal point for Generation Me — it changed their lives. The large cohort that had been known for their overconfidence and narcissism was now confronted for the first time with fear and terror. This collective anxiety influenced a new Degrassi storytelling resolve. As well as reassuring our young audience that they were not alone, we felt it was increasingly important that our stories contain messages of empowerment and hope. We wanted our young audience to know that they could make a difference. And it wasn’t just our storytelling that was affected. At this time, our music team, Jim McGrath, Jody Colero, and Stephen, were already working on our theme song. They doubled down after 9/11.

Whatever it takes,
I know I can make it through.
If I hold out,
I know I can make it through.
Be the best, the best that I can be.
Whatever it takes,
I know I can make it,
I can make it,
I can make it through.
Whatever it takes,
I know I can make it through.

Degrassi: The Next Generation theme song, music and lyrics by Jim McGrath, Jody Colero, and Stephen Stohn

Despite scripted drama, crises behind the scenes, and shocking international acts of terror, Degrassi: The Next Generation was ready for release in early October. Those of us on the inside were convinced that we had produced something special, but would the critics and our audience see it that way? Our publicists had been busy in the weeks leading up to our launch. As most members of our young cast were new to acting, we had conducted a series of workshops to help them with the press and various interviews. Prior to the release date, and on the day, many interviews for print, television, and radio were conducted with folks both in front of and behind the camera. I had been alerted by our publicist that the first review to come out would be on CBC Radio.

I hoped the review wouldn’t be coloured by the fact that the CBC did not get the television rights to the show. With this thought in mind, and also genuine concern about whether or not people would like the new show, I decided to listen to the review alone in my office, without our publicist, or even Stephen. My biggest fear was that we would be compared, unfavourably, to the classic Degrassi series. I could hear people saying, “Linda Schuyler had a great show with Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, why didn’t she just quit when she was ahead?”

I held my breath as the review began and then heard the words: “The kids are all right!” I slowly exhaled. As I listened to the entirety of the review, we didn’t get crucified. There were no sour grapes. The reviewer enjoyed the show. When I opened my door, a small crowd was gathered in the hall, all with great big smiles on their faces and with “thumbs-up” gestures. I threw my arms open for a group hug. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT!

As other press rolled in, there was much support of the new generation. Oh, we got some diehards who felt that we had become too glossy and too slick, but overall, it was very good.

And so were the ratings.

Excerpted and adapted from The Mother of All Degrassi by Linda Schuyler. © 2022 by Linda Schuyler. All rights reserved. Published by ECW Press Ltd.

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