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Friday, October 12, 2001

AllPop's 'Degrassi' cheat sheet

There are two types of "Degrassi" fans. The first watched the show when it was shiny and new and can still discuss the plot lines of each and every episode. The second discovered the program in reruns and, hypnotized by the scary '80s hair and issue-heavy plot lines, and egged on by vague Kevin Smith references, found themselves just as hooked as the original "Degrassi" fans.

But AllPop knows that many of our readers are barely aware of the existence of "Degrassi", which started in 1982 with "Kids Of Degrassi Street" and finished up in 1991 with "Degrassi: School's Out", so we're offering you a crash course and a sneak preview of the first episode of "Degrassi: The Next Generation". Those of you who are already fans can skip this story and head right over to the plot synopsis of "The Next Generation" pilot.

The classic cast

Classic "Degrassi" elements:

1. There must ALWAYS be an issue. Teen parenthood, abortion, drugs, drinking, eating disorders, relationship trauma, peer pressure, suicide, alcoholic parents, and abuse were mainstays of the classic "Degrassi".

2. The actors MUST look like average public school students. Some of the classic characters were cuter than others, but there were no Katie Holmeses or Sarah Michelle Gellars in that crowd.

3. The show MUST have easily identifiable Canadian elements. The classic episodes featured references to Canadian locations (it was filmed in Toronto) and events.

4. There MUST be characters you like and characters you love to hate, but the ones you despise MUST eventually reveal the reason for their troubled behaviours. One of the classic evil characters was Kathleen. She was sarcastic, uppity and snappy but ... she also had an alcoholic mother and an abusive boyfriend.

5. There MUST be bad hair, scary acid-wash jeans, and odd-looking headgear (think hats, head-bands, sweat-bands) to create the overall image of really-bad fashion.

6. There MUST be a multicultural cast. This was no "90120".

A Few Main Characters:

Joey Jeremiah -- The fedora-wearing trouble-maker who got all the girls. A member of the bad band The Zit Remedy.

Archibald "Snake" Simpson -- The lovable, gangly goof and side-kick of Joey Jeremiah who hardly ever got the girls. Also a member of The Zit Remedy.

Derek "Wheels" Wheeler -- The troubled third member of The Zit Remedy who eventually lost his way and ended up in jail for drunk driving.

Caitlin Ryan -- The all-star student and probably the favourite character of most "Degrassi" fans. Her issues included dealing with her ex-boyfriend Claude's suicide, adjusting to her epilepsy, and dating Joey.

Christine "Spike" Nelson -- The punky gal who got pregnant in junior high and kept her baby, Emma.

Lucy Fernandez -- The aspiring filmmaker who dabbled in shoplifting and was injured in Wheels' drunk-driving accident.

Erica Farrell & Heather Farrell -- The twins dressed alike but they were different! One loved the boys, while the other was a bit more conservative. (Only a truly crazed fan would be able to tell you which was which).

Stephanie Kay -- The popular student council president was truly two-sided and ran into trouble when she treated her friends badly. Her lowest moment? Telling brother Arthur not to let anyone know they were related.

Arthur -- The friendly geek.

Yick Yu -- Yick started out as a geek but became cool in the later "Degrassi" years, causing problems with his best friend Arthur.

Mr. Raditch -- The teacher who followed the "Degrassi" kids through their school years.

Tessa Campanelli -- Dated all the boys, starting with the geeks and working her way up to Joey.

Kathleen Meade --- The cranky friend of Caitlin who once shocked her clique during a sleep-over by pulling out a joint.

Why did/do people love "Degrassi"?

The easiest and possibly the most common explanation for the popularity of "Degrassi" was the absence of cable in many small towns across Canada when the program first hit TV land. CBC was really the only choice for many young TV watchers; it aired "Degrassi", so people watched it.

But even when cable came into existence in the far reaches of the Maritime provinces, in the northern corners of Ontario, and the picturesque towns of B.C., people continued to watch. Why?

At that point, there wasn't really a wide variety of teen programs out there -- even on cable. The boom that has given birth to a thousand teen mags, movies, CD compilations, and clothing lines had only begun to explode. Most "teen" programs featured actors that were well beyond their junior high and high school years, and looked like models.

While "Degrassi" met issues such as abortion and suicide head-on, many teen programs attempted to conquer these issues and chickened out at the last minute. Julia of "Party Of Five" talked about having an abortion for an entire hour-long episode, but a miscarriage allowed the producers to resolve the matter safely without upsetting militant anti-abortion groups.

On "Degrassi" meanwhile, one of the famous "twins" decided to have an abortion and carried through with the task. The show followed her to the clinic, where she was harassed by anti-abortionists who held up mini-fetuses to the camera before the episode ended with a freeze-frame of her entering the clinic.

But something more than issues and absentee cable attracted fans to the show. There were the distinctive Canadian elements, the identifiable characters, the cheesy clothes, the kitschy dialogue -- the whole "Degrassi" package.

"Degrassi" highlights - what true fans remember:

1. Less-than-cool characters Arthur and Yick call a radio sex-show to ask about wet dreams.

2. Snotty but good-at-heart Stephanie Kay changes into racy clothes in the school bathroom every morning so her mom won't find out about her wild side.

3. Spike (bad '80s spiky hair) gets pregnant and eventually has Emma, who is now the main character of "The Next Generation".

4. Snake, Joey and Wheels (the trouble-makers) and their terrible "Zit Remedy" band.

5. The twins and their odd, semi-corresponding black & white outfits.

6. Claude kills himself, Snake finds him, and is never quite the same.

7. The bully gets AIDS.

8. Caitlin & Joey's on-going will they or won't they (have sex).

9. The final chapter: "Degrassi School's Out" -- Wheels goes to jail, Caitlin & Joey break-up because he sleeps with the evil Tessa Campanelli, the F-word is used.

This Sunday (Oct. 14), CTV will air the pilot episode of "Degrassi: The Next Generation". All the old favourites are back to usher in the new program and to help introduce the new students of Degrassi Community School. An early look at the pilot episode is promising. The new teen actors are talented, the clothes aren't as odd-looking (not now anyway -- check back in 10 years), and the plot-lines are solidly dramatic with a Canadian flair.

We know there are a million companies that are marketing shows and products at you right now, pitching them as being "for teens" and wrapping them up in a bright-Britney-Spears-coloured bow, and that you get nauseous at the mere thought of another network peppering you with programming they think you want to watch. But give this one a chance.

To find out more about the pilot episode, click here.

Friday, October 12, 2001

"Degrassi: The Next Generation" Episode 1, Recap

WARNING! SPOILERS! The "Degrassi: The Next Generation" pilot opening focuses on the back-pocket of a pair of jeans, just like the classic series used to -- so how do you know it's the "Next Generation"? By the cell-phone clipped to the pocket, of course.

Welcome to the new series, where gadgets and e-mail are as prevalent now as bad hair and acid wash used to be then.

Most of the old gang returns for the pilot -- Joey, Spike, Snake, Wheels, Caitlin and Lucy are all there along with a cast of new, fresh, young faces. There's Emma, J.T., Toby, Manny, Ashley and more to come in future episodes.

So here's the update: Joey is a used-car salesman and a widower with a young daughter. Snake is a teacher at Degrassi Community School. Caitlin is super-successful, still environmentally minded and engaged to a hot-shot director. Spike (now known as Christine) is Emma's mom. She has toned down her hair and looks a lot better than she did in the original. Lucy is a smarty-pants who's still studying at university, and Wheels is still troubled.

The pilot flips back and forth between the reunion moments and the introduction of the new characters to satisfy classic "Degrassi" fans and tempt new fans with interesting plot lines involving the brand new characters.

Emma, Manny, J.T. and Toby are the main players of the new cast during the pilot. Emma, Spike's daughter, is an environmental nut and an e-mail addict. She and her side-kick Manny are gearing up for their first year at Degrassi, while J.T. is a good-hearted trouble-maker and an old friend of the girls. Toby is the token computer geek who is also getting ready for his first year at Degrassi. He and J.T. are old camp friends, and Toby quickly develops a crush on Emma as soon as J.T. makes the introductions.

Meanwhile, a melancholy Joey tries to sell Lucy a car as she tries to convince him to attend the reunion. (Joey's friends think he's cutting himself off from his friends you see).

Caitlin drives up to the school in a limo and eventually runs into Joey. There's awkward conversation (remember -- Caitlin and Joey used to go out), and Caitlin tries to convince Joey to attend the reunion. The gang decides they'll go for "drinks".

As we return to Emma's story-line, we learn that the young environmentalist has an online boyfriend who loves to hike and is organizing some sort of environmental petition. Emma thinks this e-mail beau can see into her soul because he has all the same interests as she does -- if you smelled trouble, you'd be right.

Emma's boyfriend wants to meet in person and luckily he's on a school trip to Toronto, so they can meet at his hotel. Manny, J.T. and Toby think a rendezvous is a very bad idea.

So here are the two main arcs during this episode: Joey & Caitlin deal with the past (and present -- dum dum da dum) and Emma learns to avoid online romance. (This story-line is actually super creepy, and bonus marks go to Miriam McDonald, who plays Emma, for her stellar acting abilities).

Caitlin, Joey, Spike, Snake, Lucy and Caitlin's husband-to-be (played by Don McKellar) all meet up for drinks. Caitlin's fiancée is obnoxious and spends his time talking away on his cell phone and making pretentious director-y comments. When Joey's home-made commercial for his used-car lot comes on, the director makes a snotty comment about the need to use "real" actors in commercials.

Joey eventually stomps off in a huff while his friends look embarrassed and Caitlin looks uncomfortable. Joey makes his way to the bar counter, where he is quickly joined by the sensitive Snake who lectures Joey about "cutting off" his friends and the need to move on with his life.

Later that night, Spike, Lucy and Caitlin return to Spike's house to spend more time catching up. (Funny fact for old fans: They enter Spike's house singing that old Zit Remedy hit "Everybody Wants Something". Tres drole).

Emma, who has a small case of hero-worship for Caitlin and her environmental pursuits, corners Caitlin and talks to her (in code) about her online boyfriend and how her friends don't think he's right for her. Caitlin, not knowing the guy in question is a computerized mystery, tells Emma to go for it. (More trouble on the way. That "Degrassi" -- a different issue for each day of the week).

So now it's time for the big reunion and the whole gang is there (although much of the old cast doesn't get to do much except mill around and look happy to see each other).

Joey does show up, which makes Caitlin very happy but, uh-oh, when Joey goes to get a drink he overhears something he definitely wasn't supposed to.

Caitlin's fiancée and an actress-wannabe and Degrassi alumni are getting cosy in a hall corner. It sounds as though Mr. McKellar's character isn't keen on getting married.

In the middle of all the reunion festivities, Mr. Raditch tells Lucy someone is there to see her. She goes outside and, behold: Wheels. He apologizes for injuring her when he had his drunk-driving accident, then he walks away. Lucy says she feels a bit sorry for him, and the entire scene is very, very strange and awkward. The need to deal with the whole Wheels-out-of-jail issue was there, but that was just plain weird.

Back at Spike's house, Emma is rushing her mom out the door to the reunion and then telling Manny she just plans to hang out alone. Oh no! Young Emma has decided to meet her online boyfriend at his hotel. the reunion...Caitlin is giving a speech while Joey and her fiancée are whisper-fighting about the conversation Joey overheard. There's basically some insults hurled, Joey gets punched, and Caitlin finds out her director friend doesn't want to get married after all.

Once the chaos has died down, Caitlin and Joey have a "special moment" where Joey tells her she'll eventually find the one and Caitlin tells him he's lucky he did find his "the one", and it's all very sensitive and moving. But by this point, the much more interesting story line is Emma's. So let's get back to that.

Emma has made her way to the hotel where she's met by an adult who tells her he's the chaperone for the school trip. The "chaperone" brings Emma up to his hotel room to wait for her boyfriend. TROUBLE.

But hope is not lost. Emma's pals, Manny, J.T. and Toby, realized that Emma decided to meet her online pen-pal. Toby figures out how to break into her e-mail and discovers that her "boyfriend" knew how to break in too and was learning how to entice her by reading her e-mails to other friends and learning her interests. They also find out what hotel he told Emma to meet him at.

The kids rush to the school and alert Spike, who calls the police as she and Snake jump into his car and head off to rescue Emma.

Emma has finally realized that the "chaperone" is actually the man who's been posing as her boyfriend. She runs into the bathroom and locks the door. The Internet stalker eventually coaxes her out by convincing her he's leaving the room but...he hasn't! When Emma leaves the bathroom, he grabs her and drags her into the bedroom. Bad news! (Note: Several viewers jumped when Emma was grabbed. The moment was high on tension, low on cheese -- well done.)

But yay! Spike and Snake arrive just in time and so do the police! Emma is rescued and the evil Internet boyfriend is taken away.

(Note: That whole scene earned top-notch marks. Very good job, everyone. You are welcome in my TV anytime).

The final two scenes show Joey and Caitlin bidding a fond farewell and Spike lecturing Emma and telling her she can tell her mom anything. There's also a P.S.A.-type moment when the police officers show up to take Emma's computer into evidence and tell Spike that when they get it back she should keep it downstairs where she can supervise things instead of up in Emma's room.

And that's it, that's the "Degrassi: The Next Generation Pilot". The writers followed the tried and true format of issue - emotional climax - issue resolved, with the appropriate "Degrassi" style.

Overall impression:

The young actors actually showed up their classic "Degrassi" counter-parts in the pilot episode. Their acting was solid, believable and age-appropriate, while some of the older crowd's dialogue sounded a bit stilted and over-rehearsed. Slightly wooden acting aside, it was still good to see Joey, Caitlin and the gang together again.

Emma's story-line demonstrates that the creative forces behind "The Next Generation" haven't lost touch with teens yet, showing that one instalment of "Degrassi: The Next Generation" is worth 20 episodes of "Dawson's Creek".

  • AllPop's 'Degrassi' cheat sheet

  • Friday, September 21, 2001

    'Degrassi's' got a whole new student body

    TORONTO -- It's just another lunch-hour for the students of Degrassi.

    Plates are piled high with salad, fruit, and pasta but the dessert is first to go. Groups of friends congregate at a specific cafeteria table, and conversations range from the U.S. tragedy to an upcoming bar mitzvah to the rumoured ability some people have to bend silverware with mind-power.

    Unlike most students though, after they've eaten their food and bounced a few basketballs in the gym, these kids will get paid to have melodramatic arguments with their best friends, develop crushes on the boy or girl who sits next to them in class, and deal with some heavy-duty teen issues.

    The cast in front of the gym set

    This particular group of young teens spend their days shooting scenes for CTV's "Degrassi The Next Generation", a continuation of CBC's cult classic series "Degrassi Jr. High" and "Degrassi High" that's scheduled to hit television on Oct. 14. Filming takes place in an industrial park in North York, Ont., where the set includes everything you'd expect to find in a school, from classrooms to locker rooms (complete with dirty laundry).

    But just because the actors are reading scripts doesn't mean the situations their characters find themselves in won't be of use to them when the camera stops rolling.

    "I think that doing this show, you learn a lot, because they deal with issues that everybody goes through, and by acting and reading the scripts, us as real people can learn how to react to things when we go through them," says 13-year-old Ryan Cooley, who plays J.T., the class clown of "Degrassi".

    Ryan's castmates quickly gather around him, clamouring for their turn to discuss "Degrassi". Although they may agree with Ryan that the show can provide them with a blueprint of a future crisis, they decide to focus on other, lighter aspects of filming the series.

    "The best part is you get to hang around with other kids your age and older than you," says 13-year-old Sarah Barrable-Tishauer who plays Liberty, the show's high-achiever and loner. "We have a lot of fun, and the people are really nice."

    If this group of thespians feels any pressure to follow in the footsteps of the actors who carved out the "Degrassi" niche in the first place, they're not showing it.

    Jake Goldsbie says he's been watching the "old, oops, I mean classic" episodes of "Degrassi", and to prove it, points out that another character, Ashley (played by Melissa McIntyre), is sort of like "The Next Generation"'s Stephanie Kaye. (For those of you not familiar with the original, Stephanie was the uber-popular school president).

    For 13-year-old Jake, who plays troublemaker J.T.'s best friend Toby, it's a bit of an honour to take over where Snake, Joey Jeremiah, and Wheels left off.

    The cast in front of the "Degrassi" school set

    "I think it's kind of cool, carrying it on," he says.

    Once the others are finished talking about why they're happy to be on the series, 14-year-old Miriam McDonald decides it's her turn to speak. A dancer, Miriam stands regally in front of a colourful "Degrassi" mural in the foyer of the school set. Miriam plays Emma, an environmentally minded student who is a very important character on the new show. Where her castmates and friends are giddy and excited, as well as being articulate, Miriam is pleasant and likable but almost all business, and the rest of the cast sits back and listens when she speaks.

    "I think that the best part of being on a TV show and acting is the fact that this is a job -- and I think I speak for all of us -- that we really love doing and we enjoy doing, and for some people, unfortunately, they don't enjoy their work," she says.

    Ryan and Sarah seem to have no intention of working at a job they don't like, which is why they are already planning their next career goal.

    "I want to continue acting, and I also want to be a pilot," says Ryan. "So I'm going to try to do both when I grow up, like John Travolta."

    "I'll continue on with acting as far as it will take me, but I really want to get into being a lawyer or a sales representative or a stock broker," says Sarah.

    Miriam and 12-year-old Cassie Steele, who plays the "betrothed" Manny, sound more certain about sticking with the acting world.

    "I really love acting," says Cassie. "It's like my favourite thing to do. But I also want to sing and dance, those are other things that I love to do."

    "I want to continue doing 'Degrassi' for as long as I can," says Miriam diplomatically, "and then after 'Degrassi', I want to do whatever other acting opportunities I get. If it takes me to Los Angeles, so be it."

    The cast doesn't have long to chat. Bringing the new show full circle, Siluck Saysanasy -- who played Yick Yu on the classic "Degrassi" -- works as the children's co-ordinator and makes sure his young charges are exactly where they need to be. Now, that means Siluck must whisk the cast away from their real adolescent world and into a land of teen-angst magnified for the camera. Lunch-time is over.

    Touring Degrassi: an exclusive peak at the new set

  • Take a virtual tour of the "Degrassi" set with our exclusive photo gallery HERE.

    TORONTO -- In the middle of an industrial park in North York, Ont., an alternate teen universe is being born.

    In about three weeks, a red brick shell of a building will be transformed into a buzzing school, complete with lockers, gymnasium and cafeteria, and a miniature street lined with the facades of brick houses that look like any house in any suburb (except for the fact that they're supported by small wooden beams hidden in the back) will welcome the new, young cast of "Degrassi: The Next Generation".

    Shooting on the series begins July 3, which means the construction crew have many long hours of work ahead of them.

    Some rooms are more intact than others. Lockers line one wall, which will eventually become the Degrassi school corridor once numerous step ladders are moved, sawdust swept, and walls finished and painted.

    Across the enormous studio sits the show's variety-store set, and just across from that, one of the teen character's homes is being created. Standing in the "house", you could convince yourself it was the real thing, if not for the few illusions you notice up close: staircases lead to nothingness and basement doors that hide the fact there's no basement behind them.

    Beside a set that will very shortly become a classroom sits a small structure that sports a black curtain, and a paper sign taped to the wall that reads: "Change room, please knock" - just another reminder that although the "Degrassi" universe will look very real on your TV in October, it's really a world of support beams and doors that only take you to the next set.

    But for the show's writers, Yan Moore, also the creative consultant who worked on the original "Degrassi" and Aaron Martin, also a story editor, the quickly expanding set is only reinforcing a world they've been creating in their minds, on paper and in auditions. Walking through the studio, Martin and Moore are visibly excited about "Degrassi". They point at various sets and explain who will live in that room, and then walk over to a underdeveloped corner strewn with sawdust and small bits of wood to demonstrate where the students will hang out together.

    To them, very soon, the set will be a real place, where real issues and real teens will evolve.

    When Canadian teens tune in to "Degrassi: The Next Generation" this October, they're more likely to see actors who resemble their lab partner than the Holmes, Jacksons, and Van Der Beeks that people "Dawson's Creek".

    "'Dawson's Creek' is very soapy show, whereas ours is more issue-oriented," explains Moore. "They're going to see much more real kids. Remember the first season of 'Dawson's Creek'? Where they were all saying, 'I may be 15', but in fact they were 18, 19, 20? But our kids are within a couple years of the characters they're playing."

    Adds Martin, "I think 'Degrassi' is more of a reflection of what it's like to be a teen than shows like "Dawson's Creek", which have their place and everything, but you know, the kids on 'Dawson's Creek' speak like they're PhD students compared to what normal kids speak".

    In preparation for the new series, Moore and Martin have talked to teens, watched lots of TV, and read reams of magazines and newspapers, but each says the core issues that affected the teens who tuned in regularly to watch the exploits of Snake, Caitlin, and Joey Jeremiah on the first "Degrassi" in the '80s remain pretty much the same as the viewers who will see a whole new set of "Degrassi" characters evolve this year.

    "We're dealing with split parents, parents with flaws (alcoholism), rumours, peer pressure, family life, dealing with siblings, dealing with friends, romance -- yes," says Moore. "Of course. Always".

    Moore and Martin are reluctant to give away any major plot secrets, but they do say they're planning to stay far, far away from stereotypical teen characters.

    "One person's geek is another person's love god," says Moore, who admits to having a soft spot for the "nerd" because of his own nerdy past. "We're trying to make them three-dimensional."

    That's not to say that every "Degrassi" student will be loveable just because they have a back story. One character in particular is "anal to beat the band," says Moore, while another is "awfully close to a bitch".

    "(It's) one of our favourites," says Martin lovingly about the less-than-pleasant character.

    Both Moore and Martin say they love to create characters who will never win the Miss Congeniality title at school.

    Says Moore, "You get in touch with ..."

    "Your inner evil", finishes Martin. "Cheap therapy".

    Moore quickly comes to the character's defence, explaining there is a reason for her madness: her poor relationship with her mother.

    With all the new teen magazines, countless teen TV shows, and Freddie Prinze Jr. movies flooding the young market, will the target audience be too burnt out on their own generation to support a new show -- even one that sports nasty characters with troubled pasts, on-again/off-again romances, and heavy family problems?

    Martin thinks "Degrassi" could actually be an oasis of true teen experience in the middle of a wasteland littered with impossibly pretty "TV teens".

    "I think what's happening is that the teen genre has gotten to a point that it's regurgitating the same thing over and over again, and I think that's why in some ways 'Degrassi' is a good antidote for that, because it's not the typical teen show that's been out for the last 10 years," he says. "Kevin Williamson's ('Dawson's Creek') kind of stuff, which was really cool when it first came out, has become a bit played out, and I think teens are seeing through that now, so it's good for 'Degrassi' to come at this point."

    "Degrassi" is obviously more than just a day job for the two writers.

    "I hope it actually does talk to the kids," says Moore, "actually does communicate. Hopefully it will affect kids lives the way the previous one did. The previous one is still alive on the air. It would be nice to keep on talking to kids like that."

  • Take a virtual tour of the "Degrassi" set with our exclusive photo gallery HERE.
  • School's back in at Degrassi
    Toronto Sun

    "So, uh, what do you wanna do tonight?"
    "Mmm, get a pizza, watch Degrassi Jr. High."
    "You got a weird thing for Canadian melodrama."
    "I got a weird thing for girls who say 'aboot.' "

    -- Chasing Amy

    Who says dreams don't come true? Not only is filmmaker Kevin Smith finally getting a role on Degrassi, but he's going to be Caitlin's boyfriend.

    Smith (Clerks, Dogma) has long made his Degrassi jones public -- using it as fodder for movie lines and writing a paean for Details mag for the show (which ran in the U.S. on PBS).

    And yesterday, at a press conference to launch CTV's Degrassi: The Next Generation -- featuring both grownup originals and a whole new cast of kids -- Degrassi creator Linda Schuyler revealed that the show's most famous diehard fan is indeed joining for a one-off appearance in the pilot episode.

    "When Caitlin (Stacie Mistysyn) returns, she has a boyfriend who's an aspiring director from the West Coast. It's a cameo part played by Kevin," said Schuyler, who shepherded the show through its days on CBC as Kids Of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Jr. High and Degrassi High.

    In a further embrace of its retro "hip" cachet, the new Degrassi has rock 'n' roll auteur Bruce McDonald (Highway 61, Hard Core Logo) along as a director.

    "About a year and a half ago," said Schuyler, "my old creative partner, Yan Moore, and I were talking and he said, 'Linda, if we followed the chronology, Spike -- who had a child out of wedlock -- her daughter would now be 12 and entering Degrassi Jr. High.'

    "My initial reaction was, 'Oh my goodness, has that much time gone by? And then it triggered an idea. We'd been talking for a while about making another teen show. And it was, 'Wow, maybe it shouldn't just be another teen show.'"

    Completing the circle was the fact that Ivan Fecan, who put Degrassi in primetime on CBC in the '80s, is now CEO of CTV.

    In this and other ways, she admits, it was deja vu. "We sent researchers into the schools to ask what's the same and what's different. In terms of matters of the heart, they're the same -- the zit on your nose and wondering whether you're going to be ready to have sex. What's different is that 17-year-old who's ostensibly doing homework on the computer is listening to downloaded music, the TV set is on and the ICQ is flashing (on the monitor) as he talks to his friends online."

    In keeping with this, the new Degrassi will have a Web site ( with a "virtual school" to which people can "enroll," ensuring a steady stream of e-mails from their classmate characters and buzz about ongoing subplots.

    Yesterday's press event brought out the four returning cast members who'll be in the one-hour pilot episode -- Pat Mastroianni (Joey), Mistysyn (Caitlin), Stefan Brogren (Snake) and Amanda Stepto (Spike) -- along with new kids with character names like Ashley, Paige, Liberty, Spinner and J.T.

    Miriam McDonald, who plays Spike's 12-year-old daughter Emma, called the casting "the most exciting thing in my whole life." But said, "I didn't watch it when it was a series 'cause I wasn't born and I was a little bit too young."

    Mistysyn, Brogren and Mastroianni have all had their L.A. experience (Mastroianni was in Godzilla playing a jet pilot who got eaten). Stepto, who'll be a regular on the new series along with Brogren, travelled and taught English in Japan.

    Meanwhile, cult status caught up to them. "I was outside and a young lady saw me and said, 'I feel so old,'" said Mastroianni. "I know how she feels. We're a voice of that generation."

    "It happens sometimes that the show is on (in reruns) and my friends are going, C'mon! We gotta watch it!'" says Brogren. "I'm like 'It's okay, I was there.'"