Degrassi in 2015 was weird. This year also happened to be one of the most pivotal moments in the series’ existence.
I recently read an article about the change in how children’s programming is being consumed by audiences. “Years ago, if MTV cancelled Degrassi, you’d be dead,” said Steven DeNure, president of DHX Media. Degrassi is the show that won’t die, and a big part of that is its willingness to adapt even when broadcasters are resistant to the evolving landscape. When DHX purchased Epitome Pictures in 2014, anyone who’s followed Degrassi beyond the show and its fandom knew that changes were coming; we just didn’t know when or how. Now the changes are here, and they’re exciting.
From a fan perspective this has been a down year. In total we unexpectedly went without new Degrassi episodes for nearly eleven out of twelve months in 2015. We received a few season 14 episodes in January, then twiddled our thumbs as that spring premiere date was bumped back to a 2-week summer burn off. A new generation of fans experienced their first major transition as an entire generation of characters left the show. In that aspect the show’s character rotation *is* high school…seniors leave, and the ones below them become the top dogs as a wave of new faces enter the hallways for the first time.
Our worst fears came true as it was announced that TeenNick and MTV Canada were no longer going to air Degrassi. Don’t let this fanbase’s constant complaining fool you…that day shined a light on how meaningful this show is to us.
By the time the cancellation announcement came about alternate plans had already been made, so at that point we were panicking over nothing. In hindsight I wonder, what exactly were we afraid of? Degrassi was leaving one network that had watered down the show for years to fit its branding, and another who by the end seemed to not even care that they aired the show at all.
The biggest transition hasn’t happened yet, but it will be within Degrassi’s online community, which has basically grown into its own entity within the Degrassi universe over the past five years. Epitome knew the value of its online community, which is why it made sure Canadian and American broadcasters remained on the same broadcast schedule for five seasons. Maybe TeenNick and Much/MTV had more leeway with that kind of thing, but now Degrassi has moved onto broadcasters who have vastly different agendas. Family Channel doesn’t give a shit that you can’t view their website or their promos, American fans…Degrassi Source, it’s your time to shine.
Family Channel has the rights to air the episodes first, so from now on Canadian fans will get to watch the episodes before the rest of the world. This is nothing new to longtime viewers of the show (or viewers outside of the U.S./Canada), but in today’s world where Degrassi’s obligated to engage fans on a neutral plane like the internet, the transition might be tough for Netflix-dependent viewers hoping to avoid spoilers.
As for the future of Degrassi, I’m excited. It says a lot that DHX Media not only purchased Epitome and placed Degrassi on one of their networks, they’ve literally built an entire teen-oriented block around this show. Every single Next Class interview has featured someone mentioning that the show is “edgier” or “goes there” in a way it couldn’t in previous years, so there’s no reason to not believe them.
For myself, I’ll be looking to challenge my mindset as I strive to look at Degrassi beyond generic filters. There’s times where deeper meanings lie beyond the basic actions of these characters, and sometimes those kind of nuances can go unnoticed. Even though I’m now in my 30’s, this show presents themes and ideas that are valuable to people of all ages, and over the years I’ve seen the way I look at this world and the people in it evolve because of Degrassi.
For over 35 years Degrassi has done “whatever it takes,” and so far they’ve made it through. Here’s to Next Class helping another generation do the same.