By NANCY CHANDROSS
Oct. 18, 2005 — A
little school in Canada is generating a lot of attention stateside from teens (and some adults!) who are tuning in to find out if Craig
and Ashley have broken up or if their friends will ever forgive a former pal for inciting a school shooting.
Now in its fifth season, "Degrassi:
The Next Generation" has become a powerhouse for evening programming on the digital cable channel The N, which airs the series
nightly mixing new and repeat episodes.
As gossip and teen angst are portrayed
between reruns of "Moesha" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," the Canada-based series is clearly winning the popularity contest.
When the show's actors took part in a mall tour this past summer, 40,000 teens showed up. The series even caught the attention
of filmmaker Kevin Smith, who appeared in several episodes last season after having followed the original "Degrassi: Junior
High" on PBS in the 1980s.
The current crop of students
is a mix of bookworms, punks, popular kids and awkward teens who have become superstars to the young fans of the show. "From
my perspective, it couldn't be more wonderful," said series creator Lynda Schuyler, who developed the franchise in Toronto 25 years ago.
"As a producer I thought, 'I wonder
if we're doing the right thing? We've had a success. I don't know if we should necessarily play with that,'" said Schuyler.
"And to have it be embraced in such a way — not feeling stale, but feeling fresher than ever — is a wonderful
place to be."
What separates this show
from other teen programming is its outright determination to deal with shocking topics with no sugarcoating. In between the
spirit squad practices and school dances at Degrassi High, Schuyler is incorporating story lines that may give parents nightmares
about what is happening in schools.