Degrassi High's first incarnation was as a CBC television series aired in the early 1980s called The Kids of Degrassi Street. This series was typical 1980s Canadian youth outreach fare, dealing with issues such as alcoholism or date rape. A series of books also followed, which featured cast members openly sharing their own life experiences. As the series drew to an end, its producers (Kit Hood, Linda Schuyler, and Kate Taylor, if anyone's interested) had a brainwave: as a result of the impressive popularity of the Degrassi Street series, they decided to hire some more actors, create some new characters, and deal with the same issues in a weekly (pre)teen drama format. Thus, Degrassi Junior High was born, and out of that came Degrassi High. Both of these shows became huge successes in Canada, and were even aired in parts of the US via PBS.
The final episode of the series was filmed in 1991 and was entitled "One Last Dance", but the series officially ended with the release of School's Out in 1992, the Degrassi High movie. For the 2001-2002 season, CTV decided to revive the Degrassi tradition, and with the aid of its original producers created Degrassi: The Next Generation, which centers around the offspring of one of Degrassi High's main characters. Although the new show is by no means as extraordinary as the original, its refreshing stance on current issues will likely have as great an impact on its target audience as its predecessors did.
Degrassi High was not only known for its fearlessness in dealing with unpleasant issues and the quality of the acting (despite the fact that most of the actors weren't professionals, but kids who just stopped by to audition to see if they could get on TV), but for its memorable theme song. The theme song was sung by Wendy Watson, who played a teacher on the original Kids of Degrassi Street Series. The lyrics are as follows:
Wake up in the morning, got to shake the feeling
I've gotta face a day at school
What's to be afraid of I can ask a question, and maybe even bend the rules
I'll search for a place we all fit in, there's a way if I look that I can win
Yeah I can see I'm not alone I can face the unknown
Everybody can succeed, in yourself you must believe
Give it a try
At Degrassi High!
And while there is a common misconception floating about that the Junior High theme has the same words (only with "Junior" in the last line), this simply isn't true, and for the sake of clearing that up here are the lyrics to the equally classic Junior High theme song:
Wake up in the morning feeling shy and lonely
Gee, I got to go to school
I don't think I can make it
Don't think I can take it, I'm wonderin' what I'm going to do
But then I look around and see that someone is smiling right at me
WAIT! That someone's talking to me, hey I've got a new friend!
Everybody can succeed all you need is to believe
Be honest with yourself forget your fears and doubts
Come on give us a try
At Degrassi Junior High!
Some of the unforgettable main characters on the original series include:
Joey Jeremiah: The closest thing to a protagonist on the show, Joey is a fun-loving guy who is always getting into trouble. Played by Pat Mastroianni, Joey had some sort of learning disorder which caused him to fail a grade, and also walked naked through the school cafeteria for money. He also plays in the classic one-song band The Zit Remedy, along with his friends Snake and Wheels. Joey appears regularly on the new Degrassi, and is now a bald car salesman and widower, and has a really cute kid.
Derek "Wheels" Wheeler: Wheels was one messed up kid. His parents were killed in a car crash, so he was sent to live with his grandmother, who he was unable to get along with. Naturally, Wheels decides to run away, and being the bright bulb he is, he decides to hitch-hike. This being Degrassi, the man who picks him up is a nasty pervert and tries to molest Wheels in his car. Also, he gets in a lot of trouble for stealing money from Joey Jeremiah's mom.
Archie "Snake" Simpson: Completing the Joey and Wheels trio is Snake, who is awed by his friend Joey's skills with the ladies. He was played by a talented young actor named Stefan Brogren, who also appears in Degrassi: The Next Generation. In the show, Snake is grown up and actually teaches at Degrassi. He's also finally found himself a girlfriend, who just happens to be his old friend Spike. As a somewhat interesting sidenote, Brogren's mother, Shiela, appeared in an early Degrassi episode playing Kathleen Mead's alcoholic mother.
Melanie Brodie: A skinny, awkward, bra-stuffing girl, she was played to perfection by Sara Ballinger, who retired from acting following the conclusion of the series. However, in August 1999 an Australian who maintained a web site about the show was arrested and charged with stalking her over a 6-year period. Prior to his arrest, Australian police searched his apartment and seized more than 70 fireams.
Yick Yu: Arthur's best friend, he starts off skinny and geeky but gets cooler (and smokes a lot of weed) as the show progresses, something which causes the two boys to drift apart. He was played by Siluck Saysanasy, who was born in Laos.
Christine "Spike" Nelson: Best known for her out-there hair and the fact she got pregnant in the seventh grade. Played by Amanda Stepto, who took some time off acting to get a degree in Political Science from the University of Toronto. She is now a regular on the new Degrassi series.
Caitlin Ryan: Joey's on and off girlfriend throughout the series, played by Stacie Mistysyn, whose father, Robert, was the animation director on the show. Caitlin is also a fixture on the New Degrassi, having decided to make another go of things with Joey Jeremiah.
Lucy Fernandez: Played by Anais Granofsky, she's the overachieving Degrassi High School President, who always walks around with a video camera in order to film things for her friend L.D., who can no longer go to school because she has leukemia.
Kathleen Mead: Played by Rebecca Haines, she was Wheels' closest rival for the "Most Screwed Up" title. Saddled with an alcoholic mother, she had an equally burdensome love life, as her first boyfriend beat her seneseless on a regular basis.
Mr. Raditch: Strict homeroom teacher, played by Dan Woods. He also appears in the new Degrassi episodes, and is now Principal Raditch.