Degrassi has been a television phenomenon for a long time. It’s transcended generations, and become one of Canada’s most popular television offerings. The show has been on the air for more than 30 years, and it shows no signs of slowing down now. It’s had hundreds of different characters by this point, using its central location as a way to tell stories about a variety of different teenagers over multiple generations, all of them struggling with issues the same way many teenagers do in real life.
Of course, the struggles didn’t always end when the cameras stopped rolling. On a show with a history as long as Degrassi’s, it’s easy to see how things could sometimes get out of hand behind the scenes. Child actors sometimes don’t handle pressure particularly well. That’s to be expected. After all, they’re learning about the world at the same time they’re becoming famous, well-known people. They never get a chance to be normal.
Degrassi was (and is) a groundbreaking show took us inside the lives of teenagers and reminded us what it was like to be one. Even groundbreaking shows have secrets though, and Degrassi is no exception.
Here are 17 Secrets Behind Degrassi You Had No Idea About.
17. Drama by the numbers
Degrassi certainly didn’t suffer from a shortage of drama. Some may have characterized the show as overly dramatic, but that would be ignoring the fact that teenagers are inherently dramatic. When all that’s considered, it’s really no surprise that over the course of its extended run, the show featured five main character deaths, eight pregnancies, three terminated pregnancies, four cancer storylines and more than 50 love triangles.
These teens have led pretty busy lives, and they have a lot of plot to show for it. While it may seem like Degrassi is recycling its various plotlines based on those numbers, they’re also being frank about the way teenage behavior has stayed the same across generations. Some things never change, and teens are one of those things.
16. Angela and Tori were played by the same person – and she’s Manny’s sister
Cassie Steele played Manny on Degrassi: The Next Generation, and was certainly the most famous member of the Steele family, but her sister, Alex Steele, also plays a part in the history of the show. Alex played two different roles on the show. In the early seasons, she played Angela Jeremiah, Craig’s younger sister. Then, she re-appeared in seasons as Tori Santamaria for seasons 11 and 12.
Alex was the first actor in the show’s history to play more than one character on the same series, and she ultimately quit the show after a single season when she returned. Her history with the show is much more bizarre than her sister’s and suggests that she may not have been as committed to the endeavor as Cassie was.
15. Miriam McDonald’s Revealing Scene
Degrassi pushes boundaries and often asks its actors to do some fairly compromising things as a result. Miriam McDonald, who played Emma Nelson on Degrassi, has a somewhat signature scene from her time on the show. During an episode called “Hungry Eyes,” Emma strips down for Peter Stone, with the goal of taking revenge on him for actions he had taken against her friend Manny.
That strip scene, which ultimately backfires and leads to a secret relationship between Peter and Emma, was filmed by McDonald herself without a body double and aired without any editing in Canada. McDonald was still quite young at the time. After all, she was meant to be portraying a teenager. The scene served a purpose for the plot, but many may have wished that it was a little less explicit.
14. Drake Admitted to Taking Substances before his audition
Drake was a star from a fairly young age. Before he had a career as a hugely successful musical performer, he was a member of the cast of Degrassi: The Next Generation. Drake played basketball player (and future wheelchair-bound) Jimmy Brooks on the show. In interviews about the program since he launched his music career, Drake has been quite frank about how things went. He even admitted that he used illegal substances before his audition, although it apparently didn’t hurt his performance too badly since he got the part.
Drake has always been one of the calmer presences in the world of rap, and this story doesn’t really change that perception. He may have been hard enough to smoke a little weed before his audition for Degrassi, but in his heart, he’s a good boy, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
13. Peter Stone Was Originally Meant to come out
A character from The Next Generation played by Jamie Johnston, Peter Stone was initially quite manipulative, but eventually matured into a more sensible and responsible character. He eventually went on to Toronto University and remained a part of the show for more than five years. In spite of that history, many Degrassi fans may not know that he was originally supposed to be attracted to both guys and gitls.
Stone certainly had his fair share of romantic entanglements over the course of Degrassi, but all of them were with women. Initially, he was meant to pursue a relationship with Riley Stavros, but that plotline ultimately shifted, with Riley instead having unrequited feelings for Peter. Sexuality is a complex topic, and it’s one that Degrassi has never hesitated to tackle head-on, even if Peter ended up being straight.
12. Degrassi’s Racial Issues
Although she said she was grateful for her time on the show, Andrea Lewis, who played Hazel Aden, wrote in a blog post that she believes the show has issues with race. She says the writers were generally uninterested in writing storylines for her character, and were instead much more concerned about how to use Hazel in the storylines of white characters.
What’s more, Lewis argued that Degrassi was only interested in perpetuating stereotypes surrounding young minorities, and claimed that she and the other black characters on the show were often used as nothing more than tokens. Lewis was unafraid of speaking her mind, and she was right to speak out. Degrassi’s impact is huge and far-reaching, so any issues with the show need to be addressed.
11. The First F-Bomb On Canadian Television
The F-bomb barrier was broken on America TV in the ’70s when HBO was just starting out, but the word didn’t get said on Canadian television until 15 years later. In typical boundary-pushing fashion, it was Degrassi that struck the blow. It came not on a show, but in Degrassi: School’s Out, a TV movie that followed the graduates of Degrassi High over the summer.
The moment itself came when Snake yelled at Joey, saying “Joey Jeremiah spends his summer dating Caitlin and f**king Tessa.” The word is then repeated by Caitlin, who overheard the conversation. Dropping the f-bomb for the first time may have been a big deal, but it was also just another development in one of the show’s many love triangles.
10. The Most Controversial Storylines Were Edited or Never Aired In Some Countries
Degrassi was never afraid to stir up controversy. The show has aired numerous storylines about terminated pregnancies throughout its history, and those storylines have typically held a sympathetic eye toward the issue. As a result of these often frank depictions of the subject, the episodes of Degrassi that featured these storylines were often edited or never aired in countries around the world.
Although termination of pregnancy is a frank part of life in most countries, it’s heavily censored in many parts of the world. Degrassi was groundbreaking because of its frank depictions of the turmoil of teenage life, and all of the ugliness that often came with it. Being young is incredibly hard, and Degrassi understands that better than many teen shows. Some countries, it seems, weren’t interested in showing that turmoil in its unfiltered form.
9. Andre Kim used racist and ableist slurs
The actors behind Degrassi don’t exactly have unimpeachable resumes. Andre Kim, the actor behind Winston Chu, made a public apology after a video of him using racial slurs while gaming emerged. Kim has also found himself under fire for a string of offensive tweets. In the video that was made public, one which was filmed a year before Kim joined the cast, Kim is heard calling other players by ableist slurs and wishing they would be assaulted.
Kim apologized for all of this, and the video caught the attention of one of Degrassi’s executive producers, who said that the language was unacceptable in any and all contexts. Steps were taken to discipline Kim, with the hopes that this kind of incident would never be repeated by any other cast members.
8. Neil Hope Died in 2007
Neil Hope was best known for playing Derek “Wheels” Wheeler on Degrassi Jr. High and Degrassi High, and he struggled with alcoholism for most of his life. Having been raised by two alcoholic parents, Hope had trouble finding the help that he needed, and his health was further complicated by his diabetes. Ultimately, Hope died at the age of 35 in 2007 of a heart attack.
Hope’s last appearance on Degrassi was in 2003. He was one of the foundational characters on the show, and to lose him was a tragedy. In that episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation, he reunites with the fictional band Zit Remedy. In his real life, Hope moved around Canada quite a bit, and died in a Hamilton rooming house. His family didn’t find out about his death until 2012.
7. The Conservative Controversy Over Adam Torres
Degrassi broke a lot of barriers, but perhaps none was more significant than the introduction of Adam Torres, the first transgender teen character to be a regular on a scripted television show. Despite the show’s progressive politics, its introduction of Torres was a red line for some conservative groups, who tried to get advertisers to pull out as a result of the introduction of the characters.
Torres came to Degrassi High to escape bullies at his old school, and was eventually exposed as a transgender man. Thankfully, in spite of this exposure, Adam found that he could still lead a happy, fulfilling life even when those around him knew that he was trans. For a time, Degrassi provided representation for viewers who had never had it, although many believe they eventually betrayed that by killing off Adam.
6. Most of the Cast Wore Their Own Clothes and Makeup
Part of Degrassi’s appeal came from its feelings of authenticity. The kids on this show felt like real teenagers, and that made the whole show more relatable for viewers of all ages. One of the ways the show managed to achieve this authenticity was by allowing the majority of the cast to do their own hair and makeup in earlier seasons. This gave each of them a more natural look, as if they were really just normal kids attending high school.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that allowing these actors to do their own makeup was also a big cost-saver that made the responsibilities of the hair and makeup department much smaller. It was a great way to kill two birds with one stone, adding to the show’s authenticity while saving a few bucks at the same time.
5. The Cast Was Replaced Overnight
Although Drake doesn’t have a ton to be bitter about at this point in his career, he still seems to be upset about how he was cut from The Next Generation. He claims that one day he arrived on set, and the names on all the dressing rooms had been changed. That was it, they had all been cut from the show without any sort of warning.
“They did us foul,” Drake told Vibe Magazine. Drake was on the show for eight years, and he rightly believed that he deserved some credit for the loyalty and dedication that he and his castmates had shown to the show over that time. No employee deserves to be treated with that much disrespect, especially when they’ve reliably done their jobs for almost a decade.
4. Nina Dobrev’s Arrest
Several actors from the cast of Degrassi have been arrested either during their time on the show or afterwards. Nina Dobrev, who played Mia on Degrassi: The Next Generation, was arrested in California for causing a disturbance near the freeway. She and other members of The Vampire Diaries cast were posing for a photo shoot by hanging off of bridges, straddling railings, and pretending they had been tossed over the side of the bridge.
A large majority of The Vampire Diaries’ female cast was arrested, and all of them struck lovely poses for their mug shots. They all cooperated with authorities, and were charged a fine before being release. This wasn’t the most serious of crimes, and it seems like the cast was just having a good time. Even so, an arrest is an arrest, and there are better ways to spend an afternoon.
3. Adam’s Death
There were very few characters as important to Degrassi as Adam. He was the first transgender teen character on TV, and he meant a great deal to the millions of fans who got to watch him come out and be accepted for who he was on the show. When Adam was killed off, many fans were furious that they had the character taken away from them.
Adam’s death came because he was texting while driving, and the show’s executive producers argued that the dangers of that were worth devoting a storyline to. It happened to be that Jordan Todosey, the actor who played Adam, was at the end of her contract, and had chosen not to renew it with the show. Because Adam had to leave anyway, the show decided to use his death to tell another story it thought was important.
2. Byrd Dickens’ Arrests
Plenty of characters in the world of Degrassi led messed up lives, but sometimes that fiction pales in comparison to the realities lived through by the show’s actors. Byrd Dickens, who played Scott Smith, the abusive boyfriend of Kathleen Mead on Degrassi High, was eventually arrested on some pretty serious criminal charges.
It turns out, Dickens wasn’t actually much kinder or gentler in real life than he had been on Degrassi. In fact, his crimes in real life, child exploitation charges that won’t be discussed in detail, are arguably much worse than the one he committed on the show. On a cast as sprawling as Degrassi’s there were bound to be a few who had problems in their lives after the show. Even so, Dickens crimes are beyond the pale.
1. Tyson Talbot’s Trial
Although he was ultimately acquitted, Tyson Talbot, who had played athlete Billy Martin on The Kids of Degrassi Street, was on trial for aggravated assault and murder in 2002. The accusations suggested that Talbot had conspired to commit a robbery. What’s more, Talbot had already been accused and acquitted of a separate murder that involved the beating of a 23-year-old outside a pub.
Talbot was ultimately sentenced to three months in jail and 18 months on probation, and although he is innocent in the eyes of the law, he either has some issues that need to be dealt with, or just happens to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time quite frequently. When he was cast on Degrassi in the early ’80s, other cast members described him as warm and personable.
Do you have other Degrassi trivia to share? Leave it in the comments!
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