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July 20, 2012

‘Degrassi’ earns an Emmy Nomination: What makes the long-running Canadian series so successful?

July 19, 2012 - Yahoo omg! TV

The 2012 Emmy nominees were announced this morning, and as usual, Canadian TV was absent -- for the most part, at least. Earning an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Children's Program for the second year running, "Degrassi" continues its unique legacy of resonating with U.S. audiences.

Despite being created, filmed, and written in Canada, "Degrassi's" take on youth and teen culture is accessible to all audiences, not just Canadians, and its no-holds-barred approach to social issues has earned it countless praise from both critics and viewers.

Of course, as Canadians, we know this. For those who grew up with "Degrassi Jr. High" and "Degrassi High," the return of the franchise in 2001 seemed almost ridiculous, because as far as die-hard fans were concerned, there was no way to top the sagas of Snake, Wheels and Joey Jeremiah. But as the new batch of teens tuned in and "Degrassi: The Next Generation" began earning critical praise, the revamped show earned its place in Canadian TV history.

Today's "Degrassi" has seen all-star casts (including now-rapper Drake and "90210's" Shenae Grimes) and newer, more relevant conflicts. Issues like violence, sexual assault, and homophobia have set "Degrassi" apart, and unlike other teen series, the focal point remains the episode's issue as opposed to the characters and their subplots. It speaks volumes that the show can endure a rotating cast and still hold up, and the show's second Emmy nomination is hardly a surprisewhen you realize that after ten years, it continues to challenge children's programming conventions. After all, in real life, not every lesson can be learned in a 30-minute timespan, and not every conflict will be given closure.

As far as the rest of Canadian television is concerned, it can learn a lot from "Degrassi." While other Canadian shows like "Arctic Air" and "Being Erica" have attempted to convey realistic, dramatic story arcs, the coveted youth (and American) demographics remain out of reach. Perhaps instead of playing to Canada's reputation as a friendly, non-threatening neighbour, Canadian TV can address the issues that affect people, and not just Canadians. Yes, "Arctic Air" deals with families, finances and the perils of flying, but "Degrassi" deals with coming-of-age rights of passages. We may not all own airplane, but we've all been to high school, and the universal nature of "Degrassi's" stories make it ripe for an Emmy nomination.

Of course, to be eligible for an Emmy, a television series must air on a U.S. network, meaning that regardless of quality, no Canadian show can even be considered until an American channel picks it up. But maybe that's exactly the point: As soon as Canadian television stops defining itself solely by its (great and unique) nationality, our content will be finally considered universal. Maybe then will Canadian television finally get more of a chance at global recognition.

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