Cult TV

Cult TV Essentials: Degrassi Junior High

From 1987 to 1989, Degrassi Junior High rocked CBC Television in Canada, and also appeared across the world, although here in the UK some episodes vanished due to content being deemed too mature for kids! (and for years we thought there was only one series!).

The show followed the lives of a group of students attending the titular fictional school. Many episodes tackled difficult topics such as drug use, child abuse, teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, homophobia, racism, and divorce, and the series was acclaimed for its sensitive and realistic portrayal of the challenges of teenage life. The cast comprised mainly non-professional actors, which added to the show’s sense of realism.

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In 1987, Degrassi Junior High won an International Emmy in the Children and Young People category for the episode “It’s Late”, where Christine “Spike” Nelson gets pregnant at Lucy’s party after having sex with Shane. Spike’s baby was named Emma, to commemorate the award, and Emma would end up being the inspiration for the spin-off series, Degrassi: The Next Generation.

The producers of the show deliberately tried to exclude any references to actual movies and music of the time so that the show would not become quickly dated. This resulted in the creation of movies, television shows and musicians for the show itself. Some examples of made up movies are Tender Beats the Heart and Teen Academy IV. Days of Passion is a fictional soap opera which stars teen-heartthrob Damon King. Quest for the Best is the only other television show in the Degrassi universe, which is based on an actual Canadian high school quiz show called Reach for the Top. Fictional bands in the show are The Gourmet Scum, and later The Savages.

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In the episode It’s Late, Wheels can be clearly seen wearing a Footscray Bulldogs sweater. What is unusual is that the sport, Australian rules football and its organization, the VFL, at the time would have been unknown in Canada. Although the VFL staged several exhibition matches that year, the Bulldogs were not involved and were perhaps the least successful and supported teams in the league. The Australian Football League (Aussie Rules Football) actually had a cult following in Canada in the 1980s, as the games were televised on The Sports Network from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. Earlier on, in “The Big Dance”, he was wearing a New Orleans Saints jersey; while the NFL is and was quite popular in Canada, the “Aints” at the time were perennially bottom of the league.

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The Doctor Sally radio show is based on a call-in radio show entitled the Sunday Night Sex Show. Registered nurse and sex educator Sue Johanson was the host of the program which aired on local Toronto, Ontario radio station Q-107 between 1984 and 1998 and nationally until 2005. Johanson portrayed Dr. Sally in two Degrassi Junior High episodes, and reprised the role on Degrassi: The Next Generation.

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