School's back in at Degrassi

JIM SLOTEK

, Last Updated: 5:34 PM ET

"So, uh, what do you wanna do tonight?"

"Mmm, get a pizza, watch Degrassi Jr. High."

"You got a weird thing for Canadian melodrama."

"I got a weird thing for girls who say 'aboot.' "

-- Chasing Amy

Who says dreams don't come true? Not only is filmmaker Kevin Smith finally getting a role on Degrassi, but he's going to be Caitlin's boyfriend.

Smith (Clerks, Dogma) has long made his Degrassi jones public -- using it as fodder for movie lines and writing a paean for Details mag for the show (which ran in the U.S. on PBS).

And yesterday, at a press conference to launch CTV's Degrassi: The Next Generation -- featuring both grownup originals and a whole new cast of kids -- Degrassi creator Linda Schuyler revealed that the show's most famous diehard fan is indeed joining for a one-off appearance in the pilot episode.

"When Caitlin (Stacie Mistysyn) returns, she has a boyfriend who's an aspiring director from the West Coast. It's a cameo part played by Kevin," said Schuyler, who shepherded the show through its days on CBC as Kids Of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Jr. High and Degrassi High.

In a further embrace of its retro "hip" cachet, the new Degrassi has rock 'n' roll auteur Bruce McDonald (Highway 61, Hard Core Logo) along as a director.

"About a year and a half ago," said Schuyler, "my old creative partner, Yan Moore, and I were talking and he said, 'Linda, if we followed the chronology, Spike -- who had a child out of wedlock -- her daughter would now be 12 and entering Degrassi Jr. High.'

"My initial reaction was, 'Oh my goodness, has that much time gone by? And then it triggered an idea. We'd been talking for a while about making another teen show. And it was, 'Wow, maybe it shouldn't just be another teen show.'"

Completing the circle was the fact that Ivan Fecan, who put Degrassi in primetime on CBC in the '80s, is now CEO of CTV.

In this and other ways, she admits, it was deja vu. "We sent researchers into the schools to ask what's the same and what's different. In terms of matters of the heart, they're the same -- the zit on your nose and wondering whether you're going to be ready to have sex. What's different is that 17-year-old who's ostensibly doing homework on the computer is listening to downloaded music, the TV set is on and the ICQ is flashing (on the monitor) as he talks to his friends online."

In keeping with this, the new Degrassi will have a Web site (www.degrassi.tv) with a "virtual school" to which people can "enroll," ensuring a steady stream of e-mails from their classmate characters and buzz about ongoing subplots.

Yesterday's press event brought out the four returning cast members who'll be in the one-hour pilot episode -- Pat Mastroianni (Joey), Mistysyn (Caitlin), Stefan Brogren (Snake) and Amanda Stepto (Spike) -- along with new kids with character names like Ashley, Paige, Liberty, Spinner and J.T.

Miriam McDonald, who plays Spike's 12-year-old daughter Emma, called the casting "the most exciting thing in my whole life." But said, "I didn't watch it when it was a series 'cause I wasn't born and I was a little bit too young."

Mistysyn, Brogren and Mastroianni have all had their L.A. experience (Mastroianni was in Godzilla playing a jet pilot who got eaten). Stepto, who'll be a regular on the new series along with Brogren, travelled and taught English in Japan.

Meanwhile, cult status caught up to them. "I was outside and a young lady saw me and said, 'I feel so old,'" said Mastroianni. "I know how she feels. We're a voice of that generation."

"It happens sometimes that the show is on (in reruns) and my friends are going, C'mon! We gotta watch it!'" says Brogren. "I'm like 'It's okay, I was there.'"


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