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Production members and stars of "Degrassi" told Insider some fun facts about the Canadian series.
The series almost got canceled after season 9 but it got a whole new format instead.
Annie Clark thought she was getting kicked off the show after Fiona's "twincest" scene on season 9.
"Degrassi" began as a book adaptation and ended as a 500-plus episode franchise.
Producers Linda Schuyler and Stephen Stohn first met when Schuyler was trying to get the movie rights for the book "Ida Makes a Movie." The deal eventually led to the 1979 miniseries "The Kids of Degrassi Street."
The series then expanded with "Degrassi Junior High" and "Degrassi High," which ran through 1991. The next series reboot, "Degrassi: The Next Generation," came in 2000, followed by "Degrassi: Next Class" in 2016.
"We had no idea that, first of all, there would be a series, it was just this one little film, and secondly, that that series would carry on as long as it has, and have the impact that it has," Stohn told Insider.
JT Yorke's namesake wrote the character's death.
"Degrassi" writer Brendon Yorke worked on the show from 2002 to 2011, writing, story editing, and producing some of the most well-known episodes, including "Rock This Town," where fan-favorite JT Yorke is fatally stabbed.
The writer explained that JT's was actually named after him.
"Aaron Martin, the original showrunner, had named him after me when I was a new guy in the story department," he told Insider.
The show tried to anticipate the needs of its young, age-appropriate cast.
Schuyler said that having an age-appropriate cast meant that the actors were sometimes learning about issues as they were preparing to portray them.
"We cast age-appropriate, so we have 14-year-olds playing 14-year-olds," she said. "So they don't have a lot of life experience sometimes in some of these issues that we're doing."
Yorke said they also including younger and older actors in difficult scenes to let the younger ones gain experience before moving on to larger plots of their own.
"We sifted in the new characters in subplots and you're doing that for many reasons: One is to see if it resonates with the audience, and one is to see if the cast is actually up to it because you know, they're young actors," he said. "For a lot of them, it's their first big role."
One "Degrassi" director, Randall "RT" Thorne, confirmed that the cast had a lot of support from the production company, Epitome Pictures.
"I had days of rehearsal which is kind of unheard of on a lot of television shows ..." he said. "But they had that built-in because they know that they're working with a younger cast who, in some cases, haven't done stuff that their characters have done."
He continued, "I remember working with this one young cast member who had her first kiss on camera ... so it's stuff like that that Epitome's really sensitive about."
Luke Bilyk's first "Degrassi" audition wasn't for Drew Torres.
Drew Torres was first introduced to "Degrassi" fans during the season 10 "Shark in the Water" promo.
Although Luke Bilyk is known for playing Drew, the actor originally auditioned for a different role on the show.
"I auditioned for the role of KC originally, years before I ever auditioned for Drew," he told Insider.
The role of KC Guthrie instead went to Sam Earle, and Bilyk went on to play Drew for five seasons.
Annie Clark and Landon Liboiron were cast as the Coyne twins on "Degrassi" without even auditioning.
Annie Clark played Fiona Coyne, who was introduced on season nine alongside her twin brother, Declan, played by Landon Liboiron.
But the actress told Insider that they never auditioned for the series.
"Landon and I did a screen test together for a different show that was produced by the same producers of 'Degrassi' ..." she said. "We were auditioning to be boyfriend and girlfriend, and in the audition, they were like, 'Oh my god you guys look like you could be twins,' and when they said that I was like, 'OK, so they're not going to cast me to be his girlfriend then.'"
Although Clark said she didn't get that part, a few months later, she got a call from "Degrassi" offering her a role as Liboiron's twin.
"I guess they got that idea from the original audition ..." Clark said. "I think from the start, since maybe they saw us reading a scene of boyfriend and girlfriend, they were like, 'Oh, these two have chemistry, but they look too much alike.'"
Clark found out her twin on the show was leaving while shooting a crying scene.
By the end of season nine, Clark found out that Liboiron wasn't returning for season 10.
"I knew he was leaving when we shot 'Degrassi Takes Manhattan,'" she told Insider. "... There's a scene where I'm crying and freaking out when he's like 'You're going to go to the Hamptons' or whatever, and I wasn't getting that scene, and I wasn't crying."
She continued, "He took me aside and was like, 'I'm not coming back next season,' and I started bawling, and then we shot that scene."
His departure made the actress question her position on the show moving forward.
"I also was kind of like 'Oh, we came in together, I wonder if this means I'm leaving and they just haven't told me yet,'" Clark said.
But instead of being phased off of the show, Fiona became one of the main characters through season 12.
Clark also thought she was getting written off the show after the "twincest" kiss scene.
"Degrassi Takes Manhattan" also featured one of the series' most shocking moments, when Fiona kissed her twin brother Declan in front of a packed party.
Since Clark already knew that Liboiron was ending his run as a series regular after the TV movie and the "twincest" kiss, she thought her character might also be getting written off.
"I was like, maybe they're cutting me, too, like maybe they just were like 'Whoops, these people are into incest, let's just get them off the show.' So that worried me," the actress told Insider.
But despite the shocking plot point, Fiona went on to become a fan favorite.
Her popularity may have been helped by the fact that Declan barely appeared on the show after, and the kiss pretty much went unmentioned. Instead, Fiona had plotlines where she came to terms with her sexuality, alcoholism, and codependency issues.
"They did a pretty good job of really just doing a 180 with my character and making her normal," she said. "I think after that happened, they were like, 'Oh never mind, we actually like still want Fiona to be on the show, so we'll make it that she was an alcoholic, she was drunk, she didn't know what she was doing, misplaced jealousy.'"
The show was dropped from its Canadian network after nine seasons.
After season nine of "Degrassi: The Next Generation" aired, the Canadian broadcaster, CTV, told Schuyler and Stohn it wasn't interested in continuing with the show.
Luckily, Stohn was already discussing a telenovela-style show deal with American network TeenNick, so the creators kept the cancellation news to themselves and changed how they wrote, shot, and produced the show to keep it going.
"Linda and I went around to all of the various departments, whether it was sound or makeup or whatever, and we said to them, 'You know there's a saying that you could have something fast or you could have it less expensive or you could have it high quality — pick any two,'" Stohn told Insider.
He continued, "And we went around and we said, 'That's what we're doing here, except you have to do all three. It has to be faster, it has to be better, and it has to be less expensive.'"
This new formatting — which included a 44-episode season — alongside the uber-successful "Shark in the Water" promo TeenNick made for season 10 helped save the show. It went on to run for four more seasons before getting picked up by Netflix for another four.
The "Degrassi" writers knew that viewers joked about how many terrible things happened to the students.
When "Degrassi" switched to a telenovela-style format for season 10, each episode was split into two parts, which allowed for an hour of storytelling instead of the normal 30 minutes.
In this format, the writers could space things out a little better than earlier seasons, where terrible things happened to characters back to back.
"It's not really a criticism of it but sort of a joke about it. All these bad things, all these terrible things are happening to all these kids so fast all the time," Yorke told Insider. "It allowed things to be able to play out a little more realistically, you could just play the arcs out a little bit further."
"Degrassi" filmed four episodes at a time on the later seasons.
Schuyler said that starting on season 10, they had to hire two writers' rooms to create content for double the episodes they were used to.
One room would work on two half-hour episodes and the other on another two half-hour episodes. Those four episodes would then be broken down so they could efficiently film them in one block.
"Production would break the scripts down, and we would shoot four episodes at the same time," Schuyler said. "... Say for instance we were in the English classroom on each of the four scripts, we would stay set up in the English classroom, they would go out and do quick wardrobe changes, change the props on the blackboard, or whatever they needed to do, come back, shoot that scene.
Changes like this helped to cut down on costs during the season as well.
The expanded writers' room on season 10 had to take over the office space of a canceled Canadian series.
Epitome Pictures also made another teen show in the early 2000s called "Instant Star."
"Instant Star" was canceled in 2008, and by the time "Degrassi" was working on season 10 in 2010, the show's office spaces were still empty.
"We sort of took over all their offices and we had two main writing rooms running full board at all times," Yorke told Insider. "There were usually two or three writers in each room, and I would run back and forth in between the rooms to sort of check in and see how they were doing and steer the process along."
On the later seasons, the cast worked for nine months of the year.
Once the telenovela format was implemented, "Degrassi" had 40 or more episodes on seasons 10, 11, 12, and 13, which increased the production time.
According to Clark, the cast and crew shot the show for nine months of the year, so "Degrassi" was a huge part of their lives.
"It felt like we were a family, it felt like we were friends from the jump so it made it really, really simple to join in on the cast," Bilyk told Insider.
The actor said that he still regularly sees castmates Clark, Cristine Prosperi, Jessica Tyler, Sarah Fisher, and Ricardo Hoyos.
But when Netflix picked up the series after season 14 and rebranded it as "Degrassi: Next Class," the format changed again, and each season had just 10 episodes.
Clark said it was "cool" that the show moved to Netflix, but for the cast, it also "becomes a smaller part of your life in that way."
Younger students were continuously added to the series so there would always be new stories.
Throughout the series, audiences followed a wide range of students who worked their way through junior high and high school.
"When we worked on the original 'Degrassi' — 'Degrassi Junior High' and 'Degrassi High' — when we reached the end of five years, we had our graduating class, and we hadn't introduced any younger kids," Schuyler said. "So when we did the graduation episode ... there was no student body left."
When they rebooted the series with "Degrassi: The Next Generation," they took steps to avoid this issue.
"One of the things we said to ourselves right there and then, we have to keep feeding the student body from the bottom, we have to keep replenishing our ninth graders," she said. "... The whole hope was to never leave ourselves in the situation where we didn't have a student body left."
The showrunner explained that they sometimes achieved this by introducing family members of well-established characters, as with sisters Darcy and Clare Edwards.
Most of the time, the cast didn't know what was going to happen to their characters next.
"Degrassi" actors weren't allowed to see their next scripts until the group read-throughs for each episode.
"They always wanted to shock us in read-throughs, when we would do the table read, they always wanted to make sure we didn't know anything before so they would get our reactions," Clark said.
One of the most famous exceptions to this was made for Aubrey Graham (publicly known as Drake), who was warned ahead of time that his character, Jimmy Brooks, was getting shot.
"When I told him that he was going to be shot, I had to assure him that he wasn't going to die," Schuyler said. "We weren't going to cut him out of the series."
"Part of the reason that you warn actors in advance is so they don't think they're suddenly out of a job," Stohn added.
Other actors were given less tragic warnings.
Schuyler said they informed Jordan Todosey that her character, Adam Torres, was a transgender teen boy. Clark said Schuyler took her in the hall before one read-through to tell her that Fiona was a lesbian. And Bilyk said the creator pulled him to ask if he'd be OK staying on the show for another season.
"I just remember looking at her and giving her the biggest hug and being like, 'Are you kidding me? I don't want to leave, I love it!'" he said. "And it actually, it happened twice, she came back and was like, we'd like to keep you again for another year."
Like many fans, the cast wasn't expecting Adam Torres' death.
There were a few deaths on "Degrassi," but one of the most shocking happened on season 13, when Adam died in a texting-while-driving accident.
His death came just episodes after another character died by suicide, and most fans weren't anticipating another death so soon.
According to Bilyk, the cast wasn't expecting it either. The actor recalled sitting next to Todosey, who played his brother on the show, during the read-through for the episode.
"We were very talkative, very friendly, very, we always laughed, and she came back in the room and she was quiet," he said. "And I looked over, and I was like 'What's going on?' And she's like 'I'll tell you later."
The actor continued, "We got up to about 10 pages before the car accident, and I looked over at her, and I'm like, 'Do you die?!' And she just, like, shook her head."
Bilyk also mentioned that he would've liked for Drew to have had more plot points dealing with his brother's death on the later seasons.
"It was definitely strange for all of us to kind of have to say goodbye to the character, Adam, strange just even for me not to have that being brought up," he said. "I think that was one thing ... I wanted more reference to Adam in Drew's day-to-day life."
Read the original article on Insider