CFC Alumna Sarah Glinski Introduces 'Degrassi's Next Class to Canada, Beyond

By Emily Gagne ● January 28, 2016 13:00

Image: DHX Media

Degrassi has, like any teenager, evolved over the years. It started out as a small show about kids on a now-famous Toronto street (Kids of Degrassi Street) and blossomed into a revolutionary ongoing series about young adults at differing levels of development dealing with real issues ranging from simple fights with friends to pregnancy, discrimination, sexuality and substance abuse (see: Degrassi Jr. High, Degrassi High and, most recently, Degrassi: The Next Generation). And series (produced by DHX Media, the Canadian Film Centre’s partner on family/kids programming initiative The DHX Experience) is going through another evolution this year. The latest iteration of the show, Degrassi: Next Class, recently debuted with a new cast of diverse and relatable characters and a fresh roll-out strategy, which brings the show to audiences worldwide through streaming giant Netflix (Canadian audiences can still see the show weekly on Family Channel’s F2N).

CFC alumna Sarah Glinski (Bell Media Prime Time TV Program) is on the ground floor of Degrassi: Next Class, writing and executive producing for the series after working as a writer, executive story editor and executive producer on The Next Generation. We caught up with Glinski recently to discuss the evolution of the series, the kids of this Next Class, and what goes into creating television for a worldwide audience. Read the full Q&A with Glinski below (SPOILER ALERT: Season 1 plotlines may be discussed, as well as potential storylines for the upcoming Season 2).

How do you feel this series is different from Next Generation, the most recent Degrassi before this one? Do you think it is an extension of it, especially as there are some overlapping characters?

Sarah Glinski: I think we were given the freedom with Netflix to just be a little truer [with storylines]. We were able to tell all the stories we wanted to tell in the ways we wanted to tell them. We were really given creative freedom and trust. It’s just 10 per cent different and I think that 10 per cent is really important and I think the fans that are watching are noticing. A lot of people are saying we’re going back to our roots, like the first seasons of Next Generation.

Which storyline are you most excited about this first season?

Goldi [played by Soma Bhatia] is a character I’ve wanted to get on the show for a number of years because I see these girls in Toronto walking in skinny jeans and tunics and hijabs and they’re so fashionable and so cool. I was like, I want to get to know that girl and, literally, we’re getting to know Goldi as a character.

The consent storyline, the ‘Yes means yes’ storyline, I’ve never seen before yet on TV, so I’m pretty excited about that. And there’s a pretty exciting storyline with [the character] Hunter [played by Spencer MacPherson] this season. We see that, ultimately, he brings a gun to school … so going into the next season, we really explore that character and what brought him to that and we talk about mental illness and I’m pretty excited about that because I think mental illness is a huge issue today and it’s really stigmatized and to make people feel okay with that, especially as a young boy, is really important.

How do you balance working on a show that's blatantly Canadian in setting, while also trying to reach audiences internationally? 

Feelings are universal, right? That’s the main thing you need to focus on.

If you come up with relatable characters, it doesn’t matter if they’re in Canada, the U.S., Spain, [or] Germany. Right now, as we go live, I’m seeing people freak out on Twitter in German, in French, in English and it’s really exciting. To me, that just means we’ve connected with them by creating relatable characters, relatable teenagers.

What lessons from your time at the CFC do you carry with you as you work on Degrassi: Next Class?

A big piece of advice I got at the CFC is to find your voice and find your passion. What do you want to write about? Why are you writing scripts? That’s something that I ask myself and my writers every day. When I’m interviewing new writers too, I ask them, ‘What are you passionate about?’ I don’t care if it’s a huge thing like saving the global environment, or something really small like body hair and different ways to remove it. [The thing you’re passionate about] doesn’t matter to me, but being passionate about things shows in your writing and translates in the scripts.

What are you passionate about?

Oh, so many things! [Laughs]

I think a lot of what I’m passionate about you can see in the first season of Degrassi: Next Class. Obviously, being a young girl and feminism and how to succeed in the world as a young girl is very important to me [and] that we create an environment, whether in the school or the world, where everyone feels equal and comfortable. Trying to create a place for everyone is a real theme we try to explore in this season and Season 2, which will launch sometime in the summer.

With The DHX Experience, the CFC is looking to educate upcoming creators on the family/teen/youth sphere. Why do you think it’s important to spread the word about this genre, especially within Canada?

In youth TV, Canadian content competes successfully on an international stage. As the market gets increasingly competitive, we need to continue having the best new creatives working on it.

What advice do you have for creators who want to work in youth programming?

Kids are smart. Don't talk down to them. Try to inspire by creating entertaining, original content with a strong POV. Kids can find anything that's ever been made online, so make something new.

Also, try so say something important to you (through your concept, your stories, your characters, your casting, etc.). Don't be preachy—kids will see through that—but be thoughtful. If you're lucky enough to be given the opportunity to speak to a large group, make it count. 

New episodes of Degrassi: Next Class air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Canada’s F2N. Viewers outside of Canada can watch Season 1 of Degrassi: Next Class on Netflix