June 10, 2015 - 5:00 AM
TORONTO - Class is back in session for the beloved Degrassi franchise.
Days after MTV Canada said it would no longer run the teen serial, Family Channel said Tuesday it will debut a new instalment in January 2016.
The youth-focused network said Degrassi: Next Class will return with 20 half-hour episodes, with cast members from the most recent incarnation reprising their roles.
Like its predecessors, the new version will tackle tough issues such as homophobia, racism, substance abuse, body issues and the complications of dating in the social media age.
Executive producer Stephen Stohn says the channel-jump coincides with his own shifting plans for the series.
Stohn said he began musing on targeting a new audience — Generation Z — back in January when they were preparing for the upcoming season on MTV.
"We realized that what we wanted to do is refocus Degrassi — for many years we've been telling stories to the millennial generation," Stohn said.
"This is the young generation that either were born after 9/11 or whose first memories are after 9/11. So they know a world that is not a friendly world, it's a world of terror, it's a world of financial uncertainty and it's a world of school violence. And also they have grown up with a phone and often a smart phone in their hands."
MTV announced Thursday it was ending the series' 14-year run on Bell Media channels including CTV, Much and MTV.
The sudsy teen saga moves to Family Channel as the youth-focused broadcaster breaks from Disney fare and rebuilds its lineup.
An executive with DHX Television — which owns Family Channel and last year bought the international distribution rights to Degrassi — said adding Degrassi: Next Class allows the channel to serve their targeted audience of 14-to-16-year-olds "in a more directed way."
"As we look to the future this provides us an opportunity in that later time (slot) to develop a more teen-oriented block," Joe Tedesco, senior vice-president and general manager, said Tuesday from Banff, Alta.
He said Family Channel viewership drops off after about 8 p.m. — bed time for many of its eight-to-10-year-old viewers and prime time on conventional channels that compete for its teen viewers.
"Some of them are probably going over to MTV to watch Degrassi, so we certainly saw a real opportunity for us in that time slot to create a block of programming," said Tedesco, adding that more additions will complement Degrassi.
Degrassi: Next Class is produced by DHX Media's Epitome Pictures, in association with Family Channel and the streaming service Netflix, which will run the show worldwide starting early next year. Netflix Canada will get the series after its initial run on Family, said a DHX publicist.
Stohn said the Netflix deal is already shaping the way stories are being written, and ensures that the show's edge won't soften just because it is on Family Channel.
"We're going for the online audience," he said, insisting the show will continue to push boundaries. "Netflix allows us to go there."
Stohn said the first 12 episodes have already been written, with streaming in mind.
"Knowing that (audiences) could be seeing the next episode right away does provide for a different writing experience. You can have more continuous storylines without that weeklong gap, necessarily, between episodes," he said.
The move cements Degrassi as the longest-running dramatic television series in Canadian history. The franchise is currently celebrating its 35th anniversary.
This is just the latest reboot from the Halifax-based company.
Last week, DHX Television announced it was resurrecting the kids' TV show Teletubbies for its rebranded preschool channel Family Jr. in late 2015.
The series, featuring costumed characters Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po, will be reimagined for a new generation with "a CGI-enhanced aesthetic."
Degrassi ends its MTV run with a final batch of episodes airing weeknights, starting July 20.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015