School bags were chucked in the corner and the TV turned on for a trip back to 1990s after-school fare ‘Press Gang’ and ‘Degrassi Junior High’ in a special Nineties Nostalgia edition of Live in the Studio. Host Josh Kinal of the Boxcutters podcast uncovers a lot of homework that didn’t get done:
There were a couple of TV shows that influenced a mini-generation in the early 1990s. Press Gang and the Degrassi series (Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High) were standard afternoon fare for about five years on the ABC. It seemed a natural fit for Boxcutters, a podcast all about television, and ACMI’s Live in the Studio sessions, to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about adolescent TV drama.
John Richards and I worked hard with ACMI’s Anna Svedberg to develop a program that would entertain, inform and involve whatever audience intended to show up. Video clips and guests and armchairs would all be required.
Most important, though, was to get down to the essence of each show.
Press Gang was a drama about high school students who ran their own newspaper. Degrassi was just about high school students who may or may not get pregnant during the summer and then have to deal with the consequences during the school year. That’s what the shows seemed like on the surface. The more we investigated them, the more we knew that Press Gang actually did shape people’s lives.
We requested video testimonials from people who loved Press Gang and discovered editors, publishers, producers and novelists who all credited the show with shaping their adult lives. One video, which we unfortunately included too late to use on the night, showed a 36-year -old woman who still coveted her collection of opaque tights, because that’s what was in Lynda Day’s wardrobe (the intelligent, short-tempered and quick-witted editor of the ‘Junior Gazette’).
As Julia Sawalha’s Lynda Day was the standout lead of Press Gang, so too was Pat Mastroianni’s Joey Jeremiah on the Degrassi series. Joey was the kid who thought he was cool and that was enough for him. He had a band, rode a skateboard, wore a hat, and tried his luck with the ladies. It was the perfect cringey portrayal of awkward adolescent behaviour.
Pat Mastroianni Skyped in for a live video chat and the audience finally had a chance to ask him all those questions they’ve bottled up for the last 20 years (time zones weren’t going to prevent Mastroianni from finally speaking to his Australian fans). Australia, it turns out, was the biggest market for Degrassi outside of its native Canada.
We had the opportunity to learn about stardom in Toronto (it doesn’t really exist), childhood acting experiences and how much 20-year-old wardrobe items can sell for on eBay. We also now know what it’s like to be surrounded by giant Pat Mastroianni heads on all sides.
The great thing about Live in the Studio is the freedom to take an equipped television studio, a live audience and an intimate setting and build a show that means everybody gets to have a great time. At least that was the attitude we took to the evening. TV is art, but it’s also fun. We wanted to analyse it just enough to keep it enjoyable, but also to get something more out of these shows.
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