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But when the first episode of Season 4 of "Degrassi: The Next Generation" had its premiere on the N, Viacom's three-year-old digital cable channel, last October, it came in as the highest-rated program of the night among teenagers in all of broadcast and cable television, beating out even supermainstream youth shows like "Joan of Arcadia" and "8 Simple Rules." The N claims that the network attracts a higher concentration of 12- to 17-year-old girls than competitors like MTV and ABC Family and of teenagers as a whole than YM and Teen People. And network executives say there's room for another spike in viewers. Indeed, the N really does repeat the show like nobody's business, sometimes up to 20 hours a week, so much so that some "Degrassi" fans refer to the N as "the Degrassi Network."The cast, which attracts a reserved following in Canada, has excited a much more passionate response among a segment of their core demographic in the United States.

This is remarkable because the N is available in only 44 million U. "One of the truisms of television is that drama doesn't repeat. During the summer of 2004, the N brought cast members to the States for sneak screenings at Madison Square Garden and other urban locations, and then again for mall tours, the kinds of events that record labels use to stoke interest in teen-pop musicians like Avril Lavigne.

A boy half sang, half translated the opening number from "Cabaret."Outside the tutoring room, Melissa Mc Intyre, an 18-year-old actress with shimmering rock-chick makeup and dark choppy hair, was destroying her laconic co-star, Shane Kippel, at foosball.

Ashley, the avenging, depressive good girl Mc Intyre has played for four years, never celebrates, even on those rare occasions when she wins something.Filmed in a sitcom-vérité style, with a cast of actors who really are teenagers, "Degrassi: The Next Generation" confronts controversy in a way that American network television wouldn't dream of.A 15-year-old boy uses a penis pump when he discovers he's not as endowed as his rival for his girlfriend's affection.A mousy 13-year-old who wants to be "hot" stops wearing underwear to school. Though the explosive-issue-per-capita ratio is seriously out of whack (and you'd probably not want your kid to attend Degrassi for that reason), the teen-diary attention to B-plot microissues (zits, periods, parents' night) gives the episodes a peculiar authenticity no matter how outrageous their story lines.A 17-year-old girl wonders whether to abandon her alcoholic mother and move in with her boyfriend. Without much help from parents and teachers, kid characters try to figure out their lives, and kid viewers around the world second-guess them.

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