Seven Dawson’s Creek writers reunited Saturday at the ATX Television Festival in Austin for a rare behind-the-scenes look at the events in Capeside, including why Joey ultimately wound up with Pacey and more.
The ATX Television Festival, now in its fourth year, has become known for its reunions. This year’s festival featured a handful, including Queer as Folk, Journeyman and Gilmore Girls. But Saturday’s Dawson’s Creek panel marked a first for the festival, which staged its first-ever writers’ room reunion. (The series will also hold a live script reading with creator Kevin Williamson and celebrity guests on Sunday in Austin.)
Dawson’s Creek ran for six seasons on The WB from 1998 to 2003. The teen angst drama made stars of James Van Der Beek (Dawson), Katie Holmes (Joey), Josh Jackson (Pacey) and Michelle Williams (Jen). The drama helped put the then-WB Network on the map and establish a tone for the eventual CW.
Writers on the series who reunited Saturday at the ATX Television Festival in Austin included creator/showrunner Williamson, Anna Fricke (who started as a PA on Dawson’s and whose credits include creating Being Human), Gina Fattore (Gilmore Girls), Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City, The Big C), Paul Stupin (who helped develop Dawson’s and is now on Switched at Birth) and Rob Thomas (who got his first job on the show and went on to create Veronica Mars, iZombie). The panel was moderated by frequent Williamson collaborator/friend Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries). It followed an amusing and emotional session in which the longtime friends and frequent collaborators were quizzed about their longstanding relationship and more during which Williamson, who at the time was emotionally reeling after a friend’s passing, revealed he almost didn’t do The CW vampire drama because it was too much like Twilight. (Eventually, Plec found another way into the now hit series.)
Here are the highlights from the Dawson’s Creek writers’ reunion:
1. Dawson’s Creek was originally sold to Fox before they dumped it. Stupin, who had a deal with Sony Pictures Television at the time, said no one was selling feature writers to television at the time and saw Scream (then called Scary Movie) in the trades. “We should try to do something scary or some young ensemble show … and then Kevin’s life came into it.” “Even when he was winging it, it was amazing,” Stupin said of Williamson’s original idea for Dawson and Joey. It was Stupin who eventually came up with Pacey, with the idea that Dawson and Joey needed a Jim Belushi-like friend. Stupin took the finished script to Fox, and around the Christmas break learned that Dawson’s wasn’t going to go to pilot because the network was struggling with Party of Five. The exec, he recalled, said Dawson’s felt like “a period piece,” and questioned if teens really spoke like that.
2. The original script took place the week before school started, and after landing at WB Network, had to show more of what high school would look like at the network’s request. Stupin and Williamson removed a lot of Jen’s relationship with her grandmother from the pilot.
3. “Like [Game of Thrones’] Jon Snow, I knew nothing,” Thomas recalled of his early scripts on Dawson’s Creek, which consisted of 110 pages of all dialogue. He later learned about “action block” and script writing after coming to TV from being a novelist. “I thought every writer on staff was laughing at me because I’d been rewritten,” Thomas said. Added Williamson: “I didn’t know what I was doing, either!”
4. The Joey-Dawson kiss in the season one finale was done because Williamson wanted to defy all the standard teen shows at the time. “We said early on that we were going to build to it and that helped us inform all the moments of Joey longing for Dawson,” he said. “I enjoyed that journey and we had to pay it off.”
5. Jen’s grandfather — seen almost exclusively on a vent in a coma, was going to come back to life in season one, with Jen ultimately being pushed toward Dawson. “But as the episodes went on, we couldn’t find a way to revive granddad, but then in the finale he comes out of his coma for five minutes and dies!” Stupin recalled.
6. Mike White (School of Rock, Enlightened) was a consulting producer early on and wanted everyone to pretend they were Scientologists for the new writer who was coming in, Bicks recalled of the writers’ room jokes.
7. Williamson gave Stupin a lot of credit for his work as a nonwriting producer/showrunner (Dawson’s was Stupin’s first show as well). It was Stupin who helped assemble the show’s impressive writing staff — including Tom Kapinos (Californication) and Greg Berlanti (The Flash, Arrow) who had his first TV writing job ever on Dawson’s Creek. “We were really lucky because the quality of the pilot attracted so many smart voices,” he said. Plec, who also was a writer on Dawson’s, recalled Stupin auditioning potential writers by assigning them to write the short teasers. The network and studio eventually hired a showrunner to work over self-professed “baby” writer Williamson, but ultimately it didn’t last more than a few weeks.
8. As for story points that they’re most proud of, Fatore pointed to season three’s Thanksgiving episode, which she called a real low point. On the flipside, the 20th episode of the season — the Rashomon style hour in which Dawson finds out that Joey and Pacey are together — stands out.
9. Bicks pointed to Jack’s (Kerr Smith) coming out storyline in season two, with Williamson and Plec noting that at the time, the show needed to expand the universe. “Every single character is sort of my personality,” Williamson said, noting he’s both the kid from the creek, aspiring writer, kid who never got anything right, the broken bird and more. “But there was no one to express the gay side,” he said, pointing to Jack expressing what it was like for him growing up gay as a kid. He was terrified to discuss the story with the network. “I always knew I wanted Jack to come out of the closet, but I didn’t even tell [Kerr Smith],” he said. “Let the audience love him, then let’s have him come out of the closet and have Joey have to deal with that — and then that would eventually drive her back to [Dawson].” Williamson recalled then-CW president Susanne Daniels only note was to be sure to tell the story from Joey’s point of view as well.
10. As for the poem that Jack reads that ultimately leads to his coming out, Williamson said that was partially inspired by events in Berlanti’s life. It led to the first-ever gay kiss on TV. Fatore recalls the network note was to film the scene from a distance but having Berlanti insist that the landmark kiss “mean something,” she said.
11. “Who’s Eve?!” Williamson said of the character played by Brittany Daniel. “It seemed like a good idea at the time!” Stupin recalled of the controversial character who stemmed from the idea to bring in a sibling for Jen. “It seemed racy but potentially real,” he recalled of the episode in which Dawson crashed the boat into a dock during a scene involving oral sex. “I never want to hear the term ‘long con’ again,” Stupin recalled of the writers course correcting the contentious storyline. “All that other stuff was the filler we needed,” Fatore said.
12. Williamson said he knew early on that Joey and Pacey would explore a romantic relationship. “You saw the chemistry and it opened up and then we just put a lid on it,” he recalled of the fan favorite pairing.
13. “How did that happen?!” Williamson quizzed Fricke about Pacey becoming a stock broker for a time. “We were really into that movie Boiler Room,” Fricke said of Pacey’s (brief) anti-college gig. “It seemed like the right job for Pacey, who was so incredibly smart but not bookish.” Added Williamson: “I always wanted Pacey to have that Officer and a Gentleman feel. … The whole second season was, as I call it, ‘Pacey’s Pond.’ “
14. On the series finale, Stupin recalled the penultimate episode of the show originally planned as the “series ender.” But then the network and everyone in the writers’ room wanted to get Williamson back to write a grand conclusion.. (He had excited day-to-day to work for the Weinstein Co.’s deal for the Scream franchise.) The penultimate episode had to set up the two-hour finale that Williamson wrote in which everyone jumped ahead five years.
See more Broadcast TV’s New Shows 2015-16
15. On having Joey ultimately end up with Pacey, Williamson said that wasn’t always how he envisioned the conclusion. “It was clear to us that it was she and Dawson who would wind up together,” Stupin said. Halfway through, Kevin calls me and says, ‘I changed my mind.’ ” Added Williamson: “Guys, my mother hates me.” Williamson then offered a deep-dive explanation of his reasoning. “Dawson seemed like the obvious answer and once I got into writing the first hour. … This isn’t what the show set up to be. Maybe that’s where it started but it evolved and it ended up as something else. I wanted it to be a twist on the teen genre but also wanted it to be surprising, honest and real and say something about soul mates and what soul mates can be. That’s why we did it that way,” he said, noting that all three combinations of Dawson/Joey/Pacey were soul mates. “When you left the show in that last moment, they’re a family and everyone got what they wanted. There was fulfillment and they were all happy.”
16. Williamson said he opted to kill Jen off as the last piece in the show’s coming of age concept. “They had dealt with the death of a parent but they hadn’t dealt with the death of someone in their circle,” Williamson said. “Until you deal with death, that’s one more way of coming of age.”
17. Plec was the one who insisted Andie (Meredith Monroe) return for the finale — in a scene that ended up on the cutting room floor but is included on the DVD set. She felt it was incredibly important for Pacey and his first love Andy to have some sort of a resolution.
18. Alanis Morissette‘s “Hand in My Pocket” was what producers originally wanted for its famed opening theme song that ultimately went to Paula Cole‘s “I Don’t Want to Wait.” Producers wound up using that after the WB Network used it for promos and as Stupin said, “made it a hit before it even came out.”
19. Williamson said the network wouldn’t let him say the word “masturbate” on the air, which is where the term “walk the dog” came from. Other things that the network didn’t love was Pacey’s relationship with his teacher, Mrs. Jacobs (Leann Hunley). He noted that the network didn’t hate the story but at the same time, “they were happy when it was over.”
20. Operation Daisy explained: Fricke said Dawson and Joey fans sent constant daisies to the writers room after he gave her one on their first date.
Were you Team Pacey or Team Joey? Sound off in the comments below.