On January 20, 1998, teenagers found a new small-screen obsession when Dawson's Creek made its debut. Created by Kevin Williamson, the series centered around a tight-knit group of friends—Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek), Joey Potter (Katie Holmes), Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson), and Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams)—living in the picturesque (and fictional) town of Capeside, Massachusetts.
It didn't take long for the series, which ran for six seasons, to become a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. On the 20th anniversary of its premiere, here are 22 things you might not know about Dawson's Creek.
1. IT FOUND ITS INSPIRATION IN SEVERAL OTHER MOVIES AND TV SHOWS.
"I pitched it as Some Kind of Wonderful, meets Pump Up the Volume, meets James at 15, meets My So-Called Life, meets Little House on the Prairie,” said creator Kevin Williamson. “I sort of threw everything in there." Fox passed on the show, so Williamson brought his pitch to a younger network, The WB, which got its start in 1995. In an attempt to reach a younger audience, the network picked up Dawson’s Creek.
2. KATIE HOLMES'S MOM PLAYED DAWSON IN HER AUDITION TAPE.
Williamson actually wanted to cast Selma Blair as Joey, but he decided to audition other actresses—including Katie Holmes, who he'd seen in Ang Lee’s film The Ice Storm. Still a high school student at the time, Holmes refused to fly to Los Angeles to audition because she had another commitment: playing Lola in her school’s production of Damn Yankees. So, in their sewing room, Holmes and her mother acted out the scene and filmed it. "I had the camera, and my mom would read Dawson's lines," Holmes told Rolling Stone.
3. JOSHUA JACKSON AUDITIONED FOR BOTH PACEY AND DAWSON.
Joshua Jackson actually auditioned for both lead roles. He originally read for Pacey, but the producers were interested in hearing him read for Dawson as well. Then, they switched him back to auditioning for Pacey. Despite an exec falling asleep during one of his auditions, Jackson got the role. One of his competitors for that role, by the way, was future American Pie star Jason Biggs.
4. KEVIN WILLIAMSON HAD TO FIGHT FOR JAMES VAN DER BEEK TO BE CAST.
Dawson was the last role to be cast. On the way to the audition in Los Angeles, James Van Der Beek actually sat next to future Entourage star Adrian Grenier on the plane, only to discover that he was also auditioning for the part of Dawson Leery. After watching the auditions, the head of Sony didn’t believe that Van Der Beek had star quality. But Williamson was convinced that Van Der Beek could do it, so they kept having him read the scene over and over again. Finally, Williamson yelled, “I wrote Dawson! I am Dawson! This is Dawson!” Two days before filming was scheduled to begin, Van Der Beek was officially cast.
5. WILLIAMSON PUT PROPS FROM SCREAM AND I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER IN DAWSON'S BEDROOM.
Williamson wrote the screenplays for all the Scream movies as well as I Know What You Did Last Summer. Sometimes he used Dawson’s world to wink at his own work. For example, in the season one episode “The Scare,” Dawson and Joey watch I Know What You Did Last Summer together. Later, in the season finale, there’s a poster for the movie hanging on Dawson’s wall. “The Scare” also has a few Scream references and contains the iconic Ghostface mask.
6. WILLIAMSON LOVED STEVEN SPIELBERG AS MUCH AS DAWSON DID.
Dawson’s passion for Spielberg movies came from Williamson’s direct childhood experience. “In fifth grade, Jaws came out," Williamson once said. "It began my love affair with Steven Spielberg. I took out a spiral notebook and I wrote the sequel to Jaws.” Sound familiar?
Unsurprisingly, it was tough to get the rights to all of the Spielberg posters that hang in Dawson’s room. In fact, Spielberg watched the pilot to personally approve the use of his work. He did ask that they remove a line about Jen looking like Kate Capshaw, but other than that, he was fine with the references. According to Van Der Beek, Spielberg later approached him at a Lakers game to say, “I like the posters on your wall.”
7. THEY WEREN'T ALLOWED TO SAY THE WORD "MASTURBATE" IN THE PILOT.
In the original script, Joey plainly asked Dawson, “How often do you masturbate?” After examining the pilot, Standards and Practices told them that they couldn’t say the word “masturbate” on television. In the final version of the episode, she asks, “How often do you walk your dog?”
8. DAWSON'S HAIRCUT WAS INSPIRED BY BRAD PITT'S HAIRSTYLE IN THE DEVIL'S OWN.
The studio insisted that Van Der Beek change his hair for the role. The crew paged through an Entertainment Weekly and saw an ad for The Devil’s Own, and Dawson’s infamous haircut was born.
9. THE SHOW LOST A SPONSOR FOR BEING CONTROVERSIAL.
The show shocked audiences and critics with its blunt dialogue about sex—and a first season plot line about an affair between a teacher and a high school student didn’t detract from the controversy. Procter & Gamble was supposed to be a sponsor of the show but pulled out before it aired.
"As we have learned more about the episodes over the long term and the content that will unfold over time, the majority of the content within the majority of the episodes walks a fine line and bumps up against what we think is appropriate," a spokesperson for the company said.
10. WILLIAMSON KNEW HE WANTED JACK TO BE GAY, BUT HE DIDN'T TELL ANYONE AT FIRST.
In the second season, two new characters were introduced: siblings Jack and Andie McPhee. Williamson claimed that while creating the characters, there was a voice in the back of his head saying, “God, I wish Jack could be gay. That would be so great to write a gay character.” But he decided not to mention it to anyone, including the writers. Jack quickly became one of the show's most popular characters and halfway through the season, Williamson had him come out to his friends.
11. THE "TRUE LOVE" EPISODE FEATURED THE FIRST MALE GAY KISS ON U.S. PRIMETIME TELEVISION.
“True Love” was the third season finale, which aired in May 24, 2000. In the episode, Jack kisses his boyfriend, Ethan. Ten years later, Kerr Smith, who played Jack, recalled, “I did know how historic it was and he did too. I’ll never forget the day that we were filming that. I was quite nervous, as was he ... We knew what we were doing. We knew what we were addressing. We knew that it was important and that a lot of people were going to be looking up to the show now for this particular type of storyline. I think we did a good thing.”
12. MEREDITH MONROE WAS 29 WHEN SHE PLAYED 16-YEAR-OLD ANDIE.
Meredith Monroe, who played Andie McPhee, was nine years older than Katie Holmes and 10 years older than Michelle Williams. But her on-screen brother, Kerr Smith, was also a little old for high school. He was 27 when he was cast.
13. HALFWAY THROUGH THE SERIES, A HURRICANE WREAKED HAVOC ON THE SET.
One of the downsides to filming on the Wilmington, North Carolina coastline was the possibility of hurricanes. In fact, one took down the pier outside the Leerys' home. It was only halfway through the series and the crew had to rebuild the pier because it had already become a beloved part of the show.
14. VAN DER BEEK'S MEME-WORTHY CRY WAS AN AD LIB.
Years after Dawson cried on a pier in the first season finale, his cry-face became a meme. Van Der Beek had a good sense of humor about it and even admitted that his tears were organic. “It wasn’t scripted, I don’t think,” he said. “You know, it was just high drama; you've been living with this character for a while and a scene like that just kind of drops in your lap and you just lose it.”
15. JACKSON USED TO MOON PEOPLE TO EASE TENSION BEFORE FILMING SCENES.
In an interview on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Holmes said, “I think he really thinks he’s doing a service to everyone ... It doesn’t even faze us anymore. We have different directors every week that come in and he’ll do it and some people will give a chuckle. The rest of us are like, ‘Oh,’ you know. The directors get a kick out of it.”
16. MICHELLE WILLIAMS WAS OFTEN INSECURE ABOUT NOT GETTING ENOUGH SCREEN TIME.
“The show was primarily a love triangle between Dawson, Pacey, and Joey," Michelle Williams later explained. "For the most part. At times I felt, ‘What’s not good enough about me? Am I doing something wrong?’ Flipping through the script you’re only in three pages, ‘Oh, boy. Okay.’ And maybe I had questions about why that was.” Van Der Beek helped her through these times by reminding her that her career would be easier because she would be the least associated with the show in the future. (Given the fact that she has been nominated for four Oscars—and counting—since her Dawson's days, Van Der Beek was clearly onto something.)
17. THE CAST MODELED IN A J. CREW CATALOG.
In a beautiful cross-marketing moment, Holmes, Jackson, Van Der Beek, and Williams did a photo shoot for J. Crew in 1998. You can find pictures online, but if you’d like a copy of your own, they usually sell for over $100 on eBay.
18. SOME OF BUSY PHILIPPS'S SCENES HAD TO BE REWRITTEN AFTER A WILD NIGHT OUT.
In an interview with Wendy Williams, Busy Philipps confessed that she liked to party during her Dawson’s Creek days. One drunken night out resulted in an emergency room visit and a dislocated knee. This was an inconvenience for the writing staff who, according to Philipps, “had to rewrite the show so that I was laying down and sitting down for two weeks.”
19. THE SHOW HAD SIX HEAD WRITERS, ONE FOR EACH SEASON.
After the second season, even Williamson went off to focus on other projects. During a Reddit AMA, someone asked Van Der Beek why there were so many writer shifts over the course of the series. He responded, “I think it was more a function of our writers being in such high demand that they were eventually wooed with offers [to do] their own shows, or just a matter of someone coming into an already established show with a very specific voice and everyone realizing a few steps down the road that it just wasn't quite the right fit.”
20. JOHN WESLEY SHIPP'S CHARACTER WAS KILLED OFF BECAUSE HE DIDN'T LIKE WHERE THE SHOW WAS GOING.
John Wesley Shipp, who played Dawson’s dad, grew disappointed with the show, especially after Williamson left. He didn’t like how small the roles of the parents were becoming. “At the end of the four seasons and the kids were going to be going to college, I saw the handwriting on the wall,” Shipp explained. “We would be standing in the background with Lily and waving at Parents Day and I really had no interest in doing that. So when they wanted to renegotiate our contact, I set my price really high.” Executive producer Paul Stupin asked if he would return to do the death storyline and Shipp agreed.
21. WILLIAMS DIDN'T WANT JEN TO DIE.
According to Williamson, “Michelle was a little scared and nervous. She goes, ‘Well, what if we do a reunion show? What if we do a movie or something?’ I’m like, ‘Well, then you’ll be a ghost.’” He noted that Jen’s death “was that last bit of growth that pushed [the characters] into adulthood.”
22. ANDIE WAS CUT FROM THE FINALE.
Meredith Monroe did return for the finale, but her scenes were not aired. Andie was a medical resident in Boston, who came back to Capeside to say goodbye to Jen. She also had a sentimental scene in the hospital cafeteria with ex-boyfriend Pacey. Her scenes can be found on the Dawson’s Creek DVDs.
In 2015, Williamson and several members of the Dawson's Creek team reunited for a panel discussion about the show in which it was revealed that the panel's moderator, Julie Plec—a longtime friend and collaborator of Williamson's who was also a writer on Dawson's Creek—was the one who wanted Andie to appear in the finale. "She felt it was incredibly important for Pacey and his first love Andie to have some sort of a resolution," wrote The Hollywood Reporter.