Cheers for tears! How Dawson’s Creek helped teen TV get emotional
From the OC to Riverdale, the erudite 90s phenomenon changed the face of pop culture – and spawned the ultimate emotional meme
No matter how old you are, no matter how untouched by human emotion you pretend to be, it is going to happen to you. You are going to develop feelings for a soapy TV drama aimed at American teens. If your formative television watching years occurred in the 90s, there were innumerable opportunities to develop unexpected infatuations: this was the decade of My So-Called Life, Party of Five, Felicity, Buffy and – rising like a phoenix above all its angsty contemporaries – Dawson’s Creek.
In the late 90s, screenwriter Kevin Williamson was being hailed for his part in reinvigorating the horror genre with his smart, sarcastic, self-aware scripts for the hugely profitable Scream series, I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Faculty. Williamson’s way with hyper-articulate, wise-beyond-their-years teen characters made him an object of desire for the US TV networks, which, as always, were struggling to maintain a grip on the short attention spans of the adolescent audience. Rather than the scares and gore with which he made his name, and to which he would later return, Williamson’s first TV vehicle was a sensitive, emotional series based, loosely, on his adolescence as an aspiring film-maker marooned in a small, picturesque coastal town, surrounded by his tight-knit group of friends and family.