Before Dawson's even aired on the fledgling WB network, the show garnered a lot of buzz, thanks in part to a huge marketing campaign (see TV Guide covers left and right) and its very photogenic stars. Since Buffy the Vampire Slayer had become a critical and commercial success in the beginning of 1997, the network decided to shift its focus to the teen market. When Dawson's premiered in January 1998, it opened to the highest ratings in the network's history. It also became the most popular show on the WB and the highest-rated on television for teenage girls. Dawson's helped to solidify the WB's status as a network geared toward young adults. As television is so fragmented and specialized today, it is hard to believe that a teen-focused network was such a departure from the norm, but at the time, there was nothing else like it. So what did the show tap into and why did it resonate so much with young people?
Though many critics believed that the conversations among Dawson's teenage stars were far too sophisticated to be believable, the show managed to convey what it felt like to be at the in-between time of your life when you are no longer a child, but your choices are not fully your own. Growing up can be difficult, and whether it's idle school gossip or your mother's infidelity, it can feel like the end of the world. That Dawson's didn't dumb itself down, but rather, treated its audience with respect, added to its popularity. The characters spoke and expressed themselves with a maturity and eloquence that teens appreciated.
|Michelle Williams in "The Scare" season one episode,|
a nod to Drew Barrymore in Scream
|Dawson and Joey|
The show was also ahead of its time, as it didn't shy away from the fact that when you're a teenager, you are considering all aspects of your identity, and that includes your sexuality. Mentioning masturbation and condom use is not crude, but practical, given the show's audience. Dawson's examined the deeper issues and concerns that teens sometimes confront, along with their more basic frustrations: Joey is tired of being seen as just a good friend to Dawson, and she is dealing with her father's incarceration; Pacey wants desperately to lose his virginity, and he feels like a disappointment to his father. Although some of the show's storylines were heightened for dramatic effect, they were always rooted in relatable emotions that connected with viewers.
|Jack and his boyfriend Toby|
Jack's journey to accept himself is handled thoughtfully and with great care. We watch him resolve issues with his father, deal with the small town's reaction to his romantic choices, and navigate relationships with men for the first time. Jack never becomes a gay stereotype and his character is defined by a lot more than his sexuality, which is not always the case on-screen today. Dawson's was an inclusive show; when Jack wasn't allowed to bring his date Ethan to the Junior Prom, his friends created an "Anti-Prom" that everyone could attend. Dawson, Joey, Pacey and Jen were misfits in high school, but they never seemed bothered by the label. They always had one another to depend on and they actually enjoyed being nonconformists. Dawson's had some of the spirit of the show Glee years before Glee existed.
|Jack, Jen, and Grams: Family|