Following on the success of his screenplay for Scream, Kevin Williamson was approached to write a pilot for a television series by television executive, Paul Stupin. Williamson's script was initially turned down by Fox, but the WB picked it up for its new Tuesday night lineup.
Williamson said, "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". The show's lead character and main protagonist, Dawson Leery, was based on Williamson himself: obsessed with movies and platonically sharing his bed with the girl down the creek.
The entire first season, thirteen episodes, was filmed before the first episode even aired.
After the end of the second season, Williamson left to focus on Wasteland, a new show for ABC, but returned to write the two-hour series finale.
Procter & Gamble Productions (the company behind such daytime dramas as Guiding Light and As the World Turns) was an original co-producer of the series. The company, however, sold its interest in the show three months before the premiere when printed stories surfaced about the racy dialogue and risqué plot lines.
Dawson's Creek was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina, at EUE/Screen Gems studios and on location around Wilmington, Southport and Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. College scenes in the fifth and sixth seasons were shot at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, and additional shooting was done in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 1999, some scenes were shot on the University of Richmond campus. The fourth season episode "Eastern Standard Time" also did location shooting in New York City, including at Grand Central Terminal.
The Wilmington area benefited greatly from the show. While a number of films, commercials and music videos had been shot at the studios, the show was the first to occupy numerous soundstages for many years. One Tree Hill later occupied some of those same soundstages for several years and used some of the same locations in Wilmington.
In addition to business brought into the community by the project, it attracted attention to the city as a filming location and boosted tourism. The visitors' bureau distributed a special guide to filming locations used in the show. When the program was cancelled in 2003, the news was reported on the front-page of Wilmington's daily newspaper, the Wilmington StarNews.
Sunset shots of Dawson standing on his dock among the marsh grass were filmed along Hewlett's Creek on Pine Grove Road between Masonboro Loop Road and Holly Tree Drive in Masonboro, North Carolina. The private residences used as homes for Dawson, Jen, and Joey are all located along the shores of Hewlett's Creek.
Some of the scenes shown during the opening credits and miscellaneous scenery shots throughout the episodes were filmed in Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. One of which is a pan of Oak Bluffs Harbor and another includes a shot of Circuit Avenue also in Oak Bluffs, MA.
Capeside is a fictional town in Massachusetts where Dawson's Creek takes place. It is located on Cape Cod, possibly somewhere mid-Cape between Falmouth and Yarmouth, as an early episode includes these real towns in a "hurricane day" announcement. Incorporated in 1815, the town has a population of 35,000 and is located between the cities of Providence, Rhode Island and Boston, Massachusetts. Capeside exteriors were shot in and around Wilmington, North Carolina. Its bays and coastlines are similar to those found along the coast of Massachusetts.
Capeside High School is the high school in Capeside, Massachusetts attended by several characters during the first four seasons of the show. Exteriors were filmed at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
A Dawson Creek actually exists in the Canadian province of British Columbia. It is named for the river of the same name that runs through it. Another exists in Oriental, NC, which flows into the Neuse River. This served as the inspiration for the show's name. There is also a Dawson's Creek that runs through Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Interiors for The Icehouse were filmed at The Icehouse bar in downtown Wilmington several blocks from less picturesque water so exteriors were filmed at the Dockside Restaurant at 1308 Airlie Road in Wrightsville Beach, NC. Nearby constructions at the real IceHouse forced producers to eliminate the bar from the storyline by burning it down.
The Hell's Kitchen bar featured in the show was a natural food store at 118 Princess Street in Wilmington which was purchased by producers, dressed as a seedy college bar and used for production during the show's last season. When production completed, the building was purchased by a local restaurateur, along with much of the set and decorations, and converted it into a real restaurant and bar. It retains the name as well.
Leery's Fresh Fish, exteriors were filmed at Water Street Restaurant at 5 South Water Street in Wilmington.
Worthington University is a fictional university from Dawson's Creek. Joey (played by Katie Holmes) and Audrey (played by Busy Philipps), characters from the series, attended this school. It is supposed to be located in Boston, Massachusetts and to have been founded in 1787 by Josiah Worthington. It is sometimes said to be an "Ivy League college".
Producers had not planned for the show to extend beyond the characters' high school years. The architectural uniformity of UNC Wilmington prevented it from being used for Worthington University exteriors. The scenes at Worthington were filmed over two hours away at Duke University, and a number of its students served as extras. Some filming was also done on Franklin Street adjacent to nearby University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Dawson's Creek generated a high amount of publicity before its debut, with several television critics and consumer watchdog groups expressing concerns about its anticipated "racy" plots and dialogue. The controversy drove one of the original production companies away from the project.
John Kiesewetter, television columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote, "As much as I want to love the show—the cool kids, charming New England setting, and stunning cinematography—I can't get past the consuming preoccupation with sex, sex, sex." In his defense, Williamson denied this was his intention, stating that "I never set out to make something provocative and racy".
Syndicated columnist John Leo said the show should be called "When Parents Cringe," and went on to write "The first episode contains a good deal of chatter about breasts, genitalia, masturbation, and penis size. Then the title and credits come on and the story begins." Tom Shales, of The Washington Post commented that creator Kevin Williamson was "the most overrated wunderkind in Hollywood" and "what he's brilliant at is pandering."
The Parents Television Council proclaimed the show as the single worst program of the 1997–98 and 1998-99 seasons by being "the crudest of the network shows aimed at kids," complaining about "an almost obsessive focus on pre-marital sexual activity", references to pornography and condoms, and the show's acceptance of homosexuality. The Council also cited it as the fourth worst show in 2000–2001. Former UPN President Lucie Salhany criticized WB for airing Dawson's Creek which features "adolescent characters in adult situations" in an early timeslot while the network is supposed to be "the family network". However, on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, the National Organization for Women offered an endorsement, deeming it one of the least sexually exploitative shows on the air.
Despite the controversy surrounding the sexual-oriented topics, the show was a major critical success. Before its premiere, San Francisco Chronicle explained the buzz around the show was due to its creator Kevin Williamson who wrote the screenplays for Scream and Scream 2 and that the show might be "one of the year's tangier hits". He also found Dawson's Creek scenically "downright luxuriant" and liked that it "doesn't have the rushed feel of so many teen shows. The edginess is in the situations, not the pacing." Variety wrote that it was "an addictive drama with considerable heart...the teenage equivalent of a Woody Allen movie—a kind of 'Deconstructing Puberty'". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called it "a teen's dream". The Dayton Daily News listed Capeside as a television town they'd most like to live in. The Seattle Times declared it the best show of the 1997–1998 season and said it "belongs to the small-pantheon My So-Called Life, James at 15 and to a lesser extent, Party of Five and Doogie Howser, M.D..
Dawson's Creek was nominated for fourteen awards, including ALMA Awards, Casting Society of America Awards, Golden Satellite Awards, TV Guide Awards, and YoungStar Awards. In 2000, the show was awarded a SHINE Award for consistently addressing sexual health issues on TV. By the end of its run, the show, its crew, and its young cast had been nominated for numerous awards, winning four of them. Joshua Jackson won the Teen Choice Award for Choice Actor three times, and the show won the Teen Choice Award for Choice Drama once. The series also won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV Drama Series.
The show was rated TV14 for content.
While never a huge ratings success among the general television population, Dawson's Creek did very well with the younger demographic it targeted and became a defining show for the WB Network. The pilot episode was watched by 6.8 million viewers and had a 4.8 rating which was the network's highest rating at the time. The first season's highest ranked episode was the finale, which was fifty-ninth, while the second highest rated was the second episode (probably scoring so well partially because the other major networks carried President Clinton's State of the Union address in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal rather than their regular programming). The finale itself was watched by 7.8 million U.S. viewers, which was its largest audience ever.
The show had, in the words of television experts Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, a "semi-spinoff" - Young Americans. The protagonist of Young Americans, Will Krudski (Rodney Scott), was introduced in three episodes at the end of the show's third season, as a former classmate of Dawson, Joey, and Pacey, who had moved away some years before and had returned for a visit. He was never referred to before or seen again. Young Americans was made by the same company as Dawson's Creek, Columbia TriStar Television, and appeared in Dawson's Creek's timeslot when it went on hiatus during the summer of 2000. The show had 8 episodes. The reason the show is considered a semi-spinoff instead of a true spinoff is that Will was not originally created for Dawson's Creek. He was added to Dawson's solely to set up and promote the series Young Americans.
Simon & Schuster published a series of fifteen mass-market paperback novelizations of the series.
The Amanda Show featured a skit entitled "Moody's Point" to parody the show, but was discontinued when the show was cancelled.
The show was especially popular in Australia, where it rated #1 in its timeslot on Network Ten for several episodes and highly at other times from seasons one to four. The show originally aired in the UK on Channel 4 but later moved to Five for the last two seasons. In 2007, Five's sister channel FiveLife began airing reruns on weekdays at 7pm. In early 2008 with its evening showings having reached the final season it restarted the show in an early morning slot. From April 2011, it now airs on Sony Entertainment Television on the Sky digital platform.
The show also aired in numerous international markets, listed here with the premiere dates:
On April 27, 1999, the first soundtrack album of the teen drama, Songs from Dawson's Creek, was released. It features Sophie B. Hawkins, Jessica Simpson, Shooter, Heather Nova, Adam Cohen, Sixpence None the Richer, and Paula Cole, among others. The album was a commercial success in the United States and scattered two hits in the charts, "Kiss Me" and "I Don't Want to Wait". The first volume Songs from Dawson's Creek reached #1 on the Australian Album Chart and was certified five times Platinum, making it the fifth highest selling album of 1999, while the second also achieved Platinum status.
On October 3, 2000, a second soundtrack titled Songs from Dawson's Creek — Volume 2 was released.
Reruns of the show are often seen in Australia on Foxtel, in Canada on TVtropolis, in Norway on TV3, in Denmark on TV2 Zulu, in the UK on Sony Entertainment Television, in France on TMC, in Greece on Macedonia TV, in Romania on Digi Film, in India on Zee Café, in Indonesia on TPI and Global TV, in Italy on Italia 1, in Spain on LaOtra, in Lithuania on TV3, in Latin America on Liv, and in the Middle East on MBC4 and on the Orbit - Showtime Network (OSN).