Exclusive: Dawson’s Creek Scribe Gina Fattore Shares The Creative Process

14 02 2010

How does a writer get from King of the Hill to Dawson’s Creek and later Gilmore Girls to Californication? Who chooses episode titles? Do The Powers That Be buy into “ships”?

In our exclusive phone interview, Gina Fattore, who went from writer to co-executive producer in four seasons on Dawson’s Creek, gives her answers to those questions, sharing her personal journey in the world of television.

TeenDramaWhore: How did you first get involved with Dawson’s Creek?

Gina Fattore: It was very straight-forward in that my agent just called. I started out in comedy. The first show I worked on was a sitcom and the first episode of television I ever wrote was a show called King of the Hill. At the time my agent said to me, “You gotta write something with a girl in it. This King of the Hill script, not really working for you.” At the time Ally McBeal was on and it was during that moment when that was a really interesting show. I just decided that that was what I was going to write for my spec script, my writing sample. It seemed a good show to write but it was a one-hour show and I had never really written any one-hour shows before and I wasn’t consciously trying to move into drama. That was just the sample I chose to write. My agent showed it to this guy [Dawson’s Creek executive producer] Paul Stupin, who was also a client of my agent. He said, “You know, I have this comedy writer and she wrote this drama script for Ally McBeal. Would you give it a read and just tell me what you think, what your thoughts are?” Paul read it and brought me in for a meeting and then hired me. Then four years later, it was like I had written a zillion episodes of Dawson’s Creek without ever really intending to become a drama writer.

TDW: Wow. Can you walk me through the process of writing an episode? Viewers don’t usually know all the steps involved.

Fattore: Right. We always thought it was funny back in the day when I would go online and look at the recaps and stuff like that people had done, because obviously the episodes start as an outline. They always start as some sort of prose document and then you have to turn it into an actual script and then they film it and then people out there on the Internet are always turning it back into an outline, which always amuses me.

A typical episode of a show like Dawson’s back in the day, we’re in a room. We have ideas and we know what the larger arc of the season is. It’s either a 12-episode arc or a full-season arc. Within that framework, ideas will be pitched or presented. I didn’t write this particular episode but let’s say it’s prom. And you know in that particular episode it’s going to be promo. It just gets more specific as the week goes on and if things are going well, you might spend the week trying to break a story and figure out what each individual scene is going to be in the show, who’s in the scene, what’s the dramatic purpose of the scene and how does it move the story forward. You just spend a week getting it all outlined and then someone gets the assignment. You probably know going into the week that this is your assignment. You’ve probably been given [notice]. “Oh, here. Episode six is going to be yours. Here’s the heads-up.” So, especially if you know it’s your episode, you want to show up there prepared with ideas. Ultimately, the decisions all lie in the hands of the showrunner, the head writer, who’s going to decide and sign off on every single one of those scenes. Then once you’ve got your basic story in outline form, it has to be approved by the network and the studio, depending on who else is involved. Then once you have that approval, you go off and begin writing the script.

TDW: So when you’re not actually the person with the “written by” credit on an episode, you’re still responsible for generating ideas for it?

Fattore: Yes. That’s an interesting question. Different shows do it different ways. Most of the ideas, I think, on any given show are coming from the showrunner because he is the ultimate authority on what is going to end up going in the show. But if you have a group of writers–we had only four on the last year of Dawson’s Creek to as many as maybe 12 or 15 back in the glory days when the economy was different– you know your job is to show up every day and have ideas and ways of executing the stories that everyone has in mind for the larger arc. There aren’t a lot of serialized shows left on TV anymore. A lot of the crime shows, those people show up every day with lists of, “here’s stories about crime” but it’s harder on a serialized show because ultimately whatever you’re pitching has to track with what happened the episode before. But, yes, if you’re on staff, you’re definitely expected to show up with as many other ideas as you can. If you have a good idea in the room, you’re more likely to be given the assignment. If it was your idea originally, the showrunner might say, “Okay, this is going to be yours.” You get to go off and write that.

TDW: Focusing specifically on the ones you did write, a bunch of them happen to my favorites and some of the most memorable ones of the series. Going chronologically, the first one is The Longest Day [Episode 3.20], which has just such a fascinating frame to it, the way you tell the story repeatedly from all these different angles and it’s not until the end that the whole picture becomes clear. How did you come up with that?

Fattore: That is very funny because I was just telling that story to someone recently because I do remember it quite well. It was very exciting. At that point, in the overall arc of the season, the next thing that needed to happen in episode 20 was Dawson [James Van Der Beek] finds out about Joey [Katie Homes] and Pacey [Joshua Jackson]. That was the one thing that we had. In a traditional Dawson’s Creek story structure at that time, we’d start out and say, “How are we going to tell that story?” Probably we would put that event at the end of the third act. First act, establish the problem. Second act, talk about the problem further, because nothing ever happened on Dawson’s. There wasn’t a lot of action. But then third act, you would want the conflict to come to a head. So we were talking about the story and the most traditional possible way and I think it was [writer-producer] Greg Berlanti–at that time he was sort of the showrunner; he was an upper-level writer–who said, “How can we make the third act break the first act break?” So, essentially, we started talking about that. The idea of seeing that moment where Dawson finds out about them became the first act break.

People always mention Rashomon, the Japanese movie, which, frankly, I’ve never even seen. But the structure we came up, having three characters we would follow through the day, allowed us to have that moment everyone wanted to see before the first commercial break. I can’t remember exactly what the second act is but it takes that scene a little bit further and shows you a little bit more and then the third act, you understand finally what it is Dawson knows and how he already knows. To this day, it is one of the best creative experiences I ever had because it was just so much fun to do as a puzzle. It was really exciting. Telling stories is often about, what is the information you have left out? What have you not shown the audience? When you show it to them, it makes an impact. It’s a really great memory to think about that episode.

TDW: It really just has double the awesomeness, because we had been waiting for that story to climax for so long and then you added the unique storytelling on top of it.

Fattore: Yes. It was a question of, “Well, how can we have this thing happen but have it fill up that whole hour of television? And that was where it started from. My hat is really tipped to Greg Berlanti on that one because there were a bunch of us in the room that day or that week trying to figure out the story but it was his inspiration that kind of led us down that road. The whole thing was a really fun experience because it was kind of the only time in Dawson’s Creek history that I had such a warm reception to a script. Everybody really liked it and it was a great experience for me.

TDW: Continuing with that season, the season 3 finale was the first of several finales that you wrote. That one was True Love [Episode 3.23]. The title alone is nice because it harkens back to the name of the Pacey’s boat. It made me wonder, though, how episode titles are chosen.

Fattore: Usually the writer, when you’re writing the actual episode, has a shot at coming up with the title themselves. Like when you turn in your draft to the show runner, on most shows, you probably give it a title yourself based on what you’ve written. I am obsessed with the movie The Philadelphia Story [which has a boat named True Love]. I think it was probably Greg Berlanti writing one of those early episodes in season 3 that involved Pacey’s boat and I was just joking with him about The Philadelphia Story because it is one of my favorites. I think he used [the boat name] based on me joking with him about it. Then we all worked on the finale of season 3. I honestly don’t remember in that specific case who came up with the episode title but I would venture to guess it was probably Greg Berlanti who did. It could’ve actually been a title that we sort of knew all along because we knew we were going to end up having the boat be a big part of the whole year.

TDW: It was. And then the next season, season 4, you also wrote that finale, Coda [Episode 4.23], which is just cleverly named given the structure of a television show. But the final scene also mirrors the season 1 finale [Episode 1.13, Decisions].

Fattore: That episode [the season 4 finale] [writer-producer] Tom Kapinos and I wrote together. When he and I would do that, he would write the first act & the fourth act and I would write the second act & the third act, because he likes to begin things and he likes to end things. He doesn’t really like to do the middle of things. But the scene you’re referring to is a really long scene between Dawson and Joey in his bedroom.

TDW: Yes.

Fattore: Tom wrote that. That’s 100 percent Tom. I can’t take any credit for that. But for me, with season 1 of the show, I always tried to go back and reference it. I watched it over and over to keep in mind. Not every TV writer is like that but I like to re-watch things and keep it in mind. When you’re desperate for ideas, you can find inspiration anywhere.

TDW: Then the season 5 finale [Episode 5.23, Swan Song] you wind up with everyone in the airport.

Fattore: Yeah, that one I probably don’t remember quite so well but again, Tom and I wrote it together. He would’ve written the beginning and end. I wrote the middle. It’s so funny the things I remember now after all these years. I do remember there was a Jen [Michelle Williams] and Jack [Kerr Smith] scene in the airport that I was happy with and proud of. That was another thing I did–over the years I wrote a lot of little Jen-Jack moments that I was very happy with. It was fun. So obviously everybody was going on a trip or not going on a trip; that’s the whole point of the airport. But it’s kind of a dead zone in my memory. You hit upon one I really don’t remember that well.

TDW: Jen finally relented and was going to spend the summer with her parents. Jack stumbles across the guy in his fraternity who was secretly gay. Then Joey and Dawson had one of their confrontations.

Fattore: Of course.

TDW: And Pacey got onto the airport speaker system to profess his love for Audrey [Busy Philipps].

Fattore: Yes, it’s all sort of coming back to me now.

TDW: I understand it’s hard for you when you’ve done so much work since then.

Fattore: It’s funny because back in the day, I had a pretty amazing recall of the episodes. And to be honest, it’s funny what you asked about the episode titles because I often refer to the shows by their number. Like The Longest Day is 3.20 to me. I think it’s because the titles do change. The first draft might be called something and then there’s a legal clearance issue so it may change. But obviously we do the episodes in order and every episode has a number that never changes. So for me, it was always like, “Oh, episode 3.15 [Crime and Punishment] and 3.16 [To Green, With Love] is Joey paints a mural.” I just have it in my head based on the numbers and not what the actual titles of the episodes are.

TDW: That’s so interesting. There’s been random fans I come across that do know the episodes just by the numbers and it blows my mind.

Fattore: I realize that it sounds crazy. One of the executives from The WB used to tease me about it because it makes you sound a little crazy. But around here, around the office, there’s always about 5 different episodes in play. There’s one that’s shooting that day, one that’s prepping that day, one that’s in editing, one that’s being outlined, one that the first draft is being read by the showrunner. If a TV show is running successfully, there should be about five or six episodes in play at any time. To keep track of them all, it always just seemed easier to me to remember the numbers.

TDW: Wow. Well, I have a couple more episodes. In season 6 you have Spiderwebs [Episode 6.08], which is when No Doubt performs. I’m curious to know if you find it limiting or easier when you have a central event that everyone has to be at.

Fattore: That’s a very good question because a lot of times with TV, I think it is easier when you have something that’s so specific that you have to work around. I don’t remember when exactly that idea of the tie-in with the concert came up but in terms of what we knew we had to do–we were going to showcase the concert and we needed to get everyone to go to the concert–in a way, that is an easier assignment. Anything that narrows down your options is easier because you’re just like “This is what we’re doing this week. We’re gonna get those kids to a No Doubt concert if it’s the last thing we do!”

TDW: That episode really showcases Jensen Ackles [C.J.].

Fattore: Oh, yes! He’s on Supernatural now!

TDW: Yeah, he’s gone on to have a great career with that.

Fattore: He was a really nice guy, I have to say. I like people who just show up and know the material and they’re really professional. I didn’t know him all that well but he was a good guy so I was not surprised that he went on to do other things–with Dean [Jared Padalecki] of Gilmore Girls!

TDW: I do have a Gilmore Girls question a little later one . The next episode on my list is another one with unique storytelling and that’s Castaways [Episode 6.15]. You have a unique location, limited characters and a balance of tension, seriousness and fun.

Fattore: You’ve hit on my mom’s favorite episode of Dawson’s Creek that I ever wrote! Again, that was a really good experience for me. It was kind of a gift from Tom Kapinos. There’s some old 80s movie that involves being trapped in a department store. I had never actually seen the movie but we were just sitting around one day joking about it and the idea of Joey and Pacey being trapped in some sort of department store. It just seemed like, especially after all the years I had worked on the show and all the episodes I had written at that point, it was like a little present to me that I would get to do this and have it sort of be like a play. It was fun to write. Tom gave me little notes on it that helped me get the fight scene to a place where I was really happy with it. They shot it and they did a great job. I think it ended up being the Kmart where we actually shot it. I was really happy with the way it turned out.

TDW: The last one is Joey Potter and the Capeside Redemption [Episode 6.22], which, to me, is like a series finale but it wasn’t actually the series finale.

Fattore: I would agree with that. That’s how it was always intended, as a series finale. We knew at a certain point, I guess, that [creator] Kevin [Williamson] would come back and do his two hours of TV but we were operating under the assumption all year season 6 that it would be the last year of the show. From the beginning of the season, what we were doing was ending the series. That was a cool experience to have as a storyteller, to say, “This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to figure out a way to end this series.” We intended it to work, obviously, without anyone ever seeing the other [episodes, 6.23-4, All Good Things…Must Come To An End] and, again, that was a funny one because Tom wrote the beginning and the end and I wrote the middle parts. By that point, that was just the way that we did it. The end was so memorable. He wrote this huge voiceover for Joey. The song that plays at the end of that episode–maybe it didn’t make it on to the DVDs because all the music got changed–it’s one of my favorite songs and Tom ended up using it in the show. It was very meaningful to me at the time.

TDW: What song is that?

Fattore: It’s a Hollies song; The Air That I Breathe. It’s from the early 70s maybe or the late 60s. It was always one of my favorite songs from when I was kid and we didn’t usually use a lot of old songs. We used very much the more contemporary music. At the time, the “chick rock,” they called it.

TDW: In one of the episodes, it might’ve been True Love, Jen makes a joke about that. It was a very meta comment. She says something like “soon to be out-of-date contempo-pop songs plays” in the background of their lives.

Fattore: Oh, yes. That sounds like a Kapinos kind of thing. It really has been a long time since season 3.

TDW: Joey Potter and The Capeside Redemption was directed by Michael Lange, who I interviewed a few weeks ago. I was wondering, now that I’m also speaking with you, what relationship, if any, does the writer have with the director?

TDW: In TV its kind of interesting because the directors just come in and do an episode here or there. If you’re a writer and a producer on the show, you’re there the whole time for every episode and you’re involved in the conversations that are going on usually for all the episodes. But it’s a lot of fun if you’re allowed to participate in the filming. We always had to get on the plane and go to Wilmington to meet the director. Michael Lange also did one of my other episodes. 4.04 [Future Tense], actually, he did. When I was early in my career, just starting out, you can learn so much if you’re just sitting there in the chair next to the director, watching how things get from the script to actual film. That helps you with your writing immeasurably because you realize what can be accomplished in the time that we have. TV is like making an independent film. Every Dawson’s Creek episode was shot in seven days. We had, you know, not tons of money. The visual style of The WB was very conservative, so it’s not like the directors were doing amazing things visually. But Wilmington is a very pretty place and I always felt Dawson’s as a show looked great, compared to a lot of the shows that are shot mostly on stages.

TDW: You did a lot of episodes but several of them were key Joey-Pacey episodes. Did you find yourself getting into them as a couple or did you end up liking a particular character more than another?

Fattore: When you get a job on a TV show, you didn’t create the show. It’s not your voice or your vision. When I got the job on Dawson’s, there were already 35 episodes of the show in existence. All of season 1 and all of season 2. I watched them all and tried my hardest to make it my own and learn how to write it. Greg Berlanti would tease me sometimes because–I realized it I guess as we were doing it–there’s a lot of parts of my life that are sort of similar to the Joey Potter saga. I did grow up in a fairly small town. I did get very good grades. If you remember the snail episode from season 1 [Episode 1.10, Double Date], Joey was clearly established well before I worked there as the kind of girl who needed to get an A+. She was really a perfectionist when it came to her school work and she clearly saw that as a way to get out of this small town and go to a good college. In some odd way, that was exactly who I was as a person. I grew up in a small town and all I ever wanted to do was go away.

As writers, what we all had in common with the character of Dawson was that Dawson was essentially a writer. I know Dawson was a filmmaker but Kevin Williamson was a writer and that was his vision of his own teenage years. It was easiest for me to relate to Joey as a character and also Dawson. That’s how you find your way into something you didn’t create. You figure out where it intersects with your own life and your own concerns and issues. And it’s always been my own personal theory that to have succeeded on Dawson’s Creek and not get fired, it was crucial that you had a really horrible experience as a teenager. Because I think that anyone who was happy as a teenager couldn’t really understand that show and couldn’t really write it because it was about teen angst. So if you were a person who really thought it was awesome to be a teenager and you went to parties and had fun and no angst about it, probably you were not going to succeed writing that show.

TDW: With identifying with Joey and Dawson, does that mean they were also your romantic preference?

Fattore: No. You know, it was always funny to me at the time the way people got so invested in that stuff. I do love old movies, especially romantic comedies of the 30s and 40s. Joey and Pacey had really been established from the get-go as this bantering duo that argued with each other and writing them was always very fun for me. When you look at season 3, I wrote an incredibly large number of episodes and the main arc of that season was about Joey and Pacey coming together as a couple so I think people thought [I favored them]. I’m sure if you go back and ask everyone who worked on season 3, it wasn’t like I was pitching things that were particularly, “Oh, we have to do this with Joey and Pacey!” We all just got the assignments that we got and at the end of the year, I had all these assignments that seemed to involved those stories. I think it was easier for me to write–not easy but it was fun for me to write–because of my love for those old, traditional romantic comedies, like It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story, Holiday and all those movies which are about bickering people who discover they’re really meant for each other. That was a story I found interesting and fun to tell. It was so fun to hear what the fans were saying about it at the time, to look on the Internet and see what people were saying, because when you’re writing it, you just process it differently, I think. You’re not really rooting for anybody. You’re just doing your assignment.

TDW: At what point did you get the co-executive producer title?

Fattore: After season 4, Greg Berlanti left the show and went on to develop and do Everwood. Tom Kapinos took over as the showrunner and the head writer at the beginning of season 5. My original contact had been for two years, season 3 and season 4. When I came back for season 5, Tom became executive producer of the show and that’s when I became co-executive producer. That was my title for seasons 5 and 6, which just means you have a lot more responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the writing process. That was my big promotion between seasons 4 and 5.

TDW: About two years after Dawson’s ended, you had Reunion, which I was a big fan of.

Fattore: Well, that was not my show. I was just a co-executive producer on that show, which was created by a guy named Jon Harmon Feldman, who funnily enough worked on season 1 of Dawson’s Creek and season 2 of Dawson’s Creek. That was just a weird coincidence. He created Reunion and then he hired me to work with him on that show. It was just funny to meet him because we both worked on Dawson’s Creek but at different times. But, yeah, that was a show that not a lot of people saw. It was only on for a short time.

TDW: It left us with so many cliff-hangers! Do you think your experiences with Dawson’s Creek, which had a long run, and Reunion, which had a short run, prepared you for Gilmore Girls?

Fattore: You know what, what really did prepare me for Gilmore Girls was the Dawson’s Creek experience of actually ending a show. I had done that last year on Dawson’s, where we always knew it was going be the end of the series. On Gilmore Girls, I worked on the very last year and that whole year we weren’t certain that the show would end because there was talk about Lauren [Graham, Lorelai] and Alexis [Bledel, Rory] possibly renewing the deals and maybe the show would continue in some form. But we had to prepare in case the show was ending, so for me, it was an interesting experience to have again, from a storytelling standpoint of finishing something. More often, the more typical TV writer experience is just to be canceled. You come into work one day and it’s like “This is the day” and you’re canceled. There’s no sense of completion and there’s no ability to finish telling the story that you started telling. That was one of the reasons I took that job on Gilmore. It’s an interesting creative experience to have.

TDW: Were you executive producer on that?

Fattore: Nope. Still co-executive producer. I’m not as successful as you think I am!

TDW: Oh, goodness. Well, I want to give you the credit anyway.

Fattore: I really appreciate that. That’s good to know because, of course, in Hollywood how you’re perceived is really more important than who you are as a person.

TDW: I don’t really know if this question applies as much anymore but did you feel pressure coming into a show that was so established, had been nominated for many awards…

Fattore: Yeah. It’s a very unusual experience to come into something that late in the game. [Creator] Amy Sherman-Palladino is like a legend. That was her show and she wrote and directed so much of it, even more than a usual showrunner. Not all showrunners direct their work. It was her world for 6 seasons. That’s more than 100 episodes. I had to sit down and watch 6 seasons of Gilmore Girls because I wanted to do my homework and I had really only been an occasional viewer of the show over the years. It was daunting because so much of it had already been put down. It’s so far along in its history and that means everything  has already been done and there’s that frustrating feeling of, “Oh, this would work!” but no, we’ve already done that already.

TDW: From there, more or less, you went to Californication.

Fattore: Yes, that is exactly what happened. That year when I was doing Gilmore Girls, Tom Kapinos, who had been my old friend from Dawson’s Creek, was essentially doing a pilot and that pilot got picked up March of the year I was doing Gilmore and that was the time when we weren’t sure whether Gilmore would come back. It was looking like Lauren would walk away and the show would end. But he had said to me all along that he wanted me to come work with him if his show got picked up. Frankly, I was pretty much hoping at that point that Gilmore would end. There’s a part of me as a TV writer that wants every show to have a fair ending and not sort of continue in some other form with the stars doing limited commitments or changing it up in some odd way. It’s always nicer creatively if something can just end in the moment in its original form.

TDW: You know, that really applies to me and some others fan who look at One Tree Hill that way right now. This season, two of its main cast members didn’t return and there’s three new ones.

Fattore: Right. I heard about this.

TDW: Not everybody agrees but I think it should’ve ended last season with the cast still “intact.”

Fattore: Obviously the networks have a lot say over these types of things and Gilmore in its seventh season was still doing well, as far as I know. I’m not a big follower of the ratings. Every show I’ve ever been on, they just tell you when you’re canceled so I feel like you just keep doing the job and when the ratings are so bad that you’re canceled, they’ll come in and tell you you’re canceled. But Gilmore was still doing well at the end, at least by WB–I’m sorry–CW standards.

TDW: It’s interesting that you went from King of the Hill to Dawson’s Creek, which is very different in terms of audience, theme and content. And then you went from Gilmore Girls to Californication, which is also very different in terms of audience, theme and content.

Fattore: That’s true.

TDW: Is that a weird transition for you?

Fattore: It’s funny because most people that know me think it’s weird that I work on Californication because I’m not the sort of person who really watches a lot of that stuff. Like I said, I watch a lot of old movies and they’re Turner Classic Movies and they’re mostly rated G. But Tom is my friend and the experience of working on Dawson’s together was very bonding. TV is like boot camp. You’re making 23 hours of TV.  We did that every year on Dawson’s for four years in a row. The experience of making TV is so collaborative. So, really, when you’re taking a job, I feel like it’s almost less about the material and more about the people. Who’s doing it? Who wrote it? What are their creative goals? What are they trying to accomplish? And I have to say, it’s so cool to work on a Showtime show just because there’s such a reverence for the writer, a real respect. They really let the writers and the showrunners and the creators of the show have a real vision and do what they want to do without a lot of interference, and that’s a real gift and a blessing to anyone who’s trying to be TV writer because it just gets exhausting when you work in an environment where you get many, many, many notes and not just from the network but from actors and studios, too. So just imagine everything you write, you’ve written maybe 12 drafts of it before it even reaches the TV screen. It’s just very exhausting and it burns you out and it zaps your spirit so you just end up losing whatever joy you had originally in the job.

TDW: So how’s your spirit right now? What are you up to right now?

Fattore: That’s a good question. We’re just starting season 4 of Californication so we’re in the earlier planning stages, which is fun because you just have, like I said, so much freedom on a cable show to do whatever you want to do with the characters and that’s what we’re doing right now. I’m not a big multi-tasker. I try to focus on one thing at a time. All my years on Dawson’s Creek kind of led me to that. TV is very all-encompassing. Once you’re going and you’re in the middle of the season, you just start living completely in the world of that show.

TDW: It’s been about ten years since your first Dawson’s Creek episode. Besides making you feel old, how does that otherwise make you feel?

Fattore: It’s funny because I still every day work with Tom Kapinos. We met on season 3 of [Dawson‘s]. We had never met before. There weren’t enough offices so they forced us to share an office. We’re both kind of shy, like most writers, and I think we didn’t speak for like the first week or so and then we eventually became friends. For me, there were a lot of really stressful experiences, especially during season 3 when there were a lot changes at the last minute but it was really learning to write, learning to write TV. Instead of going to film school or taking a class, they paid me and I got to make these little films. It’s very unusual in TV to be writing something and not be rewritten substantially. Season 3 early on or parts of The Longest Day were probably written by Greg Berlanti. Obviously I was getting rewritten at various points. But it’s such an amazing feeling to have your work produced, to have millions of people see it. I just have nothing but warm feelings for that time. We joke about it and laugh about it and, you know, I’m not proud of every single episode I wrote but if you’re going to write hours and hours and hours of TV, not all of it is going to be great. Some of it is going to be at a certain level. And honestly, I’ve watched a lot of these other teen shows come on and I am an old fogie but I have to say I think Dawson’s was different and special because it was emotional. Almost all these other shows that I’ve seen–like I tried to watch Gossip Girl and I didn’t get very far with The O.C. I feel like there’s something about being a teenager and the friendships that you form when you’re a teenager and that they’re so important to you and capturing the essence of that is what I think Dawson’s captured so beautifully. It wasn’t about sex and partying and all of these sort of Gossip Girl-type things. Obviously all of these shows are different in different ways but I always look back to the moments, especially in season 1. Frankly, people, I think, like to be glib and cynical but I think when you’re teenager, you don’t want to be glib and cynical about your friends or your love life or what you think at the time is your love life. I think Dawson’s had something there that really captured people’s attention and the actors obviously really caught on at the time. It was able to convey this genuine teenage angst and this emotion that people make fun of but is real. I know I felt it and I think most teenagers felt it.

TDW: I agree and I think that was beautifully put. My last question was going to be asking what you thought the legacy of the show is but I think you really hit that already.

Fattore: I think about this stuff a lot, which is probably kind of sad but a lot of my career has been spent writing this kind of thing. I do try to watch these other shows because I think, “what are they trying to do?” And obviously all the writers I worked with on Dawson’s, we talked about this stuff all the time. Dawson’s was, originally from Kevin’s pilot, simultaneously funny and emotional. There are moments in that pilot that really are quite funny and there are moments where, like, Joey’s predicament just struck home for everyone involved. That idea that you like someone and he doesn’t like you back is so primal to every teenager. I guess that’s my weird way of saying that I am proud of it. And it’s always nice to talk to someone who has seen and understood and appreciated the work because it was a long time ago now but obviously it lives on.

Come back next week for another exclusive interview!

TDW Interview Index

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Most Shocking Deaths, Pt. 5

27 11 2009

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

2. Jen suffers the effects of a heart illness (Dawson’s Creek, Episode 6.24:…Must Come to an End)

(Skip to 6.40)

1. Marissa and Ryan get into a car accident (The O.C., Episode 3.25: The Graduates)

You’ll notice some of my picks overlapped with my Top 10 Saddest Moments list because, well, let’s face it–death is about the saddest thing someone can experience.

But what I really tried to focus on here was the jaw-dropping aspect, which is why the overlapping scenes aren’t in the same order as my previous list. For instance, I think Jen’s death was more devastating (read: sad) than Marissa’s, but Marissa’s was more jaw-dropping (read: shocking).

Make sense? Feel free to disagree!





Exclusive: Executive Producer Paul Stupin Revisits Dawson’s Creek

15 11 2009

With the Paley Center’s “Dawson’s Creek: A Look Back” panel and the release of “Dawson’s Creek: The Complete Series,” I’ve been on a DC high the past week and a half.  Imagine my delight in finding someone who was not only just as enthusiastic but also chock full of insider stories only true fans like TDW readers could appreciate. And when you combine that with the fact that this guy is also partly responsible for introducing Beverly Hills 90210 to the world, well, that pretty much makes him a teen drama god.

After reading all the DC and 90210 goodness executive producer Paul Stupin shared with me, you’ll never want TDW’s stroll down memory creek to end!

TeenDramaWhore: How was the Paley Center panel?  How did it come about?

Paul Stupin: It came about for two sets of reasons. The first was that there are a  lot of die-hard Dawson’s supporters and fans out there that could support such a event. And the second key element is Sony is planning to issue this monumental all-seasons of Dawson’s DVD collection.

TDW: Yeah! It came out yesterday and I went to three different stores and finally found it!

Stupin: I just think it’s the coolest thing ever. So it was a good opportunity to call some attention to the DVD collection while at the same time having an event for the fans. It was really fun for me because when I did Dawson’s, I look back on it as a very special and rewarding time in my life and to be able to talk about it and see some cast members and see Kevin [Williamson, creator] again was just a blast.

TDW: I’m sure. I wish I could’ve been there!

Stupin: Yeah, you would’ve liked it!

TDW: Oh, I’m sure. Well let’s go back even further, to 1997-1998, and Kevin Williamson comes to you with this idea to make this semi-autobiographical show. What made you come on board?

Stupin: Well, that’s not exactly how it happened but I can tell you. I had read an early draft of this film that he wrote. At the time, it was called Scary Movie but that was going to turn into Scream and they used the original title for something else. I had read a draft of that and I had really responded to the writing. One of the things I loved about it is not only did it have some smart thrills and chills but it also had this great sort of teenage/20-something dialogue. I just loved his voice and I loved the different perspectives that he had brought to the horror genre so I pushed really hard to his agent for Kevin and I to sit down. Originally, I wanted to run two areas by him. The first area was sort of a younger X-Files-esque kind of show and the second one was just a really smart, young ensemble sort of show that could tap into younger characters’ voices. I had ran programming at Fox, so the idea of doing a family show was kind of not on the board because Fox had Party of Five. So we started to talk about potentially doing a show about a number of younger characters who live on the same street. Then Kevin sort of went away and came back and sort of pitched to me a bunch of characters living on the same creek, which, of course, was semi-autobiographical. What made that so interesting is that it specified the idea and made it something unique and took us to a place I had never seen before. And the other thing that made that original pitch so exciting was the characters. He pitched to me the characters of Dawson [James Van Der Beek] and Joey [Katie Holmes] and Jen [Michelle Williams] and how that triangle would work. And then as we were talking about that, we came up with the idea of incorporating another character into the mix who could be a confidante for Dawson and that’s how the character of Pacey [Joshua Jackson] originated.

TDW: I think you really hit it when you said the show was unique. There are a couple of specific things that people are still talking about today and they really want the inside details of how it happened. I know you guys went over a bit of this at the panel but I’d love to hear it from you yourself.  So if we can just go over a couple of different storylines, I’d love to hear what you guys were thinking and the genesis of those. So the first one is in season 2 when we have Jack [Kerr Smith] announce that he’s gay [Episodes 2.14 & 2.15, To Be Or Not To Be… & …That Is The Question].

Stupin: I think there were two reasons for that. The first reason is it was a great way to integrate in a gay character on our series and to do it from the perspective of the kids we’d come to know and love on the show from the get-go. So the thought of involving Joey in a relationship with Jack and seeing that relationship take a completely unexpected turn and then understanding the emotional impact it would have on Joey’s character, and what it would do to Dawson and Pacey–all that seemed really interesting. And at the time, the thought of integrating a gay character and following that journey seemed really powerful and a way to tap into a whole set of emotions that would make our show even more memorable. One of the things that I love about Dawson’s is that it sort of wore its heart on its sleeve. Not only did it capture the voices and that sense of teenage yearning and teenage love and first-time love, and the power and the strength of all that, with love comes heartache as well in many stories. I think it enabled us to tell a really emotional and powerful story for a character that we’d really come to enjoy in the form of Jack. So that was one element to it and I think for Kevin it was a very personal story as well, and it was a way to again put a whole different perspective on the teen ensemble drama in a way that it hadn’t been done before. The second element to it was the fact that when Joey started that relationship with Jack, it was not going to go on forever. The key relationship in our series was what was going on between Joey and Dawson and Pacey, so the Jack character, that romance, was ultimately going to come to an end. And I think there was the thought of what a powerful way to see the relationship head south when the character starts to realize an insight into his own sexuality.

TDW: Going back to the Dawson-Joey-Pacey relationship, I read in Jeff Stepakoff’s book “Billion-Dollar Kiss” that Greg Berlanti–whom I adore–was the one to suggest putting Joey and Pacey together. I was wondering how accurate that story was in the book.

Stupin: Well, at the top of every season, we’ll sit and we’ll talk about [our plans]. We take a couple of weeks and we talk about each character and where we were going and what the sort of macro-issues were that we want to cover over the course of that particular group of 22 episodes. And Greg was definitely a part of that and the thought  of telling sort of a whole Joey-Pacey romance did in fact come out of that, absolutely. But I think you can go back, you can look at the pilot and you can look at the chemistry–and I did, in looking at the pilot last week–you can look at the chemistry between Joey and Pacey and you just know they’re sort of two peas in a pod and sooner or later that element of the triangle is going to get explored. So it’s definitely true what Jeff had in the book but I think that Greg was building from the seeds that were established in the original conception of the show, to tell you the truth.

TDW: Right.  Going to a more somber note: this probably came early on for you guys given how you plan the season but a lot of people were really surprised and devastated when in the 5th season Mitch [John Wesley Shipp] died [Episodes 5.03 & 5.04, Capeside Revisited & The Long Goodbye].

Stupin: Yes.

TDW: I’m wondering what the idea for that was. We never knew if it was casting reasons or storyline-dictated.

Stupin: It wasn’t really casting issues. The thing with Mitch was every year we would figure out a way to have 1 or 2 sort of emotional stories between Dawson and his mom and dad. In the first season we had all that great stuff with her affair with a newscaster. That was just sort of natural. The second season we have the story with mom and dad trying the open marriage, and it’s arguable as to how memorable that actually was. It seemed like such a fresh idea. I’m not sure that it translated quite as well as the idea initially seemed. And then after that, when the inter-relationships between the teenagers grew ever-more prominent and people became much more invested, it felt like the parents–though still important–were not quite as much a part of the storylines. So that’s when we would always try to include them, to have them in different things, to have great sort of Dawson-mom, Dawson-dad scenes but I think we were straining a little bit. And I think that when we got to the point of deciding the fate with Mitch, it seemed like we weren’t using him altogether that much in the series, in the seasons. We were using him but we weren’t using him in a huge way. There weren’t any financial or casting considerations. It really did come from the creative angle, in terms of how would it affect Dawson’s character if in fact this happened to his dad, and exploring that, and exploring the unexpected tragedy of it seemed like another way to really heighten the exploration as to who Dawson was, so that’s basically where that came from. And I remember talking to John Wesley and mentioning that the one thing that this would provide is that it was going to take the Dawson-father storyline to a really heartbreaking sense of conclusion and, at that point, we weren’t using him as much as we had in the past.

TDW: How does that contrast, then, to the decision in the series finale [Episodes 6.23 & 624, All Good Things… & …Must Come To An End] to have another death and this time it be Jen?

Stupin: It was so interesting last week; it came up that in a way it was a great book-end for the series. It frankly never occurred when we were talking about the beginning or the end of the show but one could argue that the series began with a catalyst and that was the arrival of Jen. And the series ended with a catalyst as well, and that was the departure of Jen. And the one thing that I think that it did is it really brought a sense of emotional resonance and power to that final episode, because one of the things with a final episode you want to be able to do, you want to be able to end a series in a satisfying and emotional and interesting way. And if we essentially had the last episode in history for Dawson’s Creek, we could talk about and we could explore issues of mortality involving some of our characters. Then when we talked about it, if we were going to be dealing with the characters’ mortality, she seemed like the most natural character in which to explore that.

TDW: Going back to the catalyst idea, it could be extended that that was really what it took for Joey to finally make up her mind between the two boys.

Stupin: Yeah, I think a little bit. I think the interesting thing was the series sort of ends twice. It ends in the episode before then [Episode 6.22, Joey Potter And The Capeside Redemption] where we get the sense that finally Dawson and Pacey are going to be friends and Joey did actually get to Europe. And I think that had a sense of closure. Then we took it another step and went to a sort of even more sort of larger-than-life ending of exploring who she was going to end up with. I think that was the big question: who was she going to end up with? And I think that that was handled pretty well, too. Like I personally love the thought that what this show was really about was not the romance of Dawson and Joey but about the strength and depth of that friendship and how that friendship was going to exist forever.

TDW: So if you had to answer the question, in your heart of hearts, do you think Dawson belongs with Joey in a platonic, friends soulmates sense and Pacey in the romantic soulmate way?

Stupin: In my heart of hearts, I think we ended it the right away. I think that what she did have in the romance with Pacey was as powerful as the friendship with Dawson. And I think that we were able to come up with a sense of satisfying closure for both of them. ‘Cause I will tell you, weirdly enough, when I was looking at The Sopranos–I’ll weirdly liken it to the conclusion of The Sopranos, at least from my weird perspective, because I was a fan of that. I like to think, in my mind, that Tony Soprano is still out there–maybe it wasn’t going to last forever, but maybe he’s still out there with his family, still dealing with the issues and still dealing with all the balls he was juggling. And in my mind, I like to think that Dawson and Joey are still out there in our alternate TV universe, still communicating with each other and still sharing the inner-most aspects of their hearts and still dealing with their friendship as adults, and that Joey and Pacey still have that romance. Because I feel like what we were able to come up with was, for me, an emotionally-satisfying conclusion for both stories which doesn’t let anyone down. And I know there are people who think Dawson and Joey should’ve been together romantically and I totally understand that point of view but I think we did the right thing.

TDW: Well, as a Joey and Pacey fan, I completely agree with you!

Stupin: Well, I can tell you this: that decision wasn’t made until the last hour was being shot and so if you look at the first hour of that final two-hour, I think at that point we were leaning toward her ending up with Dawson and so there are a few, I think, little cues–for the life of me I don’t remember exactly–that were set up to lead us in that direction and then, frankly, in the last hour, when the last hour was being shot–because it wasn’t shot as a two-hour; it was shot as two separate 1-hours–that when we came up with that conclusion, it caused us to shift things around a little bit. So I’ll tell ya, we were undecided up until the very last minute ourselves.

TDW: Wow. Well, switching gears slightly, you spoke about Dawson and the way he would communicate with Joey. Going off that, both Kevin Williamson and James Van Der Beek are on Twitter these days. I was wondering, had the service existed when the show was on the air, how do you think Dawson would’ve used it, if he would’ve used it? As I said, They’re both on it now, and Dawson was very much a storyteller.

Stupin: Well, I think Dawson might’ve used it to express his emotions. I think he might’ve used it as a shorthand way of communicating with both Joey and Pacey. It’s certainly easier to communicate things to someone by Twitter than it is necessarily in real life. He might’ve, at some point in our storytelling, he might’ve used it to express something that he might not have been so willing to express in person.

TDW: When you look back on the show and the television landscape then and now, what do you think the show’s legacy is?

Stupin: You know, I think for me it’s–well, first of all, I’m so proud of the show. I think the characters were amazing. I think their stories were amazing. I think the quality of the writing, the quality of the direction was–of course I’m biased but I think it was just top-flight. And I really do think it took the young adult teen genre and elevated it from just a niche kind of show to something universal and iconic. I think adults could look at it. When we were doing it we never looked at it as just a teen show.  We looked at it as just a smart, interesting, relationship show that happened to deal with teenagers and though our core audience was teenagers, it was written for everybody, for people in their 20s, their 30s, their 40s. And I really think it managed to transcend all of that and bring an element of quality and exploration to the genre that really took it to the next step.

TDW: Do you have a favorite episode or storyline?

Stupin: You know, I’m so biased. It’s like trying to pick if you have 120 kids which one’s your favorite. But I think for me there are certain sort of moments that I love. There’s certain episodes, like the pilot because it introduced us to that world, and I remember so much of it almost like it was yesterday. The first season-ender when Joey went to visit her dad in prison, I loved that. I loved the detention episode [Episode 1.07, Detention]. A lot of them are some of the original ones. But then I think I love the episode when they graduated high school [Episode 4.22, The Graduate]. I thought that was just sensational. I love the one-hour ender as well as the two-hour series finale ender. I think there’s so many. The episode where they studied and it was an all-nighter [Episode 2.07, The All-Nighter]. The episode where Joey had to enter the beauty pageant [Episode 1.12, Beauty Contest]. I just love all of those.

TDW: Well, conversely, do you have a big regret or something you wish you did differently?

Stupin: Yeah. My biggest regret would probably be, as I think about it–and it was a mistake we made–was the character of Eve. Remember that character?

TDW: Yeah. You guys even have a joke about that in the episode before the series finale.

Stupin: Yeah. I don’t think the first episodes of season 3 really were as memorable as the other episodes. And I think that whole notion of “Is she Jen’s sister? Is she not?”–I don’t think that was that effective. I don’t look back on that run of episodes as my favorites.

TDW: Yeah, I think the fans do agree with that.

Stupin: Yeah, but you know what, we turn it around.  In the middle of that season we turned it around with–

TDW: With Joey and Pacey.

Stupin: Yeah, with Joey and Pacey. And that certainly helped get us back, I think, to our roots.

TDW: Going more to your history, I know you played a bit of a role with the creation of Beverly Hills 90210.

Stupin: Yes, I did.

TDW: What influence, if any, did that show have on Dawson‘s Creek?  If you learned anything from how viewers took to what was really the first teenage show, as Dawson’s Creek is largely considered the next step in the genre.

Stupin: Well, two things. And it’s an interesting question. The first thing: when I hired Darren Star to write 90210, I felt as if his voice was just so unique in terms of his ability to write characters and come up with dialogue and wit that seemed like it would be a particularly good fit if he put into teenager characters’ mouths. So in a way I think that when I read Kevin’s voice, I felt some of it was the same in terms of being clever and sharp and smart and pop culturally-savvy. I felt like I had found another voice who was capable of taking the genre to the next step. So I felt like both Kevin and Darren brought originally a really unique sense of humor and sharpness to their creation of characters and dialogue. So I think there was a similarity there. The one issue that I took away from 90210, that was very effective in 90210, was the mix of issue-oriented episodes and personal inter-relationships. Though, when we jumped into Dawson’s, we veered away from doing the issue-oriented episodes and explored further just all of the great inter-relationships.

TDW: Going further ahead to the rest of the genre and the teen dramas that are on today, do you think Dawson’s Creek influenced them?

Stupin: I’m sure it did, though I can’t say–you know, again, I’m biased. I don’t know. In my mind, I’m undecided as to what the next real step in the genre is after Dawson’s. I’m not sure what it is. I haven’t watched enough of the shows. I hold, of course again I’m so biased, but I hold everything up to the prism of Dawson’s. I don’t know if any of them that have come since have quite represented that cultural milestone that Dawson’s did.

TDW: Do you think Dawson’s Creek would fly on The CW today? Because it’s so different than what The WB was.

Stupin: Yeah. I’m not sure. I’ve often thought would I be able to sell Dawson’s today? Would I be able to pitch that as a series and get it going, and I’m not altogether sure. Because now, when you look at Dawson’s, we sold it off the strength of the characters and off of the strength of Kevin’s voice being so fresh. Now, I think that the networks are looking for slightly higher concepts. So I’m not altogether sure that a Dawson’s would be able to sell today.

TDW: I have to ask, then, why do you think the 90210 spin-off sold?

Stupin: Oh, I see, are you talking about bringing able to bring it back, for instance?

TDW: Well, no, not for it to be a spin-off. But the 90210 concept today is working.

Stupin: Well, I think the 90210 concept–everyone, myself included, has fondness for that original show. The thought of sort of putting two new outsiders into that world and bringing the  show back is a great way to hook people into a whole new group of characters, and I think it was a great idea. The thing with Dawson’s is I don’t know if bringing the world of Dawson’s Creek back with a bunch of new characters would generate quite the excitement. Because I think when you think about the show, you think about Dawson and you think about the very unique 3 characters, the 4 characters we had, and the actors that played them. And I’m not sure if it was brought back again–I certainly wouldn’t want to redo it with a new Dawson or a new Pacey. So the question would be could we go back to Capeside with a whole new group of characters, and I’m not sure we would be able to put together a new group of people as memorably as we did originally.

TDW: Right. You know, they say lightening strikes once.

Stupin: Right. And you know, I’m afraid you always run the risk of–when you make a sequel to a movie that’s not as good, it kind of reflects negatively on the original movie.

TDW: I completely agree.

Stupin: And I like to think of all our episodes as being so special, I’m not sure it’s something you could bring back.

TDW: Well, my biggest disappointment right now is that Dawson’s Creek is no longer on any channel in America.

Stupin: Really? You know, they gotta get on that! Wasn’t it running like forever in the early morning hours?

TDW: It used to be on TBS. When I was in high school, it used to be on at like 10am. And then they pushed it to 4:30am, 5:30am and then it just faded away there and now it’s not on at all.

Stupin: I’m not sure what the design is on that because I always like to know that Dawson’s is out there.

TDW: I know, I know. It saddens me that it’s just not in repeats anywhere anymore in this country.

Stupin: You know what, those things tend to be cyclical. Maybe in the future you’ll be channel surfing one night. Knowing you, you’ll know way before then but maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

TDW: Fingers crossed.

Stupin: Exactly.

TDW: Well, let’s bring it back and finish on today. You’re with Make It Or Break It on ABC Family. Just looking at your career over the years, what is it about Make It or Break It that you’re here now?

Stupin: Well, what I love about Make It Or Break It is I’m a big fan of the genre, having originally developed 90210 and then developed Dawson’s. When I left to become a producer, I never really thought that my first real success would be in the same genre as 90210 because I actually never thought that lightning would strike twice in that genre for me as quickly as it did. But after I ran Dawson’s, you know, for six years, I developed a real love for the genre. And the thing that I love about Make It or Break It is the idea. It’s a fresh idea, it’s a fresh world. And it provides a pretty unique prism in which to explore sort of teenage relationships in a really unusual way. I mean, these girls aren’t normal teenagers. They’re elite gymnasts and there are rules against relationships as they’re pursuing their passion. How do they deal with that? And how do we deal with the same elements of teenage love and relationships and heartbreak but from a whole different perspective? And I love that about it, and I also love the relationships between the main characters and their parents and their parental figures. I think they’re a really organic element to the show and give us an opportunity to deal with really unusual family situations as well. So that’s why I love it. And also the gymnastics is just really cool. It’s a lot of fun just to see the gymnastics.

TDW: Oh, the gymnastics is just phenomenal to watch.

Stupin: So I think that Make It Or Break It is just such a special show. We’ve done 10 episodes and I think it’s just starting to get its sea legs. I think it has a huge successful life in front of it, I hope.

TDW: Well, best of luck to you on that!

Stupin: Thank you!

Come back next Sunday for another exclusive interview!

TDW Interview Index








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