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One of the most important storylines covered by Dawson’s Creek was the season 2 decision to have Jack (Kerr Smith) reveal he was gay. Aside from Rickie on 1994’s My So-Called Life, there hadn’t been an out gay teen on a major network series before.
“Every single character has a trait of me in them,” explains creator Kevin Williamson. “They represent who I am. I had just, in my 20s, gone through the coming-out process and had told my parents I was gay. I had taken that whole journey, and I wanted a character on the show to represent that journey and to represent that side of me. When I created the show, I knew that’s what I wanted, but I was scared to tell people. I was still in the closet a bit. Even though I was an out man, I was scared to say, ‘This is the character I want to write. This is how I want to express myself.’ So I created the character and didn’t tell anyone he was going to come out of the closet.”
Williamson co-wrote the two-part episode with producer Greg Berlanti (Love, Simon), who helped come up with the idea of Jack being outed in English class. Says Berlanti, “A friend of mine had a story that I brought in that he got outed accidentally because he wrote a love poem that it was so clear to everyone else that it was about a guy.”
When Jack is forced to read his poem by his teacher, it’s Pacey (Joshua Jackson) who ultimately stands up for his friend and to the malicious teacher. “We wanted Pacey and Jack to kind of go on parallel journeys. The spitting in the teacher’s face was the thing that I kind of offered and everyone said, ‘No you can’t do that! It will kill the character.’ Kevin got behind it and said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s go for it.’ That was a highlight—those two episodes.”
But Williamson had to also break the news to Smith. “I was actually hired to create a love triangle between [Dawson and Joey],” remembers the actor. “So I was playing Joey’s boyfriend in the beginning, and then I remember about three, four months into it, Kevin calls me up and he goes, ‘Let’s go get some coffee.’ And I could feel it coming. I don’t know why. I just could. Because I knew that everybody, all the characters were a segment of Kevin’s personality, but nobody was representing his sexuality at that point. So he takes me to coffee. He goes, ‘Listen. We want to go down a different avenue with Jack.’ I go, ‘Oh, God. Alright. Let me call everybody I know and I’ll get back to you at the end of the day because I gotta make a decision here.’ Obviously, you know the decision. I’m glad I made it.”
Adds Williamson, “At my age now and being so much older and having so much distance from it, I still look back at it and go, those two episodes are two of my favorites episodes that I’ve ever written of anything I’ve ever done in my life, beyond the pilot and the finale.”