Before there was Kurt and Blaine from Glee, Cam and Mitchell from Modern Family, or Kevin and Scotty from Brothers & Sisters, there was Jack and Ethan from Dawson’s Creek. Twenty years ago on May 24, 2000, the season three finale of the hit teen drama aired with a groundbreaking moment that would forever change on how gay relationships were portrayed on television.
When Dawson’s Creek creator, Kevin Williamson, created the character, Jack McPhee, it was always Williamson’s intention for Jack to come out as gay, however Williamson knew he had the tread carefully to do so. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in 2018, Williamson explained:
“Even before we brought Jack onto the show, it was always designed to have him come out of the closet and be gay. I didn’t share it with everyone because I was scared as a gay writer in Hollywood that that storyline would be rejected. I told Paul (Stupin, executive producer 1998-2003) and we strategized on how to get the network on board and what happens if they said no to it. I pitched it to Susanne Daniels (President of the WB Network) as this guy who comes between Joey and Dawson. We wanted to bring in all these tentacles to expand the show and complicate the relationships. Jack came onto the show with the sole purpose of coming between Dawson and Joey. I didn’t want the audience to hate Jack for being the disrupter, so it was a balancing act. I told Susanne that we wanted Jack to come out. She called me back the next day and said she thought it was going to be a special storyline. She had one request: not to ignore Joey’s point of view and her reaction to it.”
Kerr Smith joined the WB drama as Jack McPhee in season two and in the fifteenth episode, Jack came out as gay. A year later, the writers of Dawson’s Creek planned to make history. In episode ten of season three, Ethan (Adam Kaufman), a potential love interest for Jack, was introduced. At the beginning of season three, Greg Berlanti, best known for directing Love, Simon and executive producer for the CW’s Arrowverse shows, took over as Dawson’s Creek executive producer after Williamson stepped away at the end of the second season.
It wouldn’t be until the season finale of season three (Episode 23), “True Love,” that Jack and Ethan would share a romantic kiss. Gina Fattore, co-producer and writer of “True Love,” told Us Weekly how WB executives shared their concerns about the kiss being “too passionate.” However, Berlanti and Fattore were committed to having Jack kiss Ethan passionately.
Fattore, Smith, and Kaufman did an interview with Us Weekly on May 20 to talk about the historic episode. Fattore shared with Us Weekly her recollection of her conversation on the morning the kiss was to filmed:
“The main thing I remember is Greg calling me that morning and yelling at me like he was an old-time movie mogul: ‘This has to be a real kiss! I want to see passion.’ He couldn’t be on set that day, but the scene was so important to him, and I knew that I had to be his eyes and ears, and make sure the footage we got would work.”
The final result was the first passionate kiss between two men on American produced primetime network television. While Smith was reluctant about the kiss, he revealed to the magazine:
“Nobody had really done it before, and I was being asked to do this. I said, ‘All right, let’s make some history. Let’s change the way people think.’ … Look at any show today — comedy or drama — you’re going to have gay, lesbian and transgender characters. That’s the way it should be. That was the goal back then. In society, we’ve made that transition and I’m very proud we did that.”
Kaufman commented further, “[The scene] gave millions of people a story line that was reflective of their reality. I’m so honored to have been a part of that.”
In 2018, Smith and Michelle Williams talked with People Magazine about the impact the character, Jack McPhee had for LGBT youth.
On a completely different note, that same episode, “True Love,” gave us the famous facial expression from Dawson (James Van Der Week) that would forever be immortalized as a meme.
Did you watch this groundbreaking episode when it first aired? Let us know in the comments and on our social media your thoughts on the historic kiss between Jack and Ethan on Dawson’s Creek.