In January of 1998, a TV series that would become a national phenomenon burst onto the small screen and quickly stole teens' hearts. "Dawson's Creek" premiered on January 20th to mixed reviews, but it struck a chord with those in high school and young adults, earning it a spot as the most popular show in the WB network's 10-year history. It also catapulted Wilmington's film industry into the national spotlight and changed the way television executives planned scripted series, said Wilmington Regional Film Commission Director Johnny Griffin. "It created what's referred to in the industry as the 'Dawson's Creek' model," he said this week. "A show would choose a filming location, hire 98 percent of its crew locally and give a mostly unknown, young cast a one-time relocation fee to offset their move."
The strategy worked because of Wilmington's filming infrastructure, such as its soundstages and crews, Griffin said. Staff with the Wilmington and Beaches CVB have handed out 18,000 copies of a locations guide for the show since the guide's creation about 12 years ago, said bureau President and CEO Kim Hufham. "They just want to see the sights that were depicted in the show," she said. "People are drawn to that. And let's face it; the show has a following that's mostly teens and 20-somethings. They're more likely to track down the sights."
"One Tree Hill" began filming in the region just as "Dawson's Creek" wrapped in 2003. But while "OTH" fans are passionate and many, the visitors' center hasn't logged quite as many of its fans as its predecessor, Hufham said. On the creative side, the series provided a haven for filmmakers interested in gaining experience in the industry outside of Los Angeles. "I got a lot of experience on the show - the producers took a shot on me," said local production designer Alan Hook. "Being there through the entirety of the show was good. By the end, it ran like a well-oiled machine. I know people always say this, but it really was like a family." Hook started out as an art designer in the show's first season but was promoted by the end of the third.