Whether laughing or crying, kissing or bickering, the youthful characters on the hit WB Network series "Dawson's Creek" can count on one stalwart companion by their side: pop music.
The circle of high school friends whose lives are chronicled on the Wednesday night show has been through many ordeals--an imprisoned father, a drowned friend, homecoming--and every emotional crescendo has been marked and magnified by a fitting background song.
That's hardly newsworthy for a drama that aims at a youth market. But the new wrinkle with the just-released "Songs From Dawson's Creek" soundtrack is that instead of collecting established hits, it largely features songs by unknown artists. Even more unusual, half the tracks have not yet appeared on the show.
That may seem an odd strategy considering that most TV soundtracks hang their hat on creating a musical souvenir for die-hard fans, but it seems to be working: "Songs From Dawson's Creek" debuted at No. 7 on the nation's album chart this week, one of the strongest first-week showings ever by a TV show soundtrack. (A review of the album is on F10.)
While the 14-track collection features the show's signature theme song, "I Don't Want to Wait" by Paula Cole, and the hit "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer, the majority of the disc is devoted to far lesser-known songs by artists such as Shooter, Sozzi, Nikki Hassman, Chantal Kreviazuk and Wood.
"It's a sampler going forward," said Glen Brunman, who worked on the project and is executive vice president of Sony Music Soundtrax. "There are some fresh musical faces. This was not so much about proven big names as it was about selecting songs that fit naturally into the show and will be meaningful to the audience."
The show's executive producer, Paul Stupin, said songs on the soundtrack will appear in the next five episodes of the show and next season, giving the album an air of immediacy with fans.
"We've gone to great lengths to differentiate from [soundtracks to] other shows in that we didn't want this to be a rehash, we wanted it to be vibrant and alive and touching on upcoming weeks," Stupin said.
One of the artists featured is Shooter, a young British rock group whose anthemic "Life's a Bitch" is on the soundtrack. The lead singer, Luciana Caporaso, said she has never seen the show, but she got a taste of its fan following during a recent mall appearance in Long Island, N.Y., when "hundreds of kids" lined up for the soundtrack and her autograph.
"It's the best show I've never seen," she quipped. "I think it's excellent. I love it to bits. It's my favorite show, I'd have to say."
The extensive use of new artists also heightens that sense of "cutting edge," Stupin said.
It also makes good business sense: With the exception of Cole, every artist featured is on Columbia Records or its sister Sony label, the Work Group. Not coincidentally, "Dawson's Creek" is a Columbia TriStar Television series.
When asked whether the music was selected with an eye toward promoting just Sony label artists, Stupin said the music was selected on its own merits and label affiliation was "the furthest thing from my mind."
The opportunity to launch a new artist by wedding a song to a high-profile scene in the show is an attractive proposition for the record labels. The show, in its second season, has an estimated 5.4 million viewers per week and is the highest-rated show on television among female teens, an especially loyal demographic when it comes to tie-in merchandising.
Insiders say the show's producers, meanwhile, have also managed to lower the cost of licensing fees for the songs by adding an advertisement at the end of each episode that flashes the soundtrack's cover.
But Stupin said the most meaningful aspect of the partnership with Columbia Records and Sony Soundtrax has been the opportunity for the makers of the show to sift through dozens of unreleased songs by new artists searching for "future hits" that add "a little bit of magic" to the drama's big, emotional moments.
And there are plenty of those moments. The show, created by Kevin Williamson ("Scream," "I Know What You Did Last Summer"), is a slick soap opera revolving around four precocious 16-year-olds growing up in a small Massachusetts coastal community. The stories dwell on issues of relationships, intimacy and general teen heartache, and some have drawn criticism for their mature situations.
Hit shows, especially those with young viewerships, seem to automatically spawn soundtracks these days, with albums on store shelves representing comedies ("Friends," "Ally McBeal"), soap operas ("Party of Five," "Melrose Place"), dramas ("The X-Files" ) and even animated shows ("The PJs," "The South Park Show" and several "The Simpsons" collections).
"Songs From Dawson's Creek" will soon be competing with the soundtrack from "Felicity," another WB Network show, which arrives from Hollywood Records into stores on Tuesday.
But ratings success on television doesn't translate to a sure bet at the record rack. The soundtrack to the youth-targeted "Party of Five" on Fox, for instance, has sold fewer than 90,000 copies since its release last year, which pales next to the 89,000 units sold by "Songs From Dawson's Creek" its first week.