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Netflix's 'Dawson's Creek' Theme Song Closes Tortured Saga

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On May 20, Netflix started streaming all six seasons of the WB's "Dawson's Creek" for the first time. It was like the '90s all over again! But with one big difference: The old theme song, Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait," had been replaced by Jann Arden's "Run Like Mad."

Hell hath no fury like a nostalgic fanboy scorned -- and fans quickly took to message boards and social media to say how scorned the theme song swap made them feel. After all, "I Don't Want to Wait" was such an intrinsic part of the show's identity that star James Van Der Beek recently admitted that he "hides" whenever he hears it.

But it turns out that a shift away from "I Don't Want to Wait" can be traced to a time far earlier than May 20 -- all the way back to the spring of 1997, when the show's pilot was being filmed in Wilmington, N.C.

"Dawson's Creek" executive producer Paul Stupin explains that he and cocreator Kevin Williamson initially planned to use Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket" as the theme song. They had it in mind when they took the cast to the beach to film a goofy title sequence on an old Bolex video camera -- and when they showed the network the first few episodes and that summer as they filmed the first season in North Carolina.

"That Alanis Morissette song was so ingrained in all of our heads that the thought of putting in another piece of music was just inconceivable," he told The Huffington Post.

But the producers never acquired rights to the song. And at the end of the summer, the WB television network told them it would be too expensive to do so. The team went back to the drawing board. The producers considered existing songs and even commissioned original songs from a several artists, including Canadian folk artist Jann Arden.

Arden was touring when she received Stupin's request. Once she returned to Calgary, she watched the episodes he had sent her for inspiration and met with her friend Bob Foster, who played piano for her demos, to put something together.

"Bob and I were in his basement, in his house," Arden recalled. "He had little kids at the time, and I remember trying to record without having a kid screaming being hard."

Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, Arden and Foster finished writing and recording "Run Like Mad" in less than 45 minutes. They sent the demo tape to Stupin, who paid them, as Arden recalls, "a few thousand dollars" for exclusive rights to the song in perpetuity.

Stupin says he liked "Run Like Mad" so much that he decided to use it as the show's theme song.

Arden said she thought that the original demo version she sent was the recording used. But "Dawson's Creek" music supervisor John McCullough said he flew to Calgary to record it properly -- er, in Foster's basement.

But right before the show premiered, the WB released a series of promos tied to pop songs. One featured Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait." WB executives asked Stupin and Williamson if they had considered that piece for the theme song.

"Honestly we hadn't," Stupin said. "Now it seems so iconic. But at the time, it was really just another option worth exploring. But when we looked at it and really assessed it, we thought, This could be great. So the network ended up making a deal with Paula Cole."

For years, that was the end of the story. Cole's song played over the credits for all six seasons of the WB show's airings in North America, although "Run Like Mad" was used in many international markets.

DIGITAL DILEMMAS

But Stupin and his co-producers failed to anticipate the advent of another audience for the series -- the viewers of DVDs.

Though the best practice for studios was to secure rights to a song across all media in perpetuity, many companies were willing to settle for just the rights in perpetuity for "on air" performance, especially for a popular hit like "I Don't Want to Wait." That covered the initial showing and syndication, then the only other significant revenue stream for a TV show. It didn't cover things home video, much less online streaming.

For that reason, many show producers have faced hard choices in the digital era. "Charmed" and "The Andy Griffith Show" both lost their original theme song for some seasons of their DVD versions. "Daria" executive producer Glenn Eichler told The Huffington Post that the creation of DVDs for his show was held up for a decade because of disputes over music licensing. And when the DVDs were released, it was without most of the original songs.

When Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first two seasons of "Dawson's Creek" on DVD in 2003, it paid Paula Cole's fee to use "I Don't Want to Wait." But Stupin said that Sony wasn't blown away by the sales from those first two seasons, so it cut the DVD budget for the other four seasons -- and securing additional licenses for recorded music was among the first things to go

"I ended up swapping out a good chunk of unclearable music for the later DVD releases," Stupin said. "And then there came to be a point, where the studio said, 'Listen, we can’t afford the Paula Cole song.' That's when Jann Arden was put back in."

Stupin said he never knew the specifics about the show's rights to Paula Cole's song. McCullough said Sony, the studio that produced the show, had handled the licensing.

For their part, Sony representatives said that they couldn't identify the people who worked on the deal. But it's clear that Sony did not initially secure the rights to "I Don't Want to Wait" for the home entertainment market; doing so would have required paying Cole an additional fee.

Jennifer Yeko, who deals with music rights at her company True Talent Management, said this was a common practice in the 1980s and '90s. "Most shows didn't ask for 'all media rights in perpetuity' like they do now; they didn't anticipate the Internet or streaming rights either," she explained.

Arden, who recalls first hearing "Run Like Mad" on air while touring in London, said she still receives adoring letters from "Dawson's Creek" fans overseas. She didn't get any royalties when "Run Like Mad" was added to the DVDs or Netflix versions, but she did get more letters -- and many of them stress one theme.

"I’ve been inundated by thousands of people asking where they can find the full version of the song," Arden said. "And I have to explain to them, 'That is the full version.' I was so naive that I only wrote 32 seconds of song."

Arden said that she is not upset that she wasn't paid for the DVD and streaming rights; dozen of her songs were used on the show, which has provided a steady stream of royalties over the years and also helped promote her work. But she knows that, thanks to Netflix and DVDs, "Run Like Mad" could well prove her most enduring piece of music.

One might think that, for that reason, she would sing it whenever she plays a concert. But she doesn't even know the words.

"I couldn’t sing it to you with a gun to my head," she said.

So those who have been watching "Dawson's Creek" on Netflix probably know "Run Like Mad" better than Arden.

Indeed, anyone seeing the series for the first time on Netflix might not realize there ever was another theme song. But that doesn't mean a new fan must remain ignorant forever. In 2003, Sony released the two-part series finale on a special DVD and sprung for the rights to "I Don't Want to Wait" for those two episodes across all media.

That means that the theme song for the finale will always be "I Don't Want to Wait" -- even on Netflix.

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