Watching these shows again reminded me of the way that the WB was identified not only with particular programming, but also with a signature style of quirky, soapy teen dramas that also included Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, Smallville and 7th Heaven (all moving to the CW), as well as now-defunct series Popular, Roswell, Charmed and Everwood. Not all were about teens but all did appeal to roughly the same viewers, a strategy generally eschewed by broadcast networks looking to bring in as wide an audience as possible.
The WB eventually tried this, too, and that was likely one of the factors in its declining fortunes and ultimate demise. During Sunday's marathon, the network resurrected old promos along with old shows, showing the stars of Smallville interacting with former network mascot Michigan J. Frog, and Scott Foley (Felicity) and James Van Der Beek (Dawson's Creek) arguing over who's hotter, Felicity's Keri Russell or Creek's Katie Holmes (among others).
I probably would have said Katie Holmes back then, but watching Russell in a contemporary lip-gloss commercial and comparing that to the sad tabloid circus of Katie Holmes' life these days, there's clearly no contest. And even though Holmes is sweet and rather effective in the Creek pilot, she's got nothing on Russell's phenomenal performance in the first episode of Felicity (which, thanks to DVD, I've seen at least three or four times). Or, for that matter, on Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy, just as confused and scared about growing up as Felicity, but masking it better thanks to Joss Whedon's whip-smart quips and the helpfully distracting vampires she has to fight in between worrying about whether she'll fit in at school. If Felicity was the embodiment of my teen angst, then Buffy was the equally important embodiment of the sarcastic attitude that often covered it.
These shows, and this network, will always be a time capsule for me, but their value is more than just nostalgic. In their best moments (and these four pilots indeed represented some of the network's best moments), WB shows brought a sophistication and depth to shows for teens that fare like Beverly Hills 90210 never approached. Felicity remains one of the most affecting and well-written shows I've ever seen, and that connection I had back in college to Felicity Porter (who wrote her own name on the inside of her closet before graduating from the University of New York) won't ever go away, even as the network on which she first appeared fades into history.