Whether "Dawson's Creek" will be the break-out hit the WB is looking for remains to be seen. But one thing is certain - the show is going to stir up some controversy.

Created, written and produced by Kevin Williamson, the man behind "Scream" and its sequel, this is a promising new hourlong drama (which premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. on the WB/Ch. 30) is about a group of 15-year-olds navigating life in a small New England community.Dawson (James Van Der Beek) is a sensitive, nice kid who aspires to be the next Steven Spielberg. His best friend, Pacey (Joshua Jackson), is sort of a goofy, gangly jokester.

His other best friend Joey (Katie Holmes) is a girl who has had more than her share of family problems. And then there's the gorgeous new girl, Jen (Michelle Williams) with a bit of a mysterious past who moves in next door.

There's a lot to like about "Dawson's Creek" - particularly the characters themselves. They're far from perfect and not always wholly grounded in reality, but they're likable and interesting.

The characters are actually somewhat more likable than the show itself. There's a good deal to recommend it - it's smart, funny, interesting and engaging. After viewing three episodes, it looks like the best show about teenagers (at least non-vampire-slaying teens) on TV.

But the content sometimes veers in directions some viewers are going to have a hard time with. This is a bunch of teens who tend to talk about sex - and rather frankly for broadcast television.

The show's opening scene has already come in for a good deal of criticism. Dawson and his female best friend, Joey spend the night together in his bed - something they've been doing since they were small children. And word about that has, rather understandably, caused an uproar despite the fact that the two are not involved sexually.

"The idea of the show is that these are two friends," Williamson said. "These are two friends who have been buddies forever. And now what's happening is they're growing up in a society with people who would ask this question - who this would be a concern for."

He said the scene is used to illustrate that this perfectly innocent relationship is at risk because the pressure put on them by a society that finds it unacceptable.

"I wanted to create that sort of magical relationship that (is threatened), when society comes knocking at the door saying, `You guys are 15 now; your bodies are changing; your minds are changing; things are changing,' and maybe things can't be the same," said Williamson, calling this time in their lives "a fork in the road."

Indeed, Joey has fallen in love with Dawson - a fact that he's completely oblivious to.

Williamson insists that the relationship is based on his own relationship with a longtime friend named Fanny.

Van Der Beek, 20, vouches for the reality of what happens in "Dawson's Creek." "Dawson's really kind of me at 15," Van Der Beek said. "But, definitely. I think the situations are exactly what we were going through at those ages. The show's very honest and it doesn't shy away from the kinds of things that we dealt with. So I definitely relate."

Van Der Beek said his parents would "probably" have let him spend the night in bed with a platonic girl friend when he was 15.

Joshua Jackson was outspoken in his criticism of the criticism.

"Why is that such a big deal?" Jackson said. "It's totally nonsexual. I mean, if you had a guy friend sleep over, would it be a big deal?"

"Everybody's so upset that we're sleeping together," Van Der Beek said. "We're best friends."

"It's just like crashing at a buddy's house," Jackson said. "I don't know, maybe I'm being blind. . . . People crash at my house all the time and there's no sexuality between them. . . . It shocks me that this is such a big deal."

And, considering what happens to his character, that's completely understandable. Pacey plants a major league kiss on one of his teachers tonight, and beginning next week they enter into a sexual affair.

Pacey is 15; the teacher is 40ish. But, again, Williamson vouches for the authenticity of the situation.

"When I was in high school I can think of three situations in which teachers were having affairs with students and there were scandals," Williamson said.

That must have been some high school he attended.

The 15-year-old characters tell jokes about the male anatomy, discuss masturbation (albeit in a humorous way) and generally tend to speak and act somewhat beyond their ages.

And Williamson makes no apologies for that content. "We're dealing with 15-year-olds," Williamson said. "I mean, when I was a 15-year-old, that was the big issue . . . for me."

"I sort of see the show as being about sweaty palms and the first kiss and things like that," Williamson said. "And that is what I sit down to write when I write."

And he's not apologizing for creating characters who seem wiser and well-spoken beyond their years.

OF NOTE: "A Midwife's Tale," which chronicles the efforts of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Utah native Laurel Thatcher Ulrich to gather facts about early American life through the diaries of Maine resident Martha Ballard, airs tonight on "The American Experience," 8 p.m. on KUED Ch. 7.