With so many quality shows dropping like flies this season, one show that used to be great might get lost in the shuffle.

"Dawson's Creek" (7 p.m. Wednesdays on WB) calls it quits after six seasons with a two-hour finale May 14 written by series creator Kevin Williamson.

The sentiment surrounding "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which closes shop May 20, seems to be, "I thought it would never end." With "Creek," you're more likely to hear, "That show is still on the air?"

Well, yes, but it's only a pale shadow of its former self. Comparing the reruns (7 to 11 a.m. weekdays on TBS) from Williamson's two seasons with the current episodes is sobering. Still, those first two seasons stand as nostalgic documents of what it meant to come of age in 1998 and 1999 in tiny Capeside (which always seemed like it was in North Carolina, but is actually in Massachusetts).

"Creek" burst onto the scene in February 1998 with one of the most definitive opening scenes in TV history: 15-year-old best buds Dawson (James Van Der Beek) and Joey (Katie Holmes) sit on Dawson's bed, discussing the inevitable changes in their relationship. Dawson wants to hold onto his childhood, while Joey is insisting that they can't sleep in the same bed now that they are adolescents. It's both heartbreaking and thrilling, something that describes many of those early classic episodes.

"Dawson's Creek" Season 6

Airtime: 7 p.m. Wednesdays on WB

Series finale: May 14

Syndication: 7-11 a.m. weekdays on TBS

Grade (current season): B-

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And this doesn't get said enough: Van Der Beek is brilliant in the early seasons, perfectly capturing the innocence and naivet of a young film geek who has a plush "Jaws" on his bed and Spielberg posters plastering his walls. Holmes compliments the title character with her tomboy posture, belying the fact that every male viewer desperately wanted to date her. And Joshua Jackson is wonderful as Pacey, the sidekick with a loser complex.

All the actors are household names now (especially Holmes, who has taken small roles in several good films). But at first, the element that critics just couldn't stop talking about was the reflexive self-awareness, something that had become Williamson's forte after "Scream" (1996). The style was taken to extremes in "Creek's" first season finale, a nerve-racking hour that derives its suspense entirely from the wait to hear Dawson say the phrase, "I love you."

Back then, when Pacey encouraged Dawson to just express his feelings "so we can all go home," it was funny. Five years later, the truth of that statement is kind of sad. I stopped watching the show a couple years ago, but I've dipped into a few episodes this season. The show is tired and repetitive. The only good thing is that the writers are bringing everything full-circle by having Dawson, now in Hollywood, make a film about romance and coming of age in a small town.

Back in Season 2, Dawson attempted to define his relationship with Joey: "You know, we're Dawson and Joey. We'll always be Dawson and Joey, whatever that means."

Jen (Michelle Williams) responds: "How about Dawson and Jen?"

At the time, the shuffling of relationships was intense and plausible, and the fact that everyone saw themselves as characters in a drama was cute. But the who's-seeing-who circus became old fast. After Williamson departed at the end of Season 2, the writers churned out a decent Joey-Pacey romance in Season 3. But really, did that whole Dawson-Gretchen thing in Season 4 make the slightest impact on your memory?

"Creek" used to be the definitive show on a network known for its fresh faces -- Meredith Monroe as Andie, Kerr Smith as Jack, Monica Keena ("Undeclared") as Abby, Jason Behr ("Roswell") as Chris. Now the guest cast includes actors who just needed a job after their superior show was canceled: Busy Phillips from "Freaks and Geeks" plays Jen Version 2, a.k.a. Audrey; and Jensen Ackles reprises his role as Alec from "Dark Angel," only now they call him C.J. It's like the difference between seeing future stars come up through the minors and seeing hard-luck major leaguers sent back down to Triple A.

In 1998, "Creek" aired opposite Fox's dinosaur "Beverly Hills 90210." Joey's line, "I hear Luke Perry's back on '90210' tonight" was a not-so-subtle wink about "Creek" dethroning the old prime time soap god. Today, "Creek" is the dinosaur and the coolness points all belong to "Gilmore Girls."

But maybe Williamson can bring back a little of that magic when he jumps the plot ahead five years for a top-secret wedding in the finale. Considering he's done nothing since leaving "Creek" (congratulations to those of you who remember "Wasteland" and "Glory Days"), it's doubtful. He may have tapped out his idea tank with "Scream," "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" and two seasons of "Creek."

And how much suspense can there be? Williamson has gone on record that when all is said and done, Dawson and Joey will walk hand in hand into the sunset.

Of course, sometimes a viewer will accept long-delayed fulfillment over suspense. And then we can finally all go home, hopefully with a few more fond memories.