Dear Sally, can you believe Felicity premiered 20 years ago?
Break out your tape recorder and a fresh new cassette because we're going back to 1998, the year that Felicity debuted on The WB. And it's fitting that the college drama created by J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves debuted at the beginning of fall,as it's a show that just evokes a warm and cozy feel. Can't you just picture Keri Russell, with that glorious head of warmly lit curls, walking through the streets of New York City, swimming in a baggy sweater as she endlessly debates between Ben Covington (Scott Speedman), the whisper-voiced boy she followed to NYC because of a sentence he wrote in her yearbook, and Noel Crane (Scott Foley), her sweet R.A. who helped her transition to life in college?
But Felicity offered so much more than one of TV's most compelling (and still hotly debated) love triangles during its four-year run from 1998-2002, including tackling sensitive subject matter that was ahead of its time, a shocking writer's room scandal that sparked an ageism debate in Hollywood, and two new TV icons in Keri Russell and Jennifer Garner. And, of course, it's fair share of off-camera romances, too.
In honor of Felicity's 20th anniversary, here are some behind-the-scenes secrets you might not know about the iconic WB drama...
Russell Was Almost Too Pretty to Get the Role: While it's hard to imagine anyone but Russell playing Felicity Porter, the then 21-year-old almost didn't get the part because Abrams told the L.A. Times she "was so pretty, I thought there was no way she could play the part. And then she started reading and was just funny as hell. And if you're funny, I don't care, you win."
And the role would go on to make Russell a household name, Golden Globe winner and a TV icon, but that sudden rise to fame wasn't easy for the private star. "I found it a struggle," Russell said of her Felicity fame in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Still, she looks back fondly on her time on Felicity, saying, "I loved that character and I still love it—it has such a sweetness to it and she was all truth, unabashedly."
Casting Switcheroos: Can you imagine Foley as Ben? No? Well, it almost happened as the Scandal star was originally cast as Felicity's longtime crush. But when they were unable to find someone to play Noel…we all know what happened.
"I think they liked this guy as Ben better," Foley said on the panel at the ATX Festival reunion, pointing to Speedman. "Nobody could have played Ben Covington better than Scott Speedman."
As for what would've happened if Foley did play Ben, he joked, "What a sh--ty show that would've been."
On-Set Romances: Despite the ongoing love triangle constantly shifting on the show, Ben fans could take comfort in knowing Russell and Speedman dated for years IRL, though Speedman has admitted he wasn't the best boyfriend at the time.
When the former couple appeared together on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2017, Speedman said he was a "disaster of a boyfriend" when he was younger, but refused to give any details. "This is not the time, Dr. Phil!" he told a curious Jimmy Kimmel.
Russell wasn't spilling either, generously saying, "A young twenties boyfriend is called a disaster of a boyfriend."
But he wasn't the only Scott to date one of his Felicity co-stars, as Foley met his future wife Jennifer Garner when she was cast to play his season one girlfriend, Hannah. ("Hannah?! Her name is Hannah?!")
The duo wed in October 2000 after meeting on-set, before divorcing in 2004.
"We didn't have a shot," Garner told Allure of their marriage ending. "He's a really good guy, and we just imploded."
Garner, of course, went onto marry her Daredevil co-star Ben Affleck, with the couple having three children together, before announcing their split in 2015.
Foley married Marika Dominczyk in 2007, and they have three children.
An Action Star Is Born: Though she didn't really have to do any stunts during her guest stint on Felicity, Garner left such an impression on Abrams that he had Garner in mind when he created Alias and its iconic lead character Sydney Bristow, a college student by day/spy by night.
"There was something about her that I just thought was really special," he told USA Today. "I always thought she had something in her personality that was funnier and sexier and smarter and more mischievous than anything I'd seen her do. And when I wrote Sydney, I wanted to show that."
Outside the Box Storytelling: Or should we say inside the box? Though it was a coming-of-age college drama, Abrams, who would go on to create Alias and Lost, and direct blockbusters like Star Trek and Star Wars, definitely got his sci-fi kicks in during Felicity's four-year run.
Of course, there was the actual mystery box that Felicity's roommate Meghan, a Wiccan naturally, had in season one. And then there was season two's trippy black and white episode that was an homage to The Twilight Zone. (The gang got stuck inside Meghan's mystery box.)
"People might just reject it, but the exciting thing is we're trying to do something different," Abrams said of the episode in 2000. "If it was the same show every week, it would become incredibly predictable."
And then there's the time-travel of it all, with the series deciding to go back in time in its final episodes to reveal what would've happened if Felicity chose to be with Noel instead of Ben.
"I thought it was a really fun thing because she was questioning if she made the right decision picking Ben — because Ben turned out to be kind of a turd — so she got to go back," Amanda Foreman said during the reunion panel. "I thought it was great, really clever."
Russell tried to explain what prompted the time travel element, saying it was "because the network canceled us, kind of, and then said, 'Just kidding, do a few more.' I remember J.J. and Matt saying the show is going to end and they can't tell us if it's this number or this number. Regardless if they give us the extra four episodes or not, she has to graduate. And then last minute they said, ‘Do a few more.'"
So the drama went full genre for five episodes. (And spoiler alert: She was meant to be with Ben all along!)
Ahead of Its Time: Before 13 Reasons Why used its own tapes to take the teen drama genre to another level, Felicity was tackling sensitive subject matter two decades earlier. Stalking, drug addiction, unplanned pregnancies and date-rape, with Felicity's friend Julie (Amy Jo Johnson) was raped by a guy she was casually dating in season one. Julie would deal with the trauma of the assault (including blaming herself, questioning whether or not to report him or if it was even rape because she didn't fight) in the following episodes, sparking conversation about rape culture on the show and in real-life. Remember, this was in 1998, so it's sobering to realize how groundbreaking this storyline was at the time and how relevant it still is still today.
But Reeves admitted in a recent interview he doesn't think Felicity would be successful or even make it on the air if it was pitched today. Why? Because it lived in the small details and didn't have a crazy hook.
"The thing that excited us the most was about doing the tiniest moments in these character's lives, and how those tiny moments could be huge. I think, even in the past, the tiny moments are huge, but there is also a huge stakes, and canvas behind that," he told IndieWire. "It's a lot of what genre does. I think that our aims are the same, but that show, at that time, I think it was a time where you could do a show where just having those little moments was enough. That was kind of that period."
Writer's Room Scandal: One of Felicity's biggest controversies actually happened behind-the-scenes, when a writer for the show, Riley Weston, was outed for lying about her age in 1999. Weston was hired under the assumption she had just graduated high school and was something of a TV prodigy, landing a staff gig on Felicity. But she was actually 32, her husband posed as her older brother, and her mother, who attended meetings with her, was also in on the lie.
After snagging a spot on Entertainment Weekly's 1998 list of "100 Most Creative People in Entertainment" and landing a lucrative deal with Disney, her lie was exposed when a producer did a background check after she guest-starred in a season one episode and they thought something was off after seeing the dailies.
"I could not be one age in the acting world and another in the writing world, so I chose to maintain the ruse…in a business fraught with age bias, I did what I felt I had to do to succeed," Weston (also not her real name BTW!) said in a statement, before going on to do interviews about ageism in Hollywood.
"I misled a lot of people and that was very wrong," Weston told EW in 1998. But she also seemed angry over the hypocrisy, saying, "It came down to working as an actor. Show me an actor who's never lied about age."
A Hair Scare: We already went in-depth into the infamous hair-cutting scandal that rocked the show (and nation) in season two, so here's the real story behind Felicity's hair cut that caused death threats and a ratings decline.
A New Style Icon: With her oversized sweaters, baggy jeans and cozy hats, Felicity became the thinking teen's fashion inspiration in the late '90s (and is still worthy of a place on your fall fashion Pinterest board). If Carrie Bradshaw was NYC's unattainable fasionista, Felicity Porter was the accessible one, complete with a leather backpack.
"Our audience of teen girls and women 18 to 34 don't just look at the hair, they look at the fashions," WB Entertainment president Susanne Daniels told reporters at the 2000 Winter TCA Press Tour . "Our heads of marketing told us that they read a quote from the clothing buyer of Target who said she looks at our shows and decides what to put in stores in terms of clothing. Professionals are looking at the styles of our actors, what they wear, where they live."
In an interview with the L.A. Times, the show's costume designer Linda Serijan-Fasmer spilled some secrets: While Russell wore an extra-small, they bought all of her clothes for the show in a medium. The color palette was kept restrained (think navy, rust, olive, burgundy, etc.). Nail polish was a big no-no. The inspiration for her look was Annie Hall, per Abrams' initial vision.
In fact, they were so dedicated to keeping Felicity "unsexy" that they "politely declined" Calvin Klein's invitation to pick clothes for Russell to wear on the show "because ours is the most un-Kleiny show imaginable," Serijan-Fasmer said in a 1999 interview, citing that Felicity would near have the budget to wear CK.
The Show's Legacy: Much like the warm and cozy sweaters Felicity wore, show felt like a comfortable blanket for fans, romanticizing those oh-so-awkward college experiences, giving them the warm glow of nostalgia that still resonates today.
"The beauty of the show is this romantic idea of this chance to change your life completely," Russell said at ATX. "Everyone can look back and say, 'I wish I would have taken that chance'—that was the sweetness, beauty, and truth of the show. That's what we got to live out on the show."