“Will and Grace” isn’t leaving our TV anytime soon. At the Paleyfest event on Saturday evening at the Dolby Theater, the “Will and Grace” cast and creators made two big announcements. First, the second season, due next year, would be eighteen episodes rather than thirteen. Second, and most important, NBC has approved the show for a third season as well.
The Dolby Theater erupted in applause at the promise of more of the “Will and Grace” revival. The panel, moderated by guest star Dan Bucatinsky, took place on the 20th anniversary of the filming of the pilot. The show, about a gay man and his straight female best friend who were roommates, premiered in 1998 to a much different culture. Bucatinksy was equally effusive about the show’s legacy.
“I feel like the ability for a show like this the first time around to portray gay characters like they did and the way it evolved over the eight seasons was amazing, said Bucatinsky. “[The show] was also groundbreaking. It taught America that they have an appetite for a lot more than they thought. It taught the networks they could push boundaries in ways they never could before.”
This presents challenges for a revival that takes place over eleven years after the finale. Much has changed not only in the world, but specifically with gay rights and the gay community. With marriage equality and transgender rights gaining more visibility, the stage is much different than when “Will and Grace” premiered in 1998.
“[Now], all these years later, [the show has] to go further. And [Will and Grace does]. They go further to create conversations around politics, around sex, around visibility,” says Bucatinsky. “Now we are dealing with an expectation that gay guys should be married. We look at Will now and think ‘when’s he gonna settle down and have kids.’ I don’t think we were asking that in seasons one through three.”
Star Eric McCormack plays Will, a gay lawyer who, in the revival, quits his dream job in order to enter into business with his best friend, Grace. McCormack agrees with Bucatinsky’s sentiments around his character’s inability to settle down.
“People always say, ‘When is Will going to settle down,’ and if Will settles down, I don’t know how much fun that is. The fun for us is that we keep trying, fail and find each other,” says McCormack. “Maybe in season fifteen the show will morph. For right now, I love that the key to Will is that he tries and is not afraid to fail because he always has [Grace].”
While Will’s misadventures in love remain in tact, other elements in the show needed to be changed. The series finale involves Will and Grace going their separate ways and raising families. Years later, they are reunited when their kids go off to the same college. With the reboot, deciding whether or not to keep the kids was a big discussion point.
“The first thing we said to each other was, ‘You know, they had kids at the end of the series.’ So if Will and Grace are parents, then they’re parents. And if the kids aren’t really around, then they’re bad parents,” said co-creator David Kohan. “Do we really want to see that? Or do we want to see what the strength of the show always was, which is the four of them. If that is the case, how do we dispose of the children?”
In writing off the children, the show continues to explore other real world issues through the guise of these four character’s interactions. One standout episode of the reboot, entitled “Grandpa Jack,” involves flamboyant (aspiring) actor Jack rescuing his grandson from a gay conversion camp. Actor Sean Hayes, who plays Jack, finds that episode to be a highlight from the revival.
“I love the “Grandpa Jack” episode just because of what it said and how it was written and delivered,” says Hayes. “I think it was an important story to be told because gay conversion therapy still happens in this country. Granted in small pockets, but it’s still a real thing and something [Vice President] Mike Pence has endorsed. So I think it’s important that people who have seen that episode learn how tragic and a real problem it is.”
Aside from writing off the kids, the writers also had to write off famous guest stars that passed on. One of the most notable guest stars was legendary actress Debbie Reynolds, who played Bobbie Adler, Grace’s eccentric mother. Actress Debra Messing, who plays the neurotic interior designer, Grace, remembers her on-screen mother very fondly.
“Working with Debbie was indescribable. She would come on stage and was a broad, in the greatest sense. She always was entertaining, singing and dancing, and then she was running off and doing her one woman show 300 days a year. It was just crazy,” Messing said. “[Debbie] and I would sit together and talk about being mothers, because I was a new mother. She would talk about Carrie and we talked about the challenges of being a working Mom. [Debbie] really became someone very special in my heart and I really wanted us to honor her. She meant so much to the show. I really think the episode they wrote honors her.”
The rest of the cast and crew had other favorite moments from the season. Another popular one was the midseason finale, “Rosario’s Quincenera,” which revolves around a central supporting character, Rosario, Karen’s maid. Megan Mullaly, who plays the vain, rich socialite, Karen, was particularly amazed by the episode.
“In this reboot, I was sort of blown away by that script for ‘Rosario’s Quincenera, not only because it was an incredible script all the way around for everybody, but because we were sending off this beloved character, Rosario, played by a beloved actress Shelley Morrison, who had chosen to retire,” said Mullaly. “I couldn’t believe when I read the script. I thought it was so appropriately calibrated in every way.”
Legendary director James Burrows agreed with this assertion.
“’Rosario’s Quincenera’ was a very moving show,” said Burrows. “Usually on “Will and Grace” you don’t say an episode was moving, but that was a very moving show.”
Burrows’ career reads like a greatest hits of TV for the past four decades. In addition to “Will and Grace,” Burrows worked on shows like “Cheers,” “Frasier” and “Taxi.” Burrows was on the ground floor of “Will and Grace,” directing every episode, including the pilot. While he believed the show was strong, Burrows acknowledges the show was not going to be an easy hit.
“It all starts with the script and this was a wonderful script the boys wrote. After that, it’s all luck because you got to get four actors like this which is fortuitous that they were available,” said Burrows. “Then you have to be in the right time slot on a network that will nurture your show. Especially this show, which had issues with a lot of the country. A lot of the country would not watch this show based on the characters. So there were all these things you have to accomplish to have a hit.”
It’s safe to say “Will and Grace” continues to be a hit. The show has picked up one Best Comedy Series Emmy from its original run. In addition, it is one of three shows to have every principal cast member win an acting Emmy – the other two are “The Golden Girls” and “All in the Family.” Time will tell if this new season winds up in the Emmy conversation this year. However, we already know the show will go on, at least for two more seasons.