The world has changed a great deal in the nearly 20 years since “Will & Grace” first premiered. The show, revolutionary for his portrayal of gay characters in 1998, returns this fall with the understanding that there are still more barriers to break.
“When we started it was revolutionary to have two gay characters,” said star Debra Messing. “We were ‘LGB,’ but we stopped at B. My hope is we can now finish the alphabet.”
That means opportunities to tackle stories in the headlines, including a growing understanding in the public of transgender issues (and on the flip side, President Trump’s recent decree to ban transgender soldiers from serving in the military).
“Will & Grace” will now have even more time to touch on such subjects: NBC just renewed the revival for a second season, plus added four more episodes to this year’s run (for a total of 16).
Creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick said “Will & Grace” will include topical humor, much in the vein of the show’s original run, but Mutchnick added that “it’s still going to be about making the funniest shows we can.”
Added Mutchnick: “We’re not going to be running the show as if it’s 1997. The show will be as if these four are living in 2017. We will make [topical] references and we have fantastic young talent in that writers’ room keeping us on our toes.”
Star Sean Hayes, who plays Jack, agreed that the “show always been relevant and under the umbrella of relevancy is everything,” while Messing said she thought it was important that the revival still be “quintessential ‘Will & Grace.'”
“We want to make people laugh out loud and maybe pee a little bit on the couch” in addition to shining a light on topical stories, she said.
What Kohan said he didn’t want to do was turn “Will & Grace” into a show that focused too much on issues.
“You can’t write a sitcom about concepts or ideas,” he said. “To try to tackle those things head on wont do justice to the characters.” But there will be conflict between the characters based on political conflicts — and the fact that one of them is a Trump supporter.
Besides, the headlines change so much these days that “it’s not easy” to keep it topical, Mutchnick said.
Hayes addressed being “more self-aware” in 2017, and addressed the fact that he hadn’t come out as gay during the show’s original run. “I wasn’t ready to come out then. I didn’t have the DNA to speak for an entire community. Now I find words come easier.”
Mullally noted that Hayes took a lot of heat at the time. “He was under a great amount of pressure to come out,” she said. “I was offended by that. It’s nobody’s businesses.”
As for continuity issues, Kohan and Mutchnick said the new “Will & Grace” will ignore the story twists found in the show’s finale, when Will and Grace’s futures were addressed — and it was revealed neither spoke to each other for years. All of that has been thrown out. One reveal: While Will and Grace will move back into the apartment together, they weren’t living together during the timeframe that the show was off the air.
“We would have never gone in that direction if we weren’t ending the show,” Mutchnick said. “You have to take a hard look at what worked creatively.”
Added Kohan: “Our job starting the show out was reestablishing and resetting the rules. We spent the most time in story camp, [deciding] what would be the best way to tell the audience where they are at and what they’re up to at this time. We want to hold off on telling you exactly what that is, but it’s not anything that’s going to surprise you.”