Although some may have a sense of sadness over the fact that Will & Grace is airing its final episode, in truth there’s little to be depressed about. Just consider that the show ended its original run after eight seasons in 2006, but roared triumphantly back to life 11 years later with its creators not missing a beat and giving us three more seasons worth of episodes. That kind of successful rebirth is a television rarity and a tribute to its quartet of lead actors, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes.
For Eric, who plays Will Truman to Debra’s Grace Adler, the opportunity certainly was an unexpected one. In a 2017 conversation with the Press and Sun-Bulletin, he reflected of the revival: “This feels like coming back to your parents’ home and your bedroom is unchanged, you’ve still got your Queen posters on the wall, your stereo still works and you’re allowed to be 16 again. When I’m standing in that kitchen, I feel like Jean Luc Picard in his chair on the Enterprise.”
What’s perhaps most amazing is that as initially conceived by series creators Dave Kohan and Max Mutchnick, the odds are pretty strong that the original idea that became Will & Grace would not have impacted the same way and there would not have been a run eight seasons, let alone be continued years later.
“The show as we know it went through many development growing pains like so many shows,” explains Jim Colucci, author of Will & Grace: Fabulously Uncensored and Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai, in an exclusive interview. “In the beginning, it was pitched as a show that had many characters and Will and Grace were kind of the second bananas to a straight couple. It’s ironic, but they were kind of the Jack and Karen of somebody else’s show. And NBC, to their credit, took the pitch and said, ‘We like these two characters. Do something more about them and forget about the other stuff.’ So that focused them on Will and Grace. I think for Max and David — Max being gay and David being straight — they felt the pressure to succeed with a sitcom featuring a gay character where Ellen DeGeneres had … I use the word ‘failed,’ but I don’t think she failed. I think she did a great thing and that show was a landmark.”
The show he’s referring to is the actress’ 1994 to 1998 TV series that saw her sitcom character, bookstore owner Ellen Morgan, come out as gay in a 1997 episode aired not long after she came out in real life. Unfortunately, the show came to an end at the conclusion of the following season. “In terms of it ending when it did, it was viewed as, ‘Oh, that killed the show,’” says Jim. “In context of the development season of the late nineties, Ellen became the cautionary tale about putting together a show with gay characters. Max and David had to find their path to create them and originally they did it with other characters than Will, Grace, Jack and Karen. There was a law partner for Will, who was even cast — actor Cress Williams, who’s currently on Black Lightning. There was also a character who owned a baseball team like Marge Schott. Basically it still hadn’t been refined to what we know now.
“And in the beginning, there was no Jack character,” he points out. “When you’re depicting a minority character for the first time on television, you feel the responsibility and you initially, in your writing, try to be all things to all people. So the original Will character was kind of all over the place. One moment he was responsible and the next he was flighty. He was kind of Will and Jack melded together and they realized they needed to separate these two men. The changes went on from there, and then the casting began, with Eric McCormack chosen for Will.”
For much more on Eric McCormack, please scroll down.
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