Will & Grace is coming back to NBC this fall, and NBC sure hopes it’s so close to the original that you might forget it ever went away in the first place.
The upcoming revival — which premieres September 28 — came up several times throughout NBC’s day of panels at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, as thrilled executives salivated over the prospect of having it back on the network’s Thursday schedule. For some context on why, NBC executives Bob Greenblatt and Jennifer Salke acknowledged that NBC’s comedy record has been spotty as of late, with The Carmichael Show holding the title of the network’s longest-running sitcom at a whole three seasons (it was also abruptly canceled this summer).
So even though it’s been 11 years since Will & Grace ended, NBC is ready to revive one of its older reliable hits, preferably while making as few adjustments as possible to what they repeatedly called “lightning in a bottle.” The network is so determined to recapture this glory, in fact, that it has already renewed the Will & Grace revival for a second season, nearly two months before the first even debuts.
In other words: It’s safe to say that NBC is banking hard on Will & Grace succeeding. Here’s how the network is hoping to make that happen.
Will & Grace in 2017 will be as close as possible to Will & Grace as we knew it the first time around
NBC isn’t planning to make the new Will & Grace radically different from the original Will & Grace, which aired from 1998 to 2006. In fact, Greenblatt cited what they considered to be an overwhelmingly positive response to a brief clip the cast made before last November’s election — which basically treats the characters as if they’d been frozen in amber since 2006 and briefly emerged to offer their takes on Donald Trump — as the reason he wanted to give a full revival a real chance.
So don’t expect a gritty reboot starring Will Truman and Grace Adler as dystopian time detectives or whatever (as awesome as that screwball post-apocalyptic logline now sounds).
Instead, both NBC and Will & Grace creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan insisted that they’re happy to return to the show’s old rhythms and known strengths of its talented cast (who, in turn, had nothing but gushing praise for the writers who developed their beloved characters and the show that launched them into cultural touchstone status). The revival will even see Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace (Debra Messing) living together again — a confusing situation for anyone who watched the original series finale, which flashed forward and revealed that Will and Grace not only had their own families but hadn’t spoken in decades.
According to Kohan, they’re basically treating that finale — which they said they never would’ve written if they knew coming back was even a remote possibility — as if it never happened. That bleak future, he said, will be revealed as “more or less a fantasy,” or “a projection into the future.” Kohan and Mutchnick did acknowledge that Will and Grace — not to mention Megan Mullally’s Karen and Sean Hayes’s Jack — have “lived their own lives” in the 11 years since we last saw them, but that “circumstances” arise that necessitate they live together again. The initial episodes of the revival will “be about resetting the rules,” said Mutchnick, since the finale “talked about things that are not gonna be on the show.”
“We think we came up with the right way to do that,” Mutchnick continued, though “it’s not anything that’s going to surprise you.”
Will & Grace in 2017 knows that it’s living in a different world — kinda, sorta
While Will & Grace has been credited by some as broadening gay acceptance in America — once by former Vice President Joe Biden, no less — the fact remains that the show existed in a very different time. Some of its jokes, particularly those made at the expense of transgender people, really haven’t aged well, especially as discussions of sexuality and gender identity continue to gain nuance.
The Will & Grace panel didn’t quite discuss the show’s own outdated punchlines, but it did acknowledge that the world we’re living in now looks a whole lot different from the one in which the show was first produced. “We’re not writing the show like it’s 1996,” Mutchnick said, adding that they’ve added “fantastic young writing talent” to their writing room that wouldn’t have been around the first time.
“When we started, it was revolutionary to have two gay characters [at all],” said Messing, “so what we were able to address at the time was LGB ... my hope now is that we can finish the alphabet.”
But then Kohan immediately interjected with a grin to crack a “Will & Greg?” joke, suggesting that even if the show does decide to tackle trans issues, it may not be nearly as forward-thinking as its creative team might have you believe.
The creators also answered a question about whether or not the show will feature more non-white actors in guest roles than it did in the past, by saying the characters “will be involved in situations that will necessarily mean a more diverse cast” — a vague, eyebrow-raising response, given that the show has always been set in the wildly diverse city of New York.
Oh, and one more thing that will apparently keep Will & Grace relevant in 2017: Karen will remain a Trump supporter, as per the tossed-off joke in last year’s election clip in which she said she voted for her “old friend Donald.”
But while everyone on the Will & Grace panel insisted that the revival won’t ignore how much America’s political climate has changed since the show first aired, they’re not about to dive face first into confronting it, either. “I think our show is not a news show,” Hayes curtly said at one point. “I think our show is a situation comedy.”
“You can be in one minute and out the next,” shrugged Mutchnick, referring to the breakneck pace of the current news cycle. “We’re going to try and keep it topical, but it’s not easy these days.”
“We’re writing our characters,” Kohan emphasized. “You can’t write a sitcom about concepts or ideas ... [but] it reflects the culture.”
How much the new Will & Grace will reflect a culture that’s evolved 11 years beyond the show’s previous expiration date remains to be seen. But frankly, its cultural relevance may not matter, given that NBC is so invested in bringing it back from the dead that it’ll give the show two seasons before having any idea how a 2017 audience will respond to more than a single surprise clip of something they once loved.