BEVERLY HILLS , CALIF. — “Will & Grace” ended eleven years ago and that particular ending appeared set in stone. At the time, showrunners David Kohan and Max Mutchnick were locked in a bitter legal battle with NBC over show residuals although they did return to wrap the series — a bittersweet one that split up old pals Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace (Debra Messing) who went off to raise families of their own.
Fast Forward to the Television Critics Association summer press tour panel Thursday: NBC announced that it had ordered an additional four episodes of the new reboot, returning Sept. 28 (for a total of sixteen), and a second season to follow this one. Bygones are indeed bygones, at least in this instance. “W&G” is about to become the most important new sitcom on NBC’s fall lineup, but the question here appears not to be about the future, but that fraught past.
Asked if it took ten years to “expunge” the bitterness over that long-fought lawsuit (which was settled in 2007), Mutchnick told the TV press, “Bob Greenblatt’s NBC is very different from Jeff Zucker’s NBC,” he said, referring to the current chief of NBC Entertainment and the one who ran the division back then. “We’re very happy to be part of Bob Greenblatt’s NBC. We can’t say enough about what a tremendous advocate he’s been for us and the show.”
Then there’s the matter of that May 6, 2006 finale. In the hour wrap, both went off with their respective partners and never looked back. What to do about that?
Both showrunners said they landed on the easiest solution: The new season will proceed as if nothing ever happened. When the new season starts, Will and Grace remain together, remain roomies, and remain besties with Karen Walker (Megan Mullally) and Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes). The bitterness from that long-ago lawsuit has been expunged, and so has that series finale.
“One of the things we thought about when bringing this back,” said Kohan, “was that we missed the dynamic between the four of them more than the possibility of seeing what their lives would be like as parents.”
An instance of an entire series preserved in amber, so to speak? Yes, so to speak: “We spent most of our time thinking about what will be the best way to tell the audience where they are at [in their lives] and what they are up to,” said Mutchnick. “We think we came up with the right way to do that.”
While “W&G” will be déjà-vu-all-over-again, both cast and showrunners promised an updated, contemporary version, or as Messing explained, “when we started it was revolutionary and what we were able to address at the time were LGB [lesbian, gay, bisexual] issues. My hope now is that we can finish the rest of the alphabet.”
Mutchnick said, “We’ve grown up in the world like the rest of you have and we won’t be writing the show like it’s 1996 or ’97, but writing these characters like they live in 2017.”
Meanwhile, “W&G” was never just about just these four cast members but a constellation of characters, including some memorable ones played by Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin, Minnie Driver, Lesley Ann Warren, Sydney Pollack (who died in 2008) and Debbie Reynolds (who died in December). Will some of them be making a curtain call on the reboot?
Said Mutchnick, “we will get to everything in the fullness of time.”