“Will & Grace” — the sitcom that Vice President Joe Biden once said had done “more to educate the American public” on LGBT issues “than almost anything anybody has ever done” — will return during the 2017-18 season for a limited 10-episode run, NBC announced Wednesday.
The network added that original cast members Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally will also be back, while adding that original series creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan will return as showrunners and executive producers.
And as if to prove to skeptics and the reboot-weary among us that this will be the real deal as opposed to a wan shadow of the original, NBC added that James Burrows will also serve as executive producer. Burrows was director of the 1998 pilot.
Set in New York (although taped in Los Angeles) “Will & Grace” was about Will Truman (McCormack), a gay lawyer who lived with his best friend Grace Adler (Messing), who was straight, and an interior designer. Along with much else, the series was largely about their interplay along with that of friends Karen Walker (Mullally) and Jack McFarland (Hayes) — also gay, and an actor, as well as Will’s close friend from college days.
“This groundbreaking series for everything from gay rights to social and political commentary — all disguised as a high-speed train of witty pop culture — is coming back where it belongs,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt in a statement.
Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment, added a little background in her own statement:
“We started talking with Mutchnick and Kohan about producing new episodes right after they shot the secret reunion show back in September, and the fact that all four of the original stars were excited about getting back into production is a testament to the joyful experience they had doing nearly 200 episodes for eight seasons. Few things cut through the clutter these days, especially in comedy, and ‘Will & Grace’ is one of the best.”
In the spirit of let-bygones-be-bygones, neither Salke nor Greenblatt — nor Mutchnick and Kohan, for that matter — made reference to a bitter 2003 lawsuit filed by the showrunners against NBC during the sixth season, alleging that the network had essentially self-dealt the show to itself during syndication negotiations. The suit sparked an enormous amount of trade coverage at the time — and more coverage followed when NBC countersued. Kohan and Mutchnick essentially exited the series after that. The suit ended in 2007, when both won a nearly $50 million settlement.
Nevertheless, the NBC executives and Biden certainly weren’t wrong about that cultural and social influence. After Ellen DeGeneres broke TV’s gay barrier on “Ellen” — which aired on ABC from ’94 to ’98 and featured network TV’s first openly gay character — along came “Will & Grace” a short time later to effectively shatter the ceiling.
“W&G” was an Emmy and Golden Globe darling — some 83 prime-time Emmy nods, and an almost equal number of Globes. When it wrapped in ’06, about 18 million fans tuned in for the occasion.
This reboot — by the way — was expected. As Salke noted, the return rumors began last fall and NBC didn’t exactly deny them. A short-run reunion show was long-considered the most likely outcome.