w&g the dog

Eric McCormack: My Dry Lawyer Character Helped More Teens Come Out Than Queer As Folk

Will had as much sex on camera as anybody on Friends had on camera. It’s a sitcom. Nobody has sex on camera. Will had lots of dates. Will was dating Patrick Dempsey and he married Taye Diggs. … I think that a lot of the rhetoric in the kind of anti-Will & Grace press was misguided and was from people that had stopped watching the show about three years earlier. A lot happened to Will with regards to romance, with regards to relationships and, like I said, he walked down the aisle in his own apartment with Taye. I think the show actually ended up being — as much as it got very outrageous near the end, it also got more outspoken. And I think that we weren’t necessarily a show for the gay community alone; we were for America to maybe start making some inroads. So, while Queer As Folk or something might have been a more true representation of how the gay community, particularly in cities, lives, I don’t think you could find as many young gay people that would say, “Because my parents watched Queer As Folk, I was able to come out to them.” What they do say is, “Because my mom loved Will Truman or thought Jack was funny, I was able to tell them when I was 15 or 17 that I was gay,” and the show broke ground in that way.

—Eric McCormack shooting down the argument Will & Grace‘s gays weren’t progressive enough [via Wockner]

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  • Jason

    I agree with him, Will & Grace was much more mainstream than Queer as Folk. It was a show that was on network TV, so it reached more homes, especially those in middle America. I think it also showed a good balance, Will didn’t always fit the stereotype of what some people view a gay man should be, yes he did have his stereotypes, but it was a comedy show. Will & Grace was groundbreaking and there has yet to be another show that revolves around gays the way it did.

  • Bareback Cuntessa

    I’ll give McCormack this one.

    I could never get into QaF for a couple of reasons:

    — Its setting in Pittsburgh was about as realistic vis-à-vis the actual city (now “town”) of Pittsburgh as the merry old land of Oz is to Leavenworth, Kansas; and

    — The self-destructive, narcissistic behavior of the main characters presented a negative stereotype of gay men that I thought we’d left behind by now.

    I *know* we have lots of people meeting that stereotype– but they’re not ALL of us.

    The W&G characters could be a bit broadly-drawn and stereotypical too, but there was always an undercurrent of their caring for each other and NOT self-destructing in as glittery a fashion as possible. And c’mon, there was pitch-perfect comic chemistry in that cast. They did make Teh Gayz seem non-threatening and normal.

  • Ggeekboy

    I totally agree. I think Queer as Folk made me take a bit longer to come to terms with my sexuality than help it. I would rent the DVDs when I was 15/16 to just get some kind of exposure to anything gay. What I saw wasn’t something I could relate to or necessarily wanted in my life. It was so far from who I am I was afraid thats what it meant to be gay. The show was drama and was entertaining but it didn’t represent a way of life for a majority of gay men and women.

  • Ethan

    I agree with Eric 100%. This show was the Jefferson’s for us gay folk, it brought us out of the closet and in to the mainstream… Queer as Folk was nothing more than a debauched dream of some tired old chicken hawks…

  • dvlaries

    Queer As Folk had promise in the first season, when it was mostly duplicating -and Americanizing- the British original. But when that founding inspiration was exhausted and Cowlip had to come up with original ideas, the stories got preposterous and maddening.

  • DR

    I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest W&G fan out there. I do agree, however, that if we’re choosing between W&G, which was pretty safe (in a good sitcom way) or QAF, which was clearly designed for gay folk, then yes, W&G definitely had a bigger impact on straight folks because it was accessible, sane, and, like Ellen, presented the issue in a non-threatening manner.

  • rf

    The criticism of W&G wasn’t the lack of sex, it was the unrealistic portrayal of his romantic relationships. I distinctly remember the Friends kissing their love interests. A LOT. and holding hands and hugging. and being in bed together, sometimes with that monkey. things that rarely if ever happened with Will and his boyfriends. they’d hug or just wave goodbye even in his apartment–what gay couple would do that? everytime? its the same argument they bring up with modern family–the gay couple hugged while the straight couple kissed. forget plotlines and character development, we all know its because gays are still icky even if a little more acceptable. but his larger point that will and grace was a mainstream show in the 90s which was the 50s for gays in terms of acceptance and rights (we’re still at about 1958) is well taken. and it prob did expose a lot of people to something more or less like real gayness for the first time.

  • axos

    I suppose he is right, but the British version of QAF was a small masterpiece, well cast and well directed. I doubt that version really scared anyone away – I still remember the 15 year old boy in school the day after his first real sex experience, how he literally floated down the corridor with a big smirk on his face, bursting with pride. But of course, WOG was more mainstream and easier to get into for people not used to socialize with gay people.

  • Brutus

    Totally agree with Mr. McCormack here.

    Though I’d suggest to the other commenters here that QAF is worth a rewatch. I felt the same way about it years ago, when it was still new — that it was trashy and full of negative stereotypes about the gay community, etc. I stopped watching around the beginning of the third season. But last year, I picked it up again from the end of the second season, and watched through the finale. It’s actually a masterpiece. The writing is crisp, the acting above par, and the subject matter touches on so many issues of personal importance to the gay community, in a real and emotional way with characters that are not as two-dimensional as they seem at first. Yes, the show displays the seedy and sleazy side of the gay community. But it’s not promoting it; it’s simply presenting it, and we all know it’s there. QAF also goes into family and relationship issues, trust, friendships, HIV, militant queers…

    I swear Showtime doesn’t pay me, but give it another shot before treating it like the punching bag it’s been for so long now.

  • dave

    I suppose it’s just the old “change from the inside” vs. “change from the outside” argument recast with TV shows.

    W&G was like suburban queers, assimilating into their neighborhood and slowly changing their neighbor’s attitudes by being Just Like Everybody Else. QAF was like queens in the gay ghetto, living defiantly and proudly within their bubble of community, uncompromising but more insulated. Each is important, and each accomplishes different things.

    Or maybe they were both just kind of dumb TV shows.

  • Jack

    This is actually true. I used to watch it with both my grandmother, grandfather and mother. I lived in North Dakota. It wasn’t a continuous thing we did, but it was comical and the writing was great. It certainly help break some ice.

  • Shade

    I loved both Will & Grace and Queer as Folk. I would watch Will & Grace with my parents… not Queer as Folk. Large groups of my gay friends got together to watch Queer as folk and not Will and Grace.

  • Baxter

    @Brutus: The first season of QAF was generally pretty good. After that there were a couple good storylines (Ted’s drug addiction, Michael and Ben taking in that runaway), but it was mostly trash. And I’d definitely agree with McCormack that even in the best of times, there weren’t a lot of good role models on QAF if your life revolved around more than getting laid.

    On the other hand, I don’t think I ever managed to sit through an entire episode of W&G.

  • Hilarious

    I’m fairly certain Degrassi has helped more gay teens come out than Will and Grace and portrayed gay men(teens…whatever) more realistically than Queer as Folk.

    Teen show trumped both of them. Good game.

  • hephaestion

    Eric McCormack is 100% right. And I will always be grateful to him.

  • hephaestion

    I recall that for the first 2 seasons of “Will & Grace” lots of my gay friends would gather at my apartment to see each episode as if it was a huge event. We howled at every gay in-joke, amazed that we were seeing them on a major TV show for the first time. We should not forget how COMPLETELY ground-breaking “Will & Grace” was when it began. It felt like a kind of miracle that none of us expected to ever see on TV.

  • uu

    Nonsense, QAF teaches not to apologize for being gay, W&G teaches not to let straight people see you express any form of affection. Coming out and claiming the right to live your life should not be done by begging your parents to give you their approval after having convinced them of how respectably Victorian you can be. You take and defend your rights, but you don’t ask for them. It makes no sense to claim that you have a right so long as your parents allow it, or approve of it, that is not what a right is.
    Not that I’m against introducing the concept of homosexuality to heterosexuals. It’s just not more helpful for gay people than QAF.

  • james_from_the_great_city_of_cambridge

    @uu: QAF probably also terrified many kids who were afraid to come out. It portrayed really miserable gay relationships, constant violence against gays, fucked-up gay guys who only got high and fucked anything that moved. Maybe it’s a more realistic portrayal of gays (at least some gays) but W & G portrayed a more fun, upwardly mobile and innocent gay lifestyle. The truth of gay life is probably somewhere in-between the two shows and W & G was probably more of a fantasy gay life but there’s nothing wrong with a fairy tale; straights have theirs, we should too.

  • oatc

    My partner and I watched WAG because Grace (Deborah Messing) was gorgeous. Then it became clear she was just the butt of all the men’s jokes. A not-much-updated Lucille Ball Lucy from ‘I Love Lucy’, foil to these gay guys all having a great time in their own ways.

    Realising that in fact it was pretty misogynist turned us right off it.

    If WAG helped guys come out, I hope it didn’t help them to be misogynist too.

  • soakman

    WOW… there is a LOT of dissing on QAF here. I just want to say that maybe I’m in the minority here, but QAF helped me come to terms with the reality of my sexual identity. It brought everything to the forefront and stripped it down to the basics. Sexual identity is about sex. Shocker, right?!

    Will and Grace scared the bejeesus out of me (while making me laugh at myself). I literally could not imagine have to water myself down or become the nelly nelly Jack McFarland in order to be accepted as mainstream, which is obviously what had to happen.

    To be honest, it still scares me. Yeah, people know we exist now, but they also dragged some very enormous stereotypes out into the open that I can’t stand. I’m tired of seeing teenager and young adult gays that think they NEED a fruit fly a la Grace to get by in life. And I’m tired of women constantly crying on my shoulder because I’m gay.

    What I’m saying is that wheras WE can see that W&G is watered down so it’s not so ‘hurtful’ to our image, the majority of Americans can’t. They almost LITERALLY think that we are all Will’s or Jack’s.

    What about homocore? What about Bayard Rustin? What about our history, clubbing, and three dimensional self-expression? What about the awful scary horrible things that happen to us on a weekly (if not daily) basis because of people’s assumptions, fears, and anachronistic belief systems?

    If you guys haven’t ACTUALLY watched Queer as Folk the ENTIRE way through, please do before you knock it. Nobody is as cutesy and perfectly constant as Will and Jack are. Everyone has a dark side to them, and in QAF you see it all if you actually watch the entire show.

    And yes, I live about 30 minutes away from Pittsburgh. I know it’s not like QAF, and I also know it’s not as small and run-down as a ‘town’. That doesn’t discredit the character development or narrative arc of the show.

  • Hannah

    Here is my perspective as a straight woman. I have to say Will and Grace was my first introduction to even the idea of gay people. My family was very conservative and we simply didn’t say “taboo” topics. It was kind of like talking about the box without ever mentioning what was inside. It was weird. So anyway I started watching Will and Grace as a teenager. It was my favorite show – probably still is. I would never miss an episode, but I was still a little leery of gay culture and gay rights. I didn’t know what I really believed. Then after a few years, I came across a Margaret Cho stand-up DVD. She compared gay rights to the civil rights movement with African Americans. Then she said:

    “If you’re against same sex marriage but you laugh your ass off to Will & Grace, FUCK YOU! You are a hypocrite, and you’re not allowed to pick and choose what you like from our culture, and leave behind the burden of inequality.”

    I was stunned. I reviewed my beliefs and my family upbringing. I have supported gay rights ever since. I share my beliefs with my family even though they clearly disagree with me. QAF is great show, but it did not have as much influence in my life as Will and Grace. I probably would have never even watched QAF if it weren’t for Will and Grace.

  • Joe

    W&G got so much negative bad press about Will’s miserable love life, but unlike QAF, it had to float out in boycott land (one bedroom scene and its sponsors and advertisers would have faced a firewall of protest). Anyhow, McCormack is right that it broke waaaayy more ground for gays than QAF. Personally, QAF is like hearing nails on a chalkboard (isn’t there *anyplace* else to go in Pittsburgh besides Babylon???).

  • Forget the Umbrella-It's Raining Men!

    There once was a TV show in the late 1950s that gave Black people a lot of visibility and made some of them feel more accepted in a predominately White society. It was very much like Will and Grace, it was sometimes funny and it broke down the wall of race invisibility on TV.

    It was called “The Amos and Andy Show”.

    Will and Grace was ours.

    It’s funny how Grace got all the action in the love department and even wanted to have a baby with Will, but Will never expressed any interest in raising a child with another man. His character was a delightful and witty gay eunuch who was, let’s face it — Grace’s fag hag.

    Quite honestly, Will Truman’s two dimensional “gay impersonation” contributed as much to Gay Liberation as Mattel’s Ken Doll did for the acceptance of full frontal nudity.

    In the predominately Straight TV viewing community (to this day) W&G almost single-handedly wrote the current rule book on homosexual characters on TV (i.e. “Modern Family”).

    That is: “Remember to get your pets and your gays neutered”.

  • Theo

    Will did NOT marry Taye Diggs, Grace did! How on earth could Eric get that wrong?

    I loved Will & Grace. It was a great 30 minutes to have a laugh, but I certainly wouldn’t take any life lessons from the show or any of the characters.

    I must add that Jack & Karen were the main reason I watched, and the crazier they got the more I loved them!

    Grace Adler was simply one of the worst and most irritating characters to ever have been created. Period.

  • Cam

    Not that I think his points about Will and Grace were overly good, because there was more sex on Friends. one example, I never saw Will waking up in Bed with somebody he’d just slept with ala Monica and Chandler…but that said.

    He’s right on about QAF. Not only did they try to hit every single trend and dangerous activity out there, they also minimized the effects.

    Lets see, Ted Gets addicted to Methn over a perious of time, so much so he passes out at a party and wakes up to find a group of people watching a video of somebody being gang banged by a large group of people. Ted Realizes that it’s him. What happs to Ted? No HIV, Meth Addiction pretty much gone in an episode or two. I mean they even dealt with Michael wanting to catch HIV so he would be similar to his boyfriend. Come on, QAF was the LAST show to make anybody want to come out. Gotta agree with McCormik on that one!

  • Cam


    GREAT story! I had no idea that Margaret was having an effect like that. Thank you for sharing!

  • Liam

    @uu makes some excellent points re: QAF.

    In my eyes QAF was groundbreaking and unapologetic and for that I will forever love that show. While the characters were flawed, that was the point. They were real people with real problems but they were a community and a family at the end of the series and THAT was the beauty of the show in my eyes. Sometimes you don’t have a happy loving family to fall back on such as Justin, Brian or Hunter, but you still keep going and you make your own way. And I think there were very positive role models on that show which I wouldn’t disregard. 1.) Sharon Gless as Debbie was probably the single biggest cheerleader for the gays and was what many gay boys wished their mothers were like in that respect, 2.) Ben was incredibly put together, educated and well-balanced and 3.) both Melanie and Lindsey had a somewhat solid relationship over the course of the 5 seasons that proved while hard was very real and at the end of the day they did work things out. And there were no real lesbian relationships on television when this show started that I am aware of, so I wouldn’t be quick to say there were no positive role models on the show – they just weren’t fluffy retail queens with punchlines every other sentence (God forbid).

  • Henry Holland

    I recently stumbled across some episodes of the American QAF. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered but good god, they had all the subtlety of a trainwreck when it came to introducing/resolving “issues”. I cried when Ted saw Blake again, Ted + Blake 4EVAH.

    I stopped watching W&G after the third season, I just got tired of the predictability of it all.

    The key TV event for me coming out was the TV movie “Consenting Adult” starring the hottie Barry Tubb.

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    I liked both shows.

    One was for the larger culture- W and G. The other was about being unapologetic. I think the later issue- being unapologetic – is where gays are right now in their need to develop. Way too many people, including along this thread, feel ashamed of being gay or are seeking approval. Love or hate Brian- he never sought the approval of straight people.

    How many of you here are still basing your worth on what straight people think of you?

  • Chuck

    As has been said, Will didn’t marry him, Grace did and Eric should know that.

    Yes, the show was amazingly groundbreaking for the time. We really had no representation on tv for the whole ’90s except for a small sub plot on Dawson’s Creek, a show that was really geared towards teens. We really had nothing in the whole ’80s besides Dynasty.

    Will and Grace also holds up well today. It justifiably and rightly replaced Golden Girls on the Lifetime schedule. So young gays across America went from identifying with old women to actual gay characters. That is progress.

    I didn’t really like season 1, the plots were very random and it was almost like Friends 2. But as the characters evolved, the show got better, my favorite seasons are 5 and 6.

    Karen Walker was by far my favorite character. Her shorthand comedy with Jack or Rosie is comic gold. I liked Will and yes Grace could be very annoying.

  • jimsteele2008

    Only the kids that didn’t have Showtime…

  • Queer Supremacist

    @Hilarious: I hate W&G and QAF. I tried to watch both of them, and I had to restrain myself from throwing something through the TV screen. I couldn’t have been more offended. What made me able to come out was:
    A) three years of fooling myself into heterosexuality when women clearly did nothing for me had failed.
    B) Matthew Shepard’s murder at the hands of two heterosexual Christians.

    @Forget the Umbrella-It’s Raining Men!: Black activists successfully got that show pulled from circulation while complaining about every black TV character since then; there were even objections raised to The Cosby Show, a series which, because of its star’s strong disdain for racial humor (as opposed to racist humor), went out of its way to avoid stereotypes to the point of self-consciousness. It seems we embrace our offensive stereotypes and our eunuchs wholeheartedly.

    @Chuck: Nothing, but nothing will ever replace the Golden Girls. They were not gay, of my generation, or my gender, but I could identify more with them than a whitebread lawyer, his annoying fag hag, and their two staggeringly unfunny and obnoxious neighbors. Probably because they had better scripts and better acting. I hated all those 90s sitcoms about whiny white New Yorkers living in apartments they couldn’t possibly afford, especially Friends (aka Seinfeld for dummies), which killed live-action American sitcoms for me, and I have yet to go back. At the turn of the century it seemed that if you didn’t get HBO, the only things worth watching on TV were old TV show reruns, cartoons, and old movies.

    I saw enough of Queer as Folk to make me sick to my stomach at the way it depicted gays as promiscuous freaks. I call it “gay porn for heterosexuals”.

    The gay couple on Modern Family (which I have not watched) sounds like a step in the right direction (i.e. a realistic depiction of gays who are neither prudes nor libertines), but not enough. If a committed couple can’t display affection, ABC hasn’t come much farther than the era of Billy Crystal in “Soap” (which was a classic 1970s sitcom). Yet Crystal’s character is less offensive to me than any of the more recent characterizations, perhaps because just being gay on TV was revolutionary enough in and of itself back then. But it’s the 21st century, people. We need the gay characters whose lives don’t revolve around the bars, who couldn’t care less about shitty dance music and screechy bitches who call themselves “divas” (an opera term seemingly applied to any woman singer who doesn’t attack us publicly), do not follow or are, in some cases, repulsed by modern trends, or are not obsessed with how gay they are. Have you noticed how many black characters now do not need to constantly remind everyone that they are black?

    Some of us are so desperate for any form of external validation that we need it from mass media junk.

  • No need to trash QAF

    W&G may have been something that teenagers could watch with their parents, but I know a number of people who came out to their families after watching QAF. For me, W&G was funny, but I definitely didn’t want to be like Will (who was much more neutered than everyone else) or Jack (whose romantic escapades were there for laughs). The show seemed to be catered towards people who were okay with gay people as long as they don’t actually have real sex lives. QAF was much more helpful in high school for me and a bunch of my friends.

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