Where were you when you saw your first episode of Will & Grace, and which character was your favorite? For some of us, the show was the first exposure to other gay people; for some, the characters were strangely familiar. And for others, they had nothing to do with our actual lived experiences.
The queenier among us may have felt an instant affinity to Jack, and the more deadpan to Will. But almost everyone found it hard not to fall in love with Karen, the boozy, snide, self-centered socialite who always seemed to make things worse.
Last night NBC broadcast a panel show looking back at some popular past show, and the cast of Will & Grace mostly reunited onstage to reminisce. (Debra Messing was stuck in New York because of weather, but honestly who could blame her for not wanting to schlep to L.A.?)
One of the most startling revelations to come out of the conversation was where the cast thought Karen probably is today. She’s either dead, they agreed, “or married to Donald Trump,” joked Karen actress Megan Mullally.
There was also a startling confession from producer James Burrows. “We knew that if we could get the audience to watch it, somehow they wouldn’t leave it because it was so funny,” he said. And so: “You’ll notice at the end of the pilot, there’s a kiss between Will and Grace. And at the end of the first year, there’s a kiss between Will and Grace. … I wanted audiences to think that somehow Will will take magic pills and become straight. He would never do that. We would never do that. But I wanted people to at least tune in to see how funny it was.”
That certainly would have been an unexpected turn, wouldn’t it? Thank God it never happened. Like them or not, the characters of Will & Grace were hugely important to young gays just peeking out of the closet in the ’90s. The show frequently comes up on the podcast The Sewers of Paris, where gay men talk about entertainment that changes their lives. Zach Stafford, a writer for The Guardian, cited it as an influence when he was growing up (though its casual racism now alarms him); and Johann watched the show as a kid in South Africa and dreamed of escaping to a big city.
Also appearing on last night’s broadcast were cast members from Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Cheers and Mike and Molly, some of which are enjoyable programs.