After 11 years, the hit sitcom Will & Grace is making a comeback, or should we say, a return, September 28 at 9 PM/ET on NBC.
Reuniting original cast members Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes, and Megan Mullally, the 12-episode event has been priming fans with a series of online viral teasers loaded with vodka-tinged barbs, showtune references, and all around fabulousness from the show’s comedic foursome.
A hint of a primetime return for Will & Grace came last fall, at the height of the 2016 presidential election, when Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen seemingly picked up where they left off in a 10-minute sketch that popped up online. It immediately went viral.
As Will and Grace tried to sway Jack and Karen to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump, it felt as though no time had passed since fans raised a martini to their final episode in 2006.
Even the set felt untouched, though it had traveled across the country and back again.
In 2008, Will & Grace co-creator and executive producer Max Mutchnick donated the show’s set (Will’s apartment) to his alma mater Emerson College, where it resided on display in Boston until 2013. It then made its way back to Los Angeles in 2014, when Emerson opened its Los Angeles satellite center—literally setting the stage for the reunion.
“That’s how the whole thing got rolling in the first place,” Mutchnick tells Playbill. “It was the height of the election, and I was in the back of a taxi talking to my husband about a joke I would have written for Will & Grace had the show still be on the air, and my husband kind of said in a cheeky way, ‘Well, we do have the set.’ And it was from there that I called [co-creator/executive producer] David Kohan, And said, ‘Let’s do this.’ And we did.”
By some showbiz miracle, the show’s original foursome, along with series director James Burrows, were ready and willing to reunite.
“It was just this moment in time that presented itself,” Mutchnick says. “It’s so rare, and it really is a once-in-a-lifetime thing where you think of something and then you can realize it with all of the original players. We felt really lucky to be able to do it.”
But before Will & Grace stepped back into the glow of primetime, Mutchnick and Kohan had another surprise in store: an extravagant musical teaser that incorporated “As If We Said Goodbye”—the show-stopping number from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard (currently revived on Broadway).
Written to dramatize Norma Desmond’s return to the studio in Sunset Boulevard, Mutchnick and Kohan coopted the song to officially reunite Will, Grace, Karen, and Jack with their adoring fans.
The lavish five-minute teaser, which includes a full symphony orchestra, was conceived to open the NBC Upfronts at Radio City Music Hall this spring. Since its May 15 debut online, the teaser has garnered 25 million views across social media, and more than 2.2 million views on YouTube alone.
“We were asked by NBC to think about something that could play at the Upfronts and then we did what we do, which is talk about how we could see re-introducing them,” Mutchnick explains. “And being the good gay that I am, I happened to be watching Glenn Close’s performance [as Norma Desmond] at Royal Albert Hall, and then Dave and I started talking and we took it from there.”
Kohan and Mutchnick’s idea had the support of NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt, the inspired exec who greenlit Smash and ushered live musicals back to network television. “What was amazing was NBC’s willingness [to do it],” Kohan says. “We thought, ‘We might as well go for it and NBC can scale it back as they see fit.’ And they didn’t!
“We knew it was going to be onstage at Radio City Music Hall, and the song, ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye,’ seemed perfect,” Kohan continues. “It seemed like the right combination of camp and spectacle, and most significantly, you have four performers who can pull it all off flawlessly. So, you can be ambitious and know that they’ll be able to do it.”
It helps that each of the Will & Grace cast members also have legit stage credits under their belts. Mullally was a bonafide theatre trouper before she landed the role of Karen, while Hayes, McCormack, and Messing have each taken their turn on Broadway in the last decade—with Messing also starring in the NBC musical series Smash.
The segment is a dream come true for any Broadway-loving Will & Grace fan. Filled with theatricality, comedy, and nostalgia, it feels as if the entire series swirls back to life as Eric McCormick—or is it Will?—helps convince an unsure Debra Messing—or is it Grace?—back into the show.
“We are theatre-ish guys anyway, I mean, we thought of Will & Grace, so it’s a natural extension of what we think is funny,” says Mutchnick. “But we had a network that got behind us 150 percent. You think of those things, and write those things, but not often do you get that kind of production support.”
Mutchnick adds, “In addition to the song being titled what it’s titled, in the middle of it, at the crescendo break it says, ‘And this time will be bigger, and brighter than we knew it.’ It was as if it was written for us, and that is kind of the way we feel now.”
Primed and ready for its close up, Will & Grace returns September 28 at 9 PM on NBC.