When Eric McCormack got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame earlier this month, it seemed only appropriate that it found a home next to Debra Messing’s. The two not only play roommates on Will & Grace, but have made their way into the homes of millions of fans worldwide as the show’s titular characters.
Though the cast said “Goodnight Gracie” in 2006, they reprised their roles for the first time in a decade for an online video urging Americans to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Released amidst announcements of TV revivals of other popular shows, the 10-minute video lit a spark and in 2017, McCormack and Messing joined Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally back on the set of Will & Grace for a ninth season.
“Even though 11 years had gone by, the comment I hear across the board is people say ‘it’s like you guys never stopped. You didn’t miss a beat,’” said McCormack. “We could have easily decided to make a different show, but what thrilled people about the election video we made is that it looked and sounded the same. That’s a tone we never want to lose. You can never underestimate how much people want the familiarity and how much they want a show that still looks like their show.”
As Will & Grace heads into its 10th season on Thursday, Oct. 4 (with an 11th season already guaranteed), the show has found a steady groove of doing what it does best—tackling societal and relationship issues in a tongue-in-cheek way while giving its characters room to make mistakes, fail miserably and lean on each other as they try to find happiness.
Even if you haven’t watched Will & Grace, you’ve probably been affected by it: the show is widely recognized as the first to put two gay characters (McCormack’s Will and Hayes’ Jack) in the forefront, introducing TV viewers to a segment of the population that up until then, had been largely ignored. While that’s changed now, with shows like Queer Eye, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and others, Will & Grace has still carved a unique niche for itself, specifically on network television.
“Gay culture and LGBTQ themes have come a thousand miles since [the original show], but we’re almost more unique than we used to be. We used to be one of many sitcoms, now there’s very few shows like this,” said McCormack, adding that while network television prohibits actors from certain explicit language, their innuendos could surely make a nun blush. “The kind of joke we can tell at 9 on a Thursday just lands differently than…at HBO or Netflix. You have to go 10 times riskier on streaming than you can on television. We had to find clever ways to get past the sensors. We explore politics and sexuality and the culture right now with that eye, and still surprise people.”
Not only are writers tasked with getting around Standards and Practices, but they also have to find ways to have four very different characters grow as individuals, while remaining in each other’s lives.
“You have to put new spins on the wheel but you can’t reinvent it. You never want to completely repeat yourself, but the writers are aware if we get into a situation that has to do with their jobs or love life or relationship with each other, there has to be some new turn or freshness. It’s walking that fine line between familiarity of these characters and the situations and what new we can bring in 2018,” McCormack said.
The upcoming season finds Hayes’ character heading for the altar, Mullally’s getting divorced and Will & Grace faced with the prospect of become siblings as their single parents get engaged. And while there are plenty of relationship issues woven throughout the season, getting Will matched up isn’t the show’s be-all-end-all.
“The essence of the show is us struggling and looking for something. I like that Will has loved and lost and is okay with himself. He’s comfortable in his own skin,” McCormack said. “We don’t play up his loneliness too much. The show’s creator wants him to be confident in being a successful man in a big city, and not need somebody to define him.”
McCormack describes Will as his id, encompassing the “most outwardly exuberant and nervous” parts of his personality. Combined with the three other leads and thrown in front of a live audience, the results are “quite freeing,” said McCormack.
“To be in a sitcom again was really quite freeing. It feels like a big dessert after a meal,” said McCormack, who lets out his dramatic side as the lead on Netflix’s Travelers. “We’re children on the [Will & Grace] set. We all lose about 30 years of maturity when we’re together. We’re like kids in a sandbox. I feel so free on that set.”
Will & Grace returns to NBC on Thursday, Oct. 4, at 9 p.m.