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Eleven years ago, the Emmy-winning NBC sitcom Will & Grace signed off the air after eight seasons, tying its storylines up in a neat little bow, with marriages, kids, and financial success for best friends Will (Eric McCormack), Grace (Debra Messing), Jack (Sean Hayes) and Karen (Megan Mullally). Nobody even thought about a reunion except to joke, “Maybe when we’re in our seventies we can do the geriatric version,” Messing says.

Will & Grace & Karen & Jack

But in October 2016, with the furor over the presidential election at its height, the foursome got together to shoot a get-out-the vote video, the brainchild of the series’ co-creator (with David Kohan) Max Mutchnick, who had saved the original apartment set. The actors, producers, and NBC chief Robert Greenblatt were so thrilled with the way it turned out that the cast signed on for a revival before they saw a script.

Doing the video “was absolutely the catalyst for us coming back. It made us realize that there is a kind of magical synergy between the four of us and gave us the confidence to dive in again,” Messing says, adding that when they got together at the table read of the first script in early August, “It felt like coming home. To come back together and have new stories to tell, it’s just a beautiful, crazy thing that’s happened.”

Will & Grave

“It’s like riding a bike. Fits like a glove,” Sean Hayes says, adding a few apt clichés. “We’ve all become family. It's a gift of a lifetime to get together and do this again.”

In a crowded TV landscape where hundreds of shows compete for viewers, a familiar commodity with a built-in audience works as nostalgia and visual “comfort food,” but it also means replicating the success of the original show, and meeting a lot of expectations. That’s not lost on the cast.

“We walked away so proud of the eight years that we did, so when the idea of doing it again came up it was like, ‘We have to make sure that there are stories to be told. We have to make sure that those comic voices can live again, even louder,” Messing says. “But it’s absolutely the same. Next year will be 20 years since the pilot and it’s just like it was before. We really are like brothers and sisters. We can't keep our hands off of each other. We are happiest when we are totally inappropriate with each other and make each other giggle, and I think that is the thing that I’m looking forward to the most.”

Producer David Kohan points out how rare that kind of chemistry is. “You can have a good script and good actors, and something doesn't work, and you don't know why,” he says. “You have to appreciate how fortunate it is, when there’s a confluence of particular actors who are playing these particular parts with these particular words to say. I try not to question it. I don't want to analyze it too much. It’s lightning in a bottle."

Jack & WillMessing adds that the magic has been there since day one, two decades ago. “It just came to life in a way that I had never experienced with anything else, before or since. I think because we all started out in the theater and we grew as artists, as collaborators, it very quickly became a place that was very safe to try things and to fail. Funny happens when you take risks,” she says. “I think of comedy as music, and each one of us is a different instrument. And when we play together, we're at our best.”

The producer’s first task in rebooting the series was to “reset the rules,” erasing the events of its two-hour series finale in 2006. “We never would have gone in that direction if we weren't ending the show,” says Max Mutchnick. “It gave all four characters a happy ending, but happy endings aren't really funny,” Eric McCormack observes.

The new story brings the gang into the present day. Corporate lawyer Will and interior designer Grace have not been living together, but circumstances bring them back together and they will be roommates once again. Harry Connick Jr., who played Grace’s husband Leo, and Bobby Cannavale, who plays Will’s spouse Leo, may make appearances. Original series director James Burrows is on board to direct the reboot. “Jimmy is the conductor of this orchestra,” says Mutchnick,

As the first sitcom to feature two gay lead characters, Will & Grace was considered groundbreaking when it premiered in 1998. Though he played the flamboyant Jack, Sean Hayes hadn’t come out publicly yet off screen. “I wasn't ready to come out then; at the time, I didn't have the DNA to speak for an entire community. I didn't know how to do that, and I wish I did. But now I find words come easier,” he says. “I’ve changed, like we probably all have changed,” he says, adding that with time, “You become, hopefully, more aware, about yourself and your life and your place in the world.”

In addition to gender and sexual orientation topics, everything is fair game for the writers, from relationships to politics to popular culture. “This show has always been relevant.  And under the umbrella of relevancy is social issues, sex, everything,” says Hayes. Adds Max Mutchnick, “We have fantastic young talent in that writing room now keeping us on our toes and keeping it fresh.”

Will & Grace

The election video that started the ball rolling revealed Karen as a Trump supporter, something that will resurface in the writing in terms of how the friends deal with divergent political ideals. “It's about the politics of friendship and how you navigate that,” Eric McCormack comments. “And it can be quite hysterical how we're all navigating it.”

Getting to explore these things in the context of the Will & Grace world is “the thing that made us want to come back,” says Debra Messing, “was to be quintessential Will & Grace and do what we did before, which was to make people laugh out loud shine a light on what's happening today in our culture.”

Physical comedy has always been and will continue to be a big part of the show. “I grew up on I Love Lucy and Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus—great physical comedians, and I've missed that desperately from the landscape of television for many, many years,” Messing says. “To be able to have the opportunity to step back into that is just the greatest thrill. I'm ready to fall down and trip and do all of those things again.”

Will & Grace

Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes have always choreographed their slapstick bits together with James Burrows, but it starts on the scripted page, says Hayes. “They write out description of the physicality. We just add our little dust to it, for whatever that's worth.”

Although there are no guarantees in television, Will & Grace may be as close to a sure bet as one can get. It has already been renewed for another season. Reflecting on the past year, Debra Messing thinks the revival came at the perfect time. “It’s been a confusing time, and I haven't laughed very much,” she says. “To come back together and to laugh out loud, to be surprised by one another, to have new stories to tell and to have the opportunity to do it, it's a no-brainer.”

Will & Grace premieres Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. / Issue 195 - June 2018
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