Will and Grace finally take a bow as the award-winning popular sitcom comes to an end on South African television after eight seasons. While some will watch the finale with teary eyes, others will be relieved that the show finally and gracefully called it quits.
Few would argue that Will & Grace has been hugely influential in raising the visibility of gay people on television. Since its inception in 1998 – created by producer team Max Mutchnick and David Kohan – the show has garnered a string of awards; including an astonishing 73 Emmys.
At its peak Will & Grace was watched by 17 million people in the US, but by its final season, the numbers were down to about 7.8 million. So what went wrong?
Gay-media activists have always had a love-hate relationship with the show. While it was one of the most successful series featuring openly gay characters in television history, it was often said that Will and his best friend Jack were “safe” gay characters. This accounted for their broad popularity some argued: Jack was a typical camp gay buffoon funnyman – all singing and dancing and spouting bitchy lines at every turn – the harmless gay clown that everyone loves.
Will, on the other hand, was a bland-as-possible gay man that never actually had sex, never kissed another man and was straight-acting enough not to frighten the children. Ironically, the only character who had real balls was a woman – the sassy Karen.
In fact it could be argued that the show’s popularity was largely based on the over the top antics of Karen and Jack rather than the sentimentality and relationship-angst of Will and Grace themselves. Nevertheless, as the seasons wore on, the producers pushed the envelope a little further – finally featuring a man on man kiss (a ‘kiss-in’ between Jack and Will, who were cleverly enough protesting against the fictional censoring of a gay kiss on TV). And, of course, Will finally got himself a boyfriend who actually hung around longer than one episode.
Sadly, just as all that was happening the show was losing its comedic edge. Grace’s marriage to Leo turned out to change the dynamics between the characters for the worse; at times storylines were dull and there were few comedic sparks to be had between the talented cast. Will & Grace also began to exploit its huge popularity by bringing in famous guest stars here and there – which was, at first, ‘cute’ but ultimately to its detriment.
The trend got completely out of hand with any vaguely gay-friendly celebrity jumping at the chance of making an appearance on the show. It became downright gimmicky; the writers working their scripts around the star of the week instead of their own cast. The appearances were disruptive to the show’s flow and the actors’ remarkable chemistry. It became a showcase for the guest, not the cast.
The final episode is a doozy of a wrap- up – involving Will and Grace’s children and much leaping into the future.
For many, Will & Grace simply stopped being funny and it lost much of its audience. That’s not to say it was disastrous television – there was still some humour and entertainment to be had, and for those that were deeply invested in the characters, it was still a joy to tune in and follow their faux-New York lives.
The announcement that the eighth season was to be the show’s last came just as Will & Grace was in danger of becoming an embarrassment. The producers planned ahead – writing towards that outcome rather than going on until the ever-reducing ratings forced them off air. The plan was to bow out gracefully, and by all accounts the show does just that. In the final season the throw-in-a-celebrity-guest factor has been reduced, with the notable exception of much hyped – but apparently disappointing – appearance by Britney Spears.
The first episode of the season was a new experience for the cast; a live broadcast (the show is usually pre-recorded). Because of the time difference between the East and West coast in the US, the cast performed two live versions on the same night – each broadcast in different time zones. While potentially yet another gimmick, the ploy worked and returned a little edge to the sitcom. The final episode is a doozy of a wrap- up – involving Will and Grace’s children and much leaping into the future.
Through the highs and lows Will & Grace continues to have a hold on many viewers’ hearts (the series still does brisk sales of its DVD compilations). The show has been compared to an old drag queen that’s lost much of her spark and dazzle – perhaps an analogy with an element of truth – but there’s still some life in the old girl yet. The very last episode returned the show to the top ten in the US TV ratings – revealing that although some hadn’t visited in a while, a whole lot of friends were still very eager to wish Will, Grace, Karen and Jack a fond farewell. Until we meet again…
The final season of Will & Grace is on SABC3 on Monday nights at 20.30.
WILL & GRACE TRIVIA
- Will originally had a partner in the original pilot, Higgins, but his scenes were deleted in the final draft of the script.
- Grace’s middle name is Elizabeth.
- Alexis Arquette lost the part of Jack to Sean Hayes at the final auditions.
- Nicollette Sheridan lost the part of Grace Adler to Debra Messing at the final auditions.
- Megan Mullally was offered both Karen and the role of Carrie in “The King of Queens” (1998). She almost went with the latter role.
- Early promotional spots for the show were ambiguous about Will’s homosexuality since NBC didn’t know how well the gay leading character would play.
- Karen’s characteristic high-pitched voice didn’t really come into play until a few episodes into the show.
- Rosario was a one-joke character in the first season, when Jack married her so she could stay in the country. The character became so popular, she was made a semi-regular.
- Originally Max Mutchnick and David Kohan pitched a straightforward couples comedy in which a gay man and his straight female roommate were supporting characters. NBC liked the supporting characters better.
- Will’s apartment building is at 155 Riverside Drive, Upper West Side Manhattan.
- The Grace Adler Designs office is located in the Puck Building at 295 Lafayette St., south of Houston St.
- Due to Debra Messing’s pregnancy during the sixth season, Grace did not appear in five episodes: 6.6 “Heart Like a Wheelchair”, 6.21 “I Never Cheered for my Father”, 6.22 “Speechless”, 6.23/6.24 “I Do. Oh, No, You Didn’t”.