‘Will & Grace’ takes final bow

By |2006-05-18T09:00:00-04:00May 18th, 2006|Entertainment|

Eight years ago it may have seemed risky business throwing two gay men – a mellow, gay attorney and his flamboyantly queer sidekick – on primetime TV.
Daily Variety warned, “don’t count on it,” and the Los Angeles Times said, “There’s something not quite right about this show’s approach to homosexuality.”
But “Will & Grace” had a formula that worked, says Damon Romine, entertainment media director for GLAAD. “The show was like ‘Gay 101,’ a primer for millions of viewers, allowing them to connect with funny yet undeniably human gay people every week,” Romine says. “The show nudged cultural boundaries and gave people a glimpse – albeit a limited glimpse – of our lives.”
But, like all good things, the envelope-pushing NBC sitcom must come to an end. Next Thursday there will be a void in the hearts, and funny bones, of those who’ve embraced Will (Eric McCormack), his gal-pal Grace (Debra Messing), Jack (Sean Hayes) and the cynicism of drunken socialite Karen (Megan Mullally).
“We have seen that one show can make a difference in changing the hearts and minds of viewers,” Romine says. “Many people feel like they would rather have Will or Jack over to dinner than the mayor of their own city.”
While “Ellen” tanked after its lead, Ellen DeGeneres, came out publicity three years into the show’s run, the Emmy-winning “Will & Grace” was gay from the get-go. “‘Will & Grace’ was groundbreaking, and it proved to Hollywood that a show with openly gay leading characters could succeed and be wonderfully entertaining,” Romine says.
It’s “Karack,” a blend of Karen and Jack, who tickled “Will and Grace” fan Greg Varnum. “While I enjoyed Karen and Jack separately as characters, they were always my favorite when they were together,” says Varnum, the executive assistant and youth initiatives coordinator for Triangle Foundation. “Many times they said what I was thinking and did things I thought none of them would do. Their dynamic duo style when they were both on the screen together makes them sort of a hybrid character in my mind.”
Varnum appreciated the moments when the characters stood up for their values. He remembers when Will dated a sports anchor that, despite wanting to, couldn’t introduce him as his boyfriend to friends and colleagues.
Will, with help from Grace, stood up to his beau and said, as an out gay man, he couldn’t waste any more time living in the closet. “Many people in our community face that decision more often than we’re probably willing to admit,” Varnum says, “and Will handled it how I would hope many of us would in reality.”
Like Varnum, many LGBT people related to the trials and tribulations of the characters. “One of the most remarkable and amazing things about ‘Will & Grace’ is its reach,” Romine says. “It’s a show with not one, but two gay male leads and every week audiences across America would invite these people into their homes to laugh, and on some level, I’d like to believe, learn something.”
While Jack’s over-flamboyancy didn’t always negate gay stereotypes, as Varnum points out, the show still opened up conversations between the LGBT community and heterosexuals.
“While I’m not sure that ‘Will & Grace’ was an accurate portrayal of the LGBT community, I do think it helped make talking about the LGBT community easier for many people,” Varnum says. “Straight people can relate to the life and problems for the gay characters and … they could relate to the lives of many LGBT people in the ‘real world.'”
At its peak “Will & Grace” brought gay people to 17 million viewers. “Prejudice exists because people aren’t exposed to people different from themselves,” Romine says.
When the show’s ratings dived, the creators relied on gay-friendly celebrities like Madonna to boost them. But, either way, one thing remained the same: the show “helped to inform and educate people,” Romine says.
Now we’re left with Karen’s shrill voice and Jack’s notorious hand maneuvers, but, more importantly, with the memories of a syndicated cable TV show that included our community – and lasted.

About the Author:

Chris Azzopardi
Chris Azzopardi is the Editorial Director of Pride Source Media Group and Q Syndicate, the national LGBTQ wire service. He has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.