NBC sitcom faces live aud b'cast for fall

NBC censors may want to start stocking up on the Tums: The final season of “Will & Grace” will kick off with a live episode.

Harkening back to the early days of the medium, skein’s producers have opted to stage live broadcasts in the eighth season, with separate productions for the Eastern and Pacific time zones. Given the laffer’s penchant for topical — and often off-color — humor, the Peacock standards and practices department will no doubt monitor closely to ensure no verbal “accidents” occur.

Given the current climate on Capitol Hill, it seems likely NBC will broadcast the live episode with a built-in delay of a few seconds.

NBC wouldn’t confirm the date of the season premiere, but the show’s expected to air at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 29 –a week into the new season, rather than the usual premiere week bow. Alec Baldwin and Eric Stoltz are among the guest stars currently slated to appear in the episode, while Emmy magnet James Burrows will direct.

News of the live seg comes just days after “Will & Grace” snagged a series-best 15 noms. Series co-creator Max Mutchnick said the live element will allow the show’s scribes to make changes right up until air time.

“We’re going to have some very topical material,” he said.

Mutchnick, who created and exec produces the show with David Kohan, also said there will be “a surprise element within the live telecast,” but he declined to say what that may be.

NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly said the “challenging live platform launch for ‘Will & Grace’ ” would be a good way to “inaugurate their final season.”

Broadcast also reps a challenge for Burrows.

“This will be like the classic golden era of television that I was weaned on where the audience sees everything,” he said. “Directing a live broadcast will be a first for me, and as long as I have been in the business, there are very few firsts.”

Mutchnick did say some figures in the news will apparently be off-limits.

“I’m a little afraid of Tom Cruise,” he said. “He bores me, and he’s also morphing into his mother.”

The “Will & Grace” stunt reps the first time a regular series has gone live in several years.

“The Drew Carey Show” did it three times, in 1999, 2000 and 2001. The “Drew” team actually performed each of those episodes three times: for the Eastern/Central, Mountain and Pacific time zones. Because much of those segs were improvised (featuring several of Carey’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway” buddies), the live performances varied greatly by time zone.

Fox’s “Roc” was the last sitcom to go live on a regular basis, performing straight to air during the 1992-93 season. The last series to kick off with a live season premiere was “ER” in 1997.

Other recent live scripted fare include a week of ABC sudser “One Life to Live” in 2002. And the CBS telepics “Fail Safe” (2000) and “On Golden Pond” (2001) also went live.

Gary Janetti, Tracy Poust, Jon Kinnally and Tim Kaiser serve as executive producers and showrunners of “Will & Grace,” which is a production of KoMut Entertainment in association with NBC Universal Television Studio and Three Sisters Entertainment.

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