It’s been 11 years since “Will & Grace” — not to mention Jack and Karen — delivered their last laughs on NBC. But the timing couldn’t be better for the revival, which debuts tonight, creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan tell Variety.
“I actually think that is what the appeal of what the show is right now, this whole sense of I want to be back on comfortable solid ground with characters that I’m familiar with, that I know, that I want to laugh with,” says Kohan. “Because I’m anxious right now. This is an anxious time. And this is an antidote to that.”
NBC is so confident in the series, it has already been renewed for a second season. “We had a pretty successful table read, and [NBC entertainment chair] Bob Greenblatt felt good about the way it was sounding,” says Mutchnick.
That table read also proved to the producers that the cast’s chemistry was absolutely intact, even after a decade apart. “They opened up a script that they had not rehearsed as a unit, and read that thing cold in front of the studio and network,” recalls Mutchnick, “and there was the show again. You heard an episode of ‘Will & Grace’ for the first time in 11 years. It was an awesome feeling.”
Adds Kohan, “You think you know what the actors are going to bring having worked with them for all of those years, and I find myself laughing. It’s so unexpected what they bring to particular lines, particular moments. You don’t know what they’re going to do.”
It was the election video that the foursome filmed last fall that ignited the drive to bring the show back. “We had less than two days to make that thing and they were on point hour one,” says Mutchnick. “That was something else. It really made us feel good about the idea of doing this when Bob came to us and said, ‘Do you want to do this?'”
The producers say they had no trouble channeling those iconic voices once again. “It’s kind of in all of our bones at this point, the actors and writers as well,” says Kohan.
Sitcoms have changed considerably, though, since “Will & Grace” went off the air, with multicams giving way to more auteur-driven half-hours. But the duo is confident that audiences still want the “comfort food” of this once familiar format.
“That’s why this has been so satisfying and why it’s so sad that there aren’t more of them on the air,” says Mutchnick. “I feel like the country enjoys this milieu, this setup and this way to entertain. I’m glad we found the four best people that have ever done it. It’s about the four of them.”
And they credit the cast’s ability to perform in front of a studio audience. “It’s really not easy,” says Kohan. “Some of the biggest laughs you’ll get on the floor you’ll see in editing are too big. It’s too big. It’s too broad. It doesn’t translate. The fact that they are able to modulate the performances so that they they are really great for the live audience and really great for the camera is a testament to their skills.”
They blame the note-heavy, development process for getting in the way of the success of similar efforts.
“They aren’t that weird, sitcoms. It’s the system that got weird,” says Mutchnick. “You got to a point where you weren’t able to write them anymore because everything was done by committee and middle management became too involved in the creative process… There’s this panic that sets in whenever you make a sitcom if they don’t get the laugh spread that the studio or network president want in the first minute of the show, it’s considered a failure.”
But they’re confident that “Will & Grace” won’t fall into that trap. “I think this is the sitcom to be working on,” says Mutchnick. “I don’t see us doing a sitcom after this, because what’s going to be better than this?”
The series finale, which aired in 2006, showed all the characters living very different lives in an imagined future, but the producers promise that will be resolved in the first few minutes of the premiere.
“We use a device to get you back into the show, but it is not that the entire thing has not been a dream,” says Mutchnick. “These characters have lived their lives for the last decade like all of us have, and we’re not starting back then. We’re dealing with now, and we’re going to talk about what they’ve been doing since we saw them.”
“Circumstances have pushed them together again,” says Kohan. “It’s not necessarily meant to be on a perm basis.”
But as with the original, the characters will absolutely comment on the world around them.
“They have their opinions and their attitudes, their judgments of what’s going on in the world. They’re going to definitely say things,” promises Kohan. “I think that’s been one of the hallmarks of the show.”