Fourteen years after originally saying goodbye to Jack (Sean Hayes), Karen (Megan Mullally) and the titular “Will & Grace” (Eric McCormack and Debra Messing, respectively), series co-creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick are delivering quite the do-over of a series finale.
The NBC sitcom first signed off in May 2006, after an eight-year run that included amassing 16 Emmy Awards wins (one for comedy series, in 2000). The show had featured dating ups and downs for its titular characters that culminated in them being in loving romantic relationships and raising children of their own but no longer in each other’s lives. It wasn’t until the final minutes of that finale episode (aptly titled “The Finale”) for the duo to reunite, thrust back together by chance when their teenage kids moved into dorm rooms across the hall from each other.
“The first time, it felt like we were doing this thing that we were quote-unquote supposed to do, which was to send them both off into quote-unquote normal relationships and to make babies in these normal family compositions. But it wasn’t as honest to who the characters were,” Mutchnick tells Variety.
The second time around, things look a bit different.
“Will & Grace” returned for a revival in 2017, explaining the events of its original series finale as just one of Karen’s alcohol-fueled daydreams. With a wink and a nod to the audience, the characters then launched into three new seasons of relationship high jinks and humor as if no time had passed at all.
Initially, Kohan admits, he and Mutchnick sat down and listened to pitches about where Will, Grace and their children from the original series’ end would be now. Executive producer Suzanne Martin, in particular, “came with a whole bunch of ideas” about that, Kohan shares, “assuming that the show was going to launch from that point just before the finale.” That would have meant the show would have been about watching Will and Grace be parents, and the consensus was “We don’t want to see this,” he says.
But when the duo decided the third revival season would be the last, the idea of Will and Grace becoming parents, albeit later in life than in the original version of the show, resurfaced.
At first, it was an interesting story idea for the writers and executive producers because the previous season had ended with Grace embarking on a new relationship, but the new season had to see her leave that behind. Reid Scott, who played her new beau, was not going to be available to work on “Will & Grace,” so Kohan recalls sitting down in the writers’ room and thinking about “What’s the most interesting surprise that can happen when she comes back?”
The idea of her being pregnant stemmed from there, and once it was on the table, Mutchnick felt strongly that Will had to have a child, too. “I wanted to show that a gay man could do this and do it on his own terms,” he says.
Matt Bomer, who played Will’s boyfriend, anchorman McCoy Whitman, wasn’t available for the entire 18-episode final season, either, so the on-screen couple broke up over the fact that McCoy didn’t want kids. Will would use a surrogate (played by Demi Lovato) to carry his baby, but he wouldn’t really be a single dad: He and Grace would raise their children together — so much so that they even bought a house outside the city together so their kids could have more room in which to grow and play.
“I feel like even in the years since the show first went off, the notion of what a quote-unquote conventional family looks like is very different,” says Kohan. “All the social pressures to keep a conventional nuclear family together have gone away, so our thought was, ‘Why not reimagine what can be considered a normal family structure?'”
Adds Mutchnick: “They are each other’s family. This ending, to me, felt a little bit more honest than the ending we did the first time, in that they end up together. It wasn’t as commonplace [in 2006] as it is now, so it made it easier for us to write about it, but I feel like this was right: They were always destined to be together.”
The new series finale is titled “It’s Time,” which has a bit of a double meaning for Kohan and Mutchnick. On one hand, it refers to Grace being on the verge of giving birth, but on the other it also explains how they feel about saying goodbye to the show.
“We’re never coming back again. We would no sooner make this television show or a frame of it again. It won’t happen. That’s the final word,” Mutchnick says.
“The people that loved watching the show, they ended up being the most important people to us; they mattered the most. And sometimes when you love someone enough you have to make a difficult decision on their behalf. And that’s what we did. I don’t think that David and I saw that there were fresh areas for us to write to anymore unless we wanted to change the composition of the show. But we didn’t want to do that: We thought the magic of the show was the four of them, so we found a way to creatively justify having that exist again. And having these babies present themselves in the final season, it was a way to put a clock on this very wonderful experiment.”