When NBC announced that their iconic sitcom Will & Grace would be returning for a 12-episode limited run in the fall of 2017, 11 years after wrapping their eight year run, fans were ecstatic at the prospect of spending some time with Will Truman, Grace Adler, Jack McFarland and Karen Walker again. And then they began to wonder: How exactly is this going to work?
You'll recall that in the series finale, fans learned through a series of time jumps that former besties Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace (Debra Messing) hadn't spoken for 20 years, before finally reuniting as their respective children moved into the same dorm at college. They may have gotten their happy ending after all, but it hasn't exactly been 20 years since the show wrapped up in 2006. Just how is the return of this fabulous foursome—which also includes Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes—going to make any sense?
As co-creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan were preparing to be feted at Logo's fourth annual Trailblazer Honors, an event that celebrates leaders at the forefront of LGBTQ equality held at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, one of the first religious institutions in New York City to champion the causes of the LGBTQ community, E! News jumped at the opportunity to speak with the pair about the show's legacy, its future and yes, how they plan to address that series finale come fall. What follows is our unedited Q&A. Enjoy, honey.
E! News: First up, I just want to congratulate you on the big honor. What does it mean to you to be considered trailblazers for LGBTQ equality?
David: It's thrilling. It's humbling. It makes you think, "Well, do I actually—am I supposed to be getting this?"
Max: I think we always kind of made a habit out of not dealing with this aspect of what you would say was the success of the show. This wasn't where we spent a lot of time. It was always a little uncomfortable to take credit for what's happening here tonight and what people are talking about and what the show represents. It was always better for our ego and for our writing if we just stayed focused on telling good stories for Will, Grace, Jack and Karen.
David: To be in the bunker.
Max: Yeah. But honestly, we're here in this incredible venue and Debra Messing is here. You know, that's a real big deal for us because getting Debra out of the house is like building a boat. [Laughs]
What does it mean to you both to have Debra there tonight as the person presenting you with the honor?
David: Well, it would've been weirder if it was Bea Arthur. [Laughs]
Max: I mean, I just said to someone that having Debra here tonight, it's such a full circle moment in a way because it was 20 years ago that David and I drove to her apartment on a weeknight in the pouring rain in Los Angeles and asked her to do this show that we had just written. And Dave said earlier that even after that night of all that booze and all those cigarettes, she still didn't say yes. But we introduced her to Eric McCormack a couple of weeks later and we got her on board. It begins with Debra in many ways.
I want to look back a little bit at the advent of the series. What do you remember about the early days of the show, creating it in a time when LGBTQ rights were markedly different and attitudes towards the community were as equally un-evolved?
Max: I remember GLAAD giving us a lot of s--t at the beginning because they weren't seeing enough guys kissing on TV.
David: But they were supportive also.
Max: They were supportive, but they were clear about the fact that they didn't think that we had enough guy-on-guy action. But that just speaks to the fact that gays are like crabs. You know how you don't have to leave the pot on top of a kettle of boiling crabs because they all pull themselves down? They'll just kill themselves.
David: This is Max speaking, by the way.
Max: I'll own it. I don't think I need to be shy about the fact that they were kind of rough on us in the beginning. It was only later in the run of the show, and after the show certainly, that the gay community felt like they had something in this series that represented them well.
David: I think in fairness, you can understand their position. It was the only thing of its kind at the time and to the extent that they wanted to help shape it and they had their own ideas about how gay people should be represented on television, it stand to reason that they would be actively interested. But also, that was not our directive. Our directive, initially from NBC, was to find a romantic comedy to replace Mad About You.
Max: And when we went on the air, the only other gay characters on TV were Frasier and Niles. And they were brother, so they had covered that.Z
David: They didn't have GLAAD getting on them about that. [Laughs] Our thinking initially was: What's the couple that has an insurmountable obstacle to prevent them from getting together? Because the idea of a will-they-or-won't-they get together kind of thing, it's just annoying in a standard romantic comedy. And what are the barriers now? It wasn't class, it wasn't race. What was it? And we actually had an example that was very close to home. Max had a relationship with our mutual friend Janet from high school that was very much like this. The assumption was they would go away to college, come back, get back together and probably get married. This is a love story with an insurmountable obstacle.
Max: Boy, was she in for a surprise at Christmas break. And actually, the exciting thing about Janet who really was the muse for the part and David and I based a lot on that time and that relationship, it's a joy that she's going to be with us tonight, sitting at the table.
And now, after 11 years off the air, the show is coming back. What is it like to be honored for the legacy of the series while you're currently reviving it?
Max: I'm not concentrating on the legacy part at all. I think I can speak for Dave on that, too. We are writers who are going to a writing room every day and trying to write the best episodes of this comedy that we can. The only thing that we have to watch out for these days is repeating ourselves, you know, or borrowing from material that we had forgotten because there are 197 episodes of story and we just don't want to step on our own work. But we're not really thinking about the legacy per se because that's not our job, to talk about the legacy.
David: It doesn't feel like a brand new thing. It feels very much like a continuation, as if the show was going on, it just hadn't aired for the last 10 years, you know what I mean? It doesn't feel like, OK, well here we are with a completely new concept.
Max: Right. Well, we bathe in Fiji water.
David: That's the only difference.
Max: But other than that, we are the same humble guys we always were.
The reaction to the news that the show was being revived was met with rapturous delight by the internet. Does that fan reaction put any pressure on you or are you able to block it out?
David: A little bit. But more than anything, it's very encouraging. The way I read it is that it's like people miss an old friend that they haven't seen in a while. And we want to be able to reintroduce them to an old friend that they like, that's comforting to that. And I feel like that's the goal of this.
Max: I don't have the same issues that David does as far as reading things that people say about us that aren't kind. I don't want to get into that and maybe that's because—
David: Wait, you've been reading stuff that's unkind?
Max: No, I'm not even online. I'm not on Facebook. I can't really do that and I just learned how to tweet, like, four minutes ago. So I'm going to try to stay out of that muck as much as possible. The only thing that it can do is effect us negatively in good or in bad criticism.
Lastly, I want to ask about the series finale. You ended the show with a 20-year time jump after Will and Grace's major falling out, and last I checked, it hasn't been 20 years yet. Without asking you to reveal anything, what is your message to fans who are scratching their heads a bit over how this will all work?
David: Keep scratching.
Max: I would say this: We've just come out of a story camp that lasted about three months. That's where we break and write all of the episodes that we will be filming in August or whenever we start. I will tell you that almost more than anything, more time went into figuring out how are we going to reintroduce the show and what were the rules going to be and how were we going to address that finale.
David: And where are they in their lives.
Max: And we can tell you this much: They are very much living in that apartment in 2017 in the month of September, on the 28th of September at 9:00. That's when you're going to meet up with them again and they are going to explain to you exactly what happened so you know the rules moving forward and you won't feel like anything is left open.
Be sure to tune in to Logo's Trailblazer Honors on Friday, June 23 at 9 p.m., airing simultaneously on Logo and VH1.
Will & Grace returns on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. on NBC.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)