Will & Grace was the hit US sitcom that aired from 1998 to 2006. The series followed the adventures of Will Truman, a gay lawyer living in New York with his best friend Grace Adler, who worked as an interior designer. Their two pals Karen Walker and Jack McFarland joined them for eight classic seasons, before a reboot was introduced in 2017.
The show was unique at the time in that it featured two gay men in lead roles, yet still managed to maintain a widespread appeal. LGBT communities have since stated that Will & Grace really helped the general public to become more accepting of gay people in general.
In the article below, we’ve taken a look back at this much-loved sitcom with 10 fascinating facts you didn’t know about Will & Grace. Find out what was going on behind the scenes of one of America’s most popular shows…
25. It was supposed to be an ensemble show with straight couples
Believe it or not, Will &Grace wasn’t originally supposed to feature any gay characters whatsoever. However, when the creators pitched the idea to Warren Littlefield at NBC, the only relationship he was interested in was the gay man living with the straight woman. This ensured that Mutchnick and Kohan focused specifically on Will and Grace in the pilot…and TV history was made!
Also, did you know that in the first pilot, Will had elements of both Will and Jack’s personalities?! We would have loved to have seen that character on screen!
24. John Barrowman lost out on the part of Will for being “too straight”
Scottish-American actor John Barrowman auditioned for the lead role of Will but was told that he was ‘too straight’ by producers…despite the fact that he’s actually gay!
Eric McCormack (a straight man) famously won the part instead.
23. All of the actors received a free car from executives
Executives were so pleased with how the first season went that they gave a free car to Messing, McCormack, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes. Wow! And it wasn’t just any car either…the lead actors received Porsche Boxsters as thank yous for their work on the show.
22. Megan Mullally turned down the role of Carrie in King of Queens to play Karen
Mullally was hugely in demand when she auditioned for Will & Grace. After the actress auditioned, while she was still waiting to hear back from producers she was offered the part of Carrie in King of Queens. Mullally turned it down and promptly accepted the role of gold-digging socialite Karen on Will & Grace instead.
21. One man directed every single episode of the series
James Burrows has a very impressive CV – he was behind the camera for programmes such as Cheers and Frasier, and also has the distinction of directing every single episode of Will & Grace. That’s quite the achievement! Apparently Burrows was so detail-oriented that he made sure all of the letters on Will and Grace’s coffee table was addressed to either Truman or Adler at 30 Rockefeller Place, New York.
20. Hispanic rights groups took serious issue with one particular line from the show
NBC was forced to replace the word “tamale” with “honey” in one episode entitled “Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner”…only two hours before the episode was due to air! A number of Hispanic rights groups and the NAACP believed that the word was an ethnic slur by Karen towards her Salavadoran maid Rosario.
Shelly Morrison was the actress who played Rosario, and she has since stated that throughout the entirety of the show, she only felt that Rosario was being exploited twice. In both cases, the producers changed the line or situation at her request.
19. The show’s creators got Debra Messing drunk on vodka so that she would agree to the role
Mutchnick and Kohan were desperate to cast Messing in the role of Grace. So much so, that they marched round to her house with a bottle of vodka and promptly spent the night getting the actress drunk! The two executives pitched her the show after a couple of shots and in the end, the actress was feeling a little woozy.
She once explained: “I’m a lightweight. I didn’t need much to be a little giddy. By the end of the evening, they said, ‘Will you do it?’ I said, ‘Let’s talk tomorrow.'” Of course, she ended up accepting the part!
18. Sean Hayes threw the pilot script in the bin
Whoops! Will & Grace could have looked very different at one point. Hayes was at the Sundance Film Festival when he received a pilot script for the sitcom from a casting executive. Hayes read the script and laughed out loud, but still threw the script in the trash anyway.
Hayes explained to Entertainment Weekly: “I laughed out loud—which is rare during pilot season. But I’d only been at Sundance two days, and I would have had to buy my own plane ticket [to L.A.] just to audition. So I tossed it, thinking there’d be 10,000 more sitcoms.”
17. Will & Grace was based on one of the creator’s childhood friendships
Mutchnick and Kohan were first inspired to create the show after Kohan noted how interesting Mutchnick’s relationship with his good friend Janet Eisenberg was. The pair had actually dated before Mutchnick came out as gay in college, while Kohan was a mutual friend of the two who noted how much the pair’s relationship evolved over the years.
16. Cher’s cameo was filmed in lightning quick speed
Remember that incredible Cher cameo? Well apparently the iconic singer wasn’t on the set of Will & Grace for very long at all. Mullally once told Entertainment Weekly: “They flew her in. Like, she was sort of dropped in on a crescent moon, she did the scene, and was, like, airlifted back out. And when I met her she was in her full Cher Land drag, so I didn’t get to experience her as a person.”
15. Megan Mullally auditioned to play Grace…
When she first auditioned for the show, Megan Mullally didn’t even have playing Karen in mind – largely because she was trying out for the part of Grace instead. Ultimately, producers took Debra Messing for (one half of) the title role, but offered Karen to Mullally, who took the role in spite of reservations over the character being too familiar.
14. …and Mullally’s husband almost played Grace’s boyfriend
In a strange twist of fate, Mullally’s real-life husband, Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman, almost played the long-term boyfriend of Grace, the part Mullally could have played. In the end, Woody Harrelson was cast as Nathan, while Offerman appeared as a guest star on the show – twice: once as Nick the Plumber, in 2001, and in the revival series as celebrity chef Jackson Boudreaux.
13. Karen almost got her own spin-off show
As the original run of Will & Grace was coming to an end, the show’s producers were seriously considering handing a spin-off show to Mullally. But after the Friends spin-off Joey flopped, any plans for a series specifically centred on Karen were cancelled.
12. Grace went missing halfway through season 6 because Debra Messing was heavily pregnant
In a most unusual move, midway through season six, Grace was disappeared by producers for five whole episodes of the show that bore her own name. This was due to the fact that Messing was pregnant with her son with (now ex-)husband Daniel Zelman. She gave birth in April 2004, then returned for the second half of the season.
11. It was the first ever prime-time show to feature gay leads
We don’t talk much these days about Will & Grace’s cultural impact, but rest assured its influence was enormous. Back in 1998, when the first season began, the idea of a prime-time show featuring openly gay lead characters was revolutionary – chiefly because it had never happened before.
10. Former VP Joe Biden says the show changed America
Don’t believe that Will & Grace’s gay leads changed things? Just ask Joe Biden, former Vice President of the United States. Discussing same-sex marriage in 2012, Biden told reporters: “I think Will & Grace did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done. People fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand.”
9. At the show’s peak, Messing and McCormack made $400,000 per episode
When the show was at its zenith in terms of viewership, Will & Grace was one of the most-watched programmes on television, topping out at an audience share of an average 17 million viewers per episode from 2000 to 2003. Thanks to the show’s success, by 2005, Debra Messing and Eric McCormack were making an estimated $400,000 per episode, in a show that had 24 episodes per season.
8. The revival happened because of a one-off, 10-minute reunion sketch
The Will & Grace revival wasn’t supposed to happen; rather, it wouldn’t have happened had the cast not reunited for what turned out to be a popular 10-minute, online-only special in 2016 made to promote voting in the upcoming election. After this proved a success, however, NBC decided to commission an all-new season of the show.
7. The revival was only supposed to be a limited 10-episode run
The news of a Will & Grace ‘reboot’ was met with such fanfare, NBC ended up going for much more than 10 episodes. From there, things snowballed: as the 10-episode revival series was being filmed, the order was upped to 12 episodes, with 12 episodes turning into 16, and the ‘one’ season followed by an additional two (and counting) seasons of 18 episodes.
6. The revival pretends the season 8 finale never happened
Anyone who remembers the season 8 finale of Will & Grace – at the time, thought to be the end of the show itself – will notice something strange about the revival series that began in 2017. Where the original run of the show ended with both Will and Grace estranged and separately married with children, the revival series brings the two back together and ignores the fact that that ever happened. Episode one of the new ninth season explained the rewrite away with Karen saying: “I had the craziest dream”.
5. A Karen musical was cancelled at the last second
After Will & Grace’s original run ended and the Karen spin-off show was nixed, Megan Mullally devised another way to keep Karen around a bit longer. Karen: The Musical, Mullally’s brainchild, was at one point all set to go, with Mullally to star, Fox Theatricals producing, Tony-nominated Casey Nicholaw directing and Jeff Blumenkrantz providing the music, when “persons who shall remain nameless” withdrew the rights to the character just before production could begin.
4. The cast is one of the most awarded in Emmy history
In its original run, Will & Grace proved an enormous hit with critics and awards bodies, especially the Primetime Emmys. In total, the show was nominated for 83 Emmys and won 18, with Messing, McCormack, Hayes and Mullally all winning for their performances. That all four principal cast members have won Emmys puts Will & Grace on a par with All in the Family and The Golden Girls, the only other shows to win Emmys for all of the main cast.
3. Beverly Leslie was supposed to be played by Joan Collins
Since 2001, Leslie Jordan has played the part of Karen’s pint-sized rival Beverly Leslie with such aplomb it seems the part was written specifically for him; indeed, Jordan even won an Emmy for his performance in 2006. In fact, Leslie wasn’t written for Jordan – it wasn’t even written for a man. Instead, Joan Collins was the original Beverley Leslie, but when the Dynasty star couldn’t do it, Jordan was cast instead.
2. Nicollette Sheridan almost played Grace
Though she ended up landing a similarly plum role on Desperate Housewives, which would go on to rival Will & Grace in terms of popularity, Nicollette Sheridan could have won the part of Grace before Debra Messing.
According to producers Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, Sheridan was a frontrunner but just missed out. There were obviously no hard feelings, as Sheridan went on to cameo in the show as Dr Dani Moriarty in the fifth season finale.
1. Stan Walker has never once been seen on the show
Karen Walker’s super-rich, apparently grotesque husband Stan has never once been revealed to the audience. The closest we’ve gotten to actually seeing Stan is an episode in which the businessman’s hand reaches out to touch Karen’s breasts. In another episode, his feet are seen as he enjoys a bath with his wife.