History was made on September 21, 1998. The very day Bill Clinton was summoned before a grand jury to explain what he meant when he said " I did not have sexual relations with that woman" America was introduced to a quartet of revolutionary characters in the form of two fags, a hag, and her boozy best friend. Television would never be the same.
Will and Grace the show, was smart, sassy, naughty, nice, neurotic, funny and familiar. Running for 8 seasons, the critically acclaimed sitcom was nominated for 49 Emmy awards, winning 12. A hit show from the start, the cast and crew of W&G was recognized for their work with SAG Awards, Glaad Media Awards, and enough positive press to drown out the bigots and homophobes.
Exuberant in its willingness to forge a path of queer sensibility, Will and Grace took sitcoms places Ellen only dreamed of going. Sure Will and Jack were silly stereotypes, but they were our stereotypes. Gay pride finally achieved primetime status, and people took notice. How could you not notice Karen Walker, Diva incarnate?
With some of the biggest stars in Hollywood making guest appearances, W&G quickly became a camp classic, and a ratings success. A sexual farce in the form of the usual situation comedy, Will and Grace pushed the envelope at every turn, making it safe for gay characters to populate all genres of programming, except science fiction and sports.
Eric McCormick's portrayal of Will Truman, always struck me as bittersweet. He was the gay everyman. Not nelly, not butch, he was just normal. Will had the job, the clothes, the nice home, and the witty banter. All he needed was the happy ever after with a man of his dreams. The series finale gave us that.
Elevating sissy chic to an art form, Sean Hayes' over the top portrayal of Jack McFarland made playing gay socially acceptable for straight actors. No longer taboo, shows such as Queer as Folk, the L word were made possible because W&G dared to be out and proud.
On television, queer is everywhere. Reflecting our place in society, gay representation on television is proof of the growing acceptance and assimilation within a larger culture. On cable there are channels of programming catering specifically to a gay and lesbian audience. Rosie O'Donnell, my favorite lesbian celebrity, is even joining the ladies of the View on ABC. Talk about acceptance.
Will and Grace brought gays and lesbians into the mainstream market. Commercial ads sales never suffered from the racy humor and openly homoerotic jokes and gags. Eight seasons is a long time in TV years. W&G must have generated millions, if not billions, in media buys from major corporations throughout it's run. Queer comedy proved to be good for the economy, and very good for NBC.
So now our friend have left the building. As I watched the series finale I was struck how well the show had held up over the years. America had changed for the worse, since we met Grace and the gang. In between now and then the cast and crew had to compete with world events for the audience attention. Sitcoms are dying on the cultural vine, while procedure shows highlighting the growing police state are thriving, and reality shows redefine the concept of entertainment.
With the end of Will and Grace, gay culture has passed into a new era. From here on in scholars and scribes will distinguish queer TV as being pre-Jack or after Jack. Because of the revolutionary charms of Will and Grace, television is now a friendlier place for gays and lesbians. Thankfully, syndication will keep Will and Grace, Jack and Karen around long after the crime shows are dead and buried.
Wrapping up storylines with kids, marriages, and the glow of happy endings, Will and Grace found peace and purpose as their children prepared to marry. Karen and Jack, found luxurious comfort in the fortune of Beverley Leslie. Ending on a high note these characters may have been designed as stereotypes, but they were our stereotypes, aged to perfection, and part of our collective history.
Having arrived, I wonder where television is taking us next?