Since its 1998 premiere, "Will & Grace" has gone on to make television history by educating audiences about the LGBT community. Being the first show to feature two prominently gay characters, the series focused on the lives of the main cast and how they navigated their careers and relationships.
But behind the scenes of the show, there were many moments that would have absolutely changed the sitcom beyond recognition. And even during the production of the show's reboot, there were times that the cast thought that the show would not go on! So, here are some facts about the original show and its 2017 reboot.
Jack’s Cher Doll is Worth a Fortune
The iconic Cher doll that appeared on an episode of “Will & Grace’s” initial run wasn’t just one of the line of dolls that appeared in stores later that year. The prototype version of the doll that appeared on the show is estimated to be worth $60,000. The episode also made use of a promotional website that viewers could log on to for updates of the doll’s production. The doll from the show is now owned by series creator Max Mutchnick.
The Pilot Included Characters that Were Later Scrapped
In the original pilot of the series there were several characters who were ultimately cut out when the show was picked up by NBC. One of these characters was Will’s straight law partner Andy Felner. In the book “Will & Grace: Fabulously Uncensored,” author Jim Colucci weighed in that “after seeing the strength of their foursome in action, the producers knew that Andy and company were unnecessary.”
Rosario Was Named After Her Real-Life Counterpart
Rosario is Karen’s maid on the show, and the character even married Jack in an episode. But the character, like many others in the series, was inspired by a person that creator Max Mutchnick knew in real life. Rosario was named after his own housekeeper and while the character was only meant to make a small appearance, she ultimately became a regular on the show.
“The Birds” Reunion
“Will & Grace” featured appearances by many actors, including Veronica Cartwright, who played Jack’s mother, and Suzanne Pleshette, who portrayed Karen’s mom. And classic film fans might recognize these names because both actresses appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “The Birds.” Cartwright played a student and Pleshette was her teacher, Annie Hayworth.
The Mysterious Painting’s Origin
Of all of the pieces of set dressing used in the series, there is none more iconic than the painting of a man’s face that appears in Will’s apartment. Fans of the show have speculated that the painting may depict Eric McCormack himself, or even actor Desi Arnaz, but production designer Glenda Rovello set the record straight. She revealed, “It’s a friend of a friend’s painting.” And the painting is an original, unsigned oil painting found by set decorator Melinda Ritz. But currently, the painting found a new home as part of the Smithsonian’s LGBT history collection.
The Title’s Inspiration
The title of “Will & Grace,” and the main characters of the series’ names were derived from a religious quote from Jewish theologian Martin Buber. Buber’s book “I and Thou” includes the quote, “You need the will to pursue a relationship with God, and the grace to receive it.” Creator of the series David Kohan was familiar with the quote and thought that it perfectly represented the show’s lead characters.
The Show’s Elizabeth Taylor Connection
On the series, Grace’s middle name is Elizabeth, after iconic golden age actress Elizabeth Taylor. And Debbie Reynolds, who portrays Grace’s mother on the show, has her own connection to Taylor. Reynold’s first husband Eddie Fisher left Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor after four years of marriage. But Reynolds was able to forgive Taylor and later in their lives they reconciled their friendship.
“Will & Grace” Made Emmys History
“Will & Grace” set a lot of records during its initial eight season run, and one of those records was very impressive. It remains one of only three shows in television history in which all of the lead actors of the show won Emmys for their work. The other shows that have done so are “All in the Family” and “The Golden Girls.”
Megan Mullally Almost Played a Very Different Character
In 1998, Megan Mullally was offered the role of Karen Walker on “Will & Grace,” but she was also offered a role on “The King of Queens” that very same year. Carrie Heffernan was almost played by Mullally, but when she chose to play Karen, the role went to Leah Remini, and the rest is TV history.
The Live Episode Featured Tons of Mishaps
The first episode of the eighth season of “Will & Grace” was broadcasted to audiences live, so there was no time to correct any mishaps that happened during filming. Fans of the show may have noticed that actress Megan Mullally was in a scooter during this episode, and that was because she hurt her ankle dancing in her home just prior to the live episode, but she had to continue on with filming.
The Show Spawned a Soundtrack
A soundtrack for the series was released during the final year of the show’s initial run in 2004. The album featured gay classics like “I Will Survive,” and songs by guest stars of the show like Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.” There was even a song that featured lines from the show remixed together into a dance track. The album is currently out of print, but fans shouldn’t have any trouble finding a copy from resellers online.
The Cast was Given Cars by the Show’s Producers
The first season of the series was such a success that the core cast of Messing, Mullally, McCormack and Hayes were given matching Porches for a job well done from the series’ producers. McCormack eventually ended up auctioning off his car in 2008 to benefit Project Angel Food, a meal-delivery charity that serves individuals with AIDS and other illnesses. McCormack added, “there’s somebody out there that would really appreciate knowing it was the car I drove every day to the lot.”
Robert Downey Jr. Was Offered a Role
Robert Downey Jr. was approached by the producers of the show to play the character of Will’s sportscaster boyfriend named Matt. Ultimately, Downey turned down the offer and Patrick Dempsey was cast, but Downey did appear on another 90’s sitcom, “Ally McBeal,” in which he even got to show off his singing chops.
Sean Hayes’ Interesting Pre-Show Ritual
During the show’s run, Hayes revealed on “Oprah” that he had a unique ritual that he had to do before each and every taping. Hayes admitted that he absolutely had to use the bathroom before filming started, because he had a nervous stomach. Megan Mullally even added in, “We cannot start the show until he has had his poop. So we check in!”
Rob and Ellen Were Based on a Real-Life Couple
Will and Grace’s straight friends Rob and Ellen were played by Tom Gallop and Leigh-Allyn Baker on the series and they appeared in 16 episodes of the show, mostly to participate in game night at the apartment. But the couple had real life counterparts. They were based on Ellen Idelson and Rob Lotterstein, who creators Mutchnick and Kohan worked with on the HBO series “Dream On.”
The Creators Have a Lasting Friendship
"Will & Grace" was inspired by the friendship between executive producers Max Mutchnick and David Kohan. During their childhoods, Mutchnick developed a relationship with future New York voice-over casting agent Janet Eisenberg while the two were rehearsing a play at Temple Emanuel in California.
Three years later, Mutchnick introduced her to Kohan and the rest inspired Will and Grace's relationship history. According to Jewish Journal, Kohan recalled Mutchnick and Eisenberg "went out for a couple of years... and Max comes out of the closet, springs it on her..." Like Jack does on the show, Kohan "functioned as a laison between the two of them" until their friendship was restored.
Megan Mullally Found Her Voice
Megan Mullally doesn't use her actual voice when playing Karen. As the seasons progressed, she began to raise her voice until it reached the iconic shrill tone fans have come to know and love. In 2004, the actress was approached by Disney to lend her voice to "Finding Nemo." At first, the studio allowed her to use whatever voice she wanted but as soon as she started speaking, they asked for her to go a little higher. During her interview on "The Wayne Brady Show," she revealed Disney fired her after she refused to recreate her "Karen voice" for the undisclosed role.
James Burrows Directed Every Episode of the Original Series
James Burrows directed every episode of "Will & Grace" during its initial eight year run. His attention to detail was so on point that he even made sure all of the letters addressed to Will or Grace had the accurate 30 Rockefeller Place, New York address on them. Burrows held the show in such high esteem that he referred to it as a "fairy tale, literally and figuratively" during promotion for the 2017 revival.
Another Actor Nearly Played Will
John Barrowman, known for his roles on "Doctor Who" and "Arrow," was strongly in the running to play Will Truman before producers decided to sign Eric McCormack instead. Oddly enough, the producers believed Barrowman was "too straight" to play the character and thought McCormack was more convincing as a gay man. In reality, Barrowman is gay while McCormack is straight.
Nick Offerman Made a Few Appearances
Megan Mullally's husband, Nick Offerman, made two appearances on the show. In the original, he guest-starred as a plumber in the season four episode "Moveable Feast" where he had a steamy hook-up with Karen. In the reboot, he plays a celebrity baker named Jackson Boudreaux who delves into an intimate relationship with both Will and Grace.
The overly-flamboyant Beverly Leslie was originally written for Joan Collins. In an interview with Instinct Magazine, Leslie Jordan revealed the character would try to steal Rosario from Karen and "they would have a big Dynasty catfight." Collins wasn't able to audition (some sources state she didn't want to have her wig torn off) and the role was given to Jordan instead. The actress did make an appearance as Helena Barnes in "My Best Friend's Tush" as a high-society interior designer who shares a passive-aggressive friendship with Karen.
Hayes Tossed the Script
Before agreeing to play Jack McFarland, Sean Hayes had thrown away the script when it was first pitched to him. After seeing his performance in "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," casting directors were determined to reel in the actor who at first tossed the opportunity because he didn't want to pay for a plane ticket to audition. Eventually Hayes broke down and auditioned and the rest is "Just Jack." In an interview with Entertainment Magazine, executive producer Matt Mutchnick revealed during his audition, Hayes "exhibited Jack's signature sass as he left by barking 'Stop looking at my a**, Mutchnick."
Messing Got the Job While She Was Drunk
Hayes wasn't the only one who initially passed on having a starring role on "Will & Grace." All of the cast members were originally hesitant to accept their parts. In a desperate and determined move, the producers showed up at Debra Messing's door with a bottle of vodka and pitched her their ideas for the show as they "poured me several shots." Being a "lightweight," Messing revealed to New York Daily News that it didn't take long for her "to be a little giddy" about accepting the role as Grace Adler.
Karen Almost Had a Broadway Musical
Though Will and Grace were undoubtedly the main characters of the series, Jack and Karen often times worked their way into the audience's hearts and grew to become fan favorites of the show. As her popularity grew, Karen was meant to have her own spin-off in the form of a Broadway musical. Speaking to Digital Spy, Megan Mullally revealed that while everyone was on board for "Karen: The Musical," at the last moment, "those who own the rights to the character of Karen withdrew their consent."
The Show Made Milestones Possible
To this day, "Will & Grace" is still considered "one of the most successful televisions series with gay principal characters" according to the show's Wikipedia page. Since its initial run from 1998 - 2006, the show has been credited with improving the general public's understanding of the LGBT community with Joe Biden even stating it "did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done." The show has won several GLAAD Media Awards for its support of the gay community.
The Cast Snatched Their Share of Trophies
"Will & Grace" has gone on two win numerous awards since its original season. Collectively, the series has won sixteen Primetime Emmy Awards, seven Screen Actors Guild Awards, and earned twenty-nine Golden Globe Award nominations. Out of 198 total nominations for various awards, the show has won 55 of them. During its initial eight season run, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally were in the lead for the most award recognition (44 and 40 nominations respectively) while Debra Messing had 36 nominations and Eric McCormack had 28.
A Seminar Nearly Got Them Canceled
During their guest appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," McCormack told the story of how in the early 2000s, NBC had a sexual harassment seminar with the cast and crew of the show. At the end of the seminar, Haynes "stood up, and with his pants and his underwear around his ankles, he said 'This has been so helpful, thank you so much.'"
Behind-the-Scenes Drama Killed the Revival
Rumors of a backstage feud between Debra Messing and Megan Mullally began to run rampant after Mullally unfollowed her co-star on Instagram and asked for a "temporary leave of absence" from the reboot's final season as reported by Digital Spy in January 2019. Many of the actress' social media posts and public statements alluded to bullying from Messing and how "the bully has recruited many of my allies to their side" according to the Sun. Eric McCormack tried to downplay the rumors by telling Us Weekly that "people worried... entirely too much."
Madonna Caused a Commotion
While many of the celebrity guests appeared to have enjoyed their time on the show and with the cast-members, one guest in particular didn't care too much for her co-stars. "Material Girl" songstress Madonna appeared on the episode "Dolls and Dolls" as Karen's free-spirited and eccentric roommate.
In an interview with Gay Star News, Hayes revealed that in an attempt to calm the star's nerves during a table reading of the script, he started "praising her" to which she sarcastically responded "Thank you. I live for your approval." During an interview with Graham Norton, Messing revealed that Madonna hadn't bothered to learn any of her co-stars' names and was tricked into thinking Debra's name was actually Rachal (which incidentally is Madonna's "Kabbalah name").
Messing's Opinions Made Fans Feel Polarized
Mullally isn't the only target when it comes to Messing's alleged "bullying." The actress ignited a feud with Susan Sarandon on Twitter regarding the 2016 Presidential race. A proud Bernie Sanders supporter, Sarandon caused controversy when she implied on MSNBC that having Trump as president would be preferable to Hillary Clinton.
Angered by the remark, Clinton supporter Messing accused the actress of being ignorant about her privilege. And in 2018, the fight was reignited when Messing dragged Sarandon on Twitter for making a statement on Variety that Trump's discriminatory polices have fueled more women and people of color to run for office. Messing proceeded to outline Trump's polices in a massive thread before calling Sarandon a "self-righteous narcissist."
Sean Hayes Opened the Closet Door
In an interview with The Guardian, Sean Hayes revealed the reason he waited four years after the show's initial run to announce his sexuality because when the series first premiered "we would get death threats... and I was scared." Fearing for his safety, Haynes remained quiet about his personal life until 2010 when he publicly came out as homosexual.
Bullied by Ignorance
In 2014, Eric McCormack participated in a promotional video for "My Life My Power" in which he revealed painful memories of being bullied in his youth. In sixth grade, he and his closest male friend were restrained by bullies and forced to "participate in a mock wedding--- to each other." Despite being straight, McCormack was called gay slurs because "of course, when two guys are that close... they must be gay."
Better Left Unsaid
In 2017, the cast went on the Today Show to promote the series and talk to super-fan Russell Turner. During the interview, host Megyn Kelly asked Turner "is it true that you became a lawyer-- and you became gay-- because of Will?" The cringe-worthy moment only worsened when after awarding Turner with tickets to see a live-taping of the show, Kelly stated she was unsure of Turner's journey toward a law degree but believed "the 'Will & Grace' thing and the gay thing is going to work out great!" To this day when confronted about her appearance on the show, Debra Messing has stated she "regret[ted] going on" and is "dismayed" by Kelly's comments.
Cameos and Guest Stars Made The Show What It Was
During its original eight seasons, "Will & Grace" featured 166 celebrity cameos. While some made single appearances, others went on to play major characters on the show. Among them are Alec Baldwin as Malcolm Whidmark, Eileen Brennan as Zandra, and John Cleese as Lyle Finster. In an interview with Oprah, Sean Hayes revealed his favorite celebrity cameo was Matt Damon as Owen, a straight man trying to sneak his way into the New York Gay Men's Chorus and beat Jack out of the top spot.
Messing's Messy Marriage Almost Hindered the Show
In December 2011, Messing separated from her husband Daniel Zelman and began cozying up with "Smash" co-star Will Chase who was also in the midst of a divorce. People Magazine broke the news that the coy couple had been together for six weeks, during which Messing was still living with Zelman before their official separation. The two finalized their divorce in June 2012 and Messing went on to publicly date Chase for three years before the two broke up in October 2014.
The B*tch is Back
Among the numerous celebrity cameos on "Will & Grace," Elton John may have been the easiest to convince when it came to making an appearance. Eric McCormack and John's current husband David Furnish went to high school together and were in many of their class' theater productions together. In an interview with Just Jared, McCormack revealed he and Furnish "go all the way back to like tenth grade." After reuniting at John's Oscars party, McCormack sent him some tapes of the show and the musician agreed to make a cameo.
An "Unforgettable" Moment
While many die-hard fans of the show were ecstatic when news broke of a revival, some were turned off by the writers' decision to ignore the events of the show's finale. One of the most memorable and heart-wrenching scenes in the finale is Jack and Karen's "Unforgettable" duet. In an interview with Daily Beast, Mullally revealed that there was no rehearsal for the iconic scene due to the moment's emotional intensity. Only one full take was ever captured and "right after they called cut, Sean turned around and... sat on a chair and just cried. And then I sat with him and we cried together."
Rosario Made One Last Appearance
In December 2019, Shelley Morrison passed away from heart failure. Originally meant to be a one-time character, her role as Rosario was beloved by many and led to her becoming a semi-regular during the show's original run. Employed by Karen as her house-maid, the two would always get into arguments but always remained fiercely loyal to each other.
After her passing, Mullally praised Morrison's accomplishments and stated "you will be missed." McCormack posted a similar tribute on his Twitter stating "Shelley was a beautiful soul and a wonderful actor" while Messing said "she will always be our dear Rosie." Though she passed away before the show's revival, Morrison does make brief appearance in the form of a ghost in the Season 10 episode "Who's Sorry Now?" where she tells Karen to find love and enjoy life to the fullest.
They Thought The Show Could Go On Too Long
Last year, the producers behind "Will & Grace" announced they would be ending the show in 2020. Seeking to have a natural and complete end to the series without fearing a mid-season cancellation, the producers collectively commented their decision to end the show was inspired by "the way Karen Walker thinks of martinis--- 51 is not enough, 53 is too many."
The End of an Era
Though the producers made their official announcements regarding the show's season finale, some still believe the series is coming to an end because of back-stage drama. Along with the Messing and Mullally feud, numerous reports have attempted to shed more light revealing Messing believed Mullally and Hayes were "stealing the show" from her and McCormack according to National Inquirer UK.
Radar Online reported that Warner Bros. threatened to have Mullally removed from the reboot "if she didn't get along better with the rest of the cast." While NBC has strongly denied these incidents influenced the decision to close the series, it's hard to say they didn't trigger the show's end.