The Election Brought Us Will & Grace Season Nine…What?!
How an iconic entertainment property learned to re-establish itself in a new digital and cultural world.
by Maggie Cadigan
The election! A topic that was a hot constant on our brains, at the family dinner table and in our social lives, has since faded into a whole host of other topics many of us never thought would see the light of day (…again). But, if I can focus on just the right pixel of the situation, the silver lining for me HAS to be the return of my second-favorite TV show of all time.
AND, as true as it was when the show debuted in 1998, it continues its trendsetting abilities by grabbing Modern Media Culture by the horns and becoming relevant again. Will & Grace, you have caught my attention.
Let’s take a step back.
Why did Will & Grace matter in 1998?
Named one of the top 20 sitcoms of all time, this show was a diamond in the rough and ahead of its time when it debuted for so many reasons, including the four main characters:
- Will: A poised, professional and passionate gay lawyer who excels in life: at his job, with his friendship and loyalty to everyone he crosses paths with (especially Grace) and his direct but supportive nature.
- Grace: An opinionated yet level-headed witty woman who owned her own business and personal decisions that defined her own path with men.
- Jack: A fabulous, entertaining, effervescent and progressive gay wannabe actor/entertainer whose life was meant to be only what he himself determined it to be and took nobody’s opinions as fact.
- Karen: A woman who defined the 1% and did nothing but own being in that 1%, showing her love through money (complete by her politically incorrect interactions with latina housemaid Rosario).
There was so much in the show that was just hitting supreme relevancy when it went off air in 2006 after 8 seasons. Two gay men in principal roles who owned a reality that was still in process of being accepted by society. A female who owned her own business and was never led by a man, and a woman who never needed to explain her self-obsessive personality and spending habits.
The end of the Will & Grace era left many broken hearts (like mine) in its wake.
How is entertainment different in 2017?
Well, streaming video for starters, not to mention Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. They have significant entertainment offerings (some ad-free, mind you) to compete with your average cable network’s shot at attention. Netflix is spending $6 billion on original content this year for its 104 million subscribers, and just scored 91 Emmy nominations. Netflix is one-upping itself with marketing creativity too, such as its efforts around Stranger Things or truths in the substance behind Black Mirror. But, this is expected — Netflix is a creative and business model disruptor at heart, and this week, even Scandal’s Shonda Rhimes agrees.
But what about all the “old hats”?
Enter stage left: Will & Grace. You dusty old fella who doesn’t know which way is up in this world. Or do you?
Why is Will & Grace back?
Simple: a viral video.
Last fall, the show shot a video encouraging people to vote. It quickly went viral (7.6 million views), proving that the show still resonated with a sizable audience and could still be topical in 2016.
Or as Debra Messing put it:
“The 2016 election ‘absolutely was the catalyst’ for the return of Will & Grace.”
The video illustrated how an old show shouldn’t always be pushed out of view just because it is associated with yesteryear.
Last September, the cast started posting hints on social platforms, which put me into a state of giddy excitement. They kept it vague as to what they were working on, and left us all watching their every move — something that every Netflix marketer dreams of. I thought it would just be the announcement that the show was coming to a streaming service, which meant I could pack up my DVDs once and for all.
Instead, I woke up the next morning to The Video, instantly re-establishing relevancy by commenting on the Brangelina split, Fifty Shades of Grey, Ryan Lochte, Hamilton, the upcoming election of course, and much more.
The video left us all feeling the characters could stand up to the relevancy test of today’s world. But I wondered: Will & Grace, can you continue to be lovable and relatable as a series in “Modern Media Culture,” a binge-watching world more competitive than the one you left?
Why does this matter?
We live in a data-driven entertainment world. Listen to anyone from Netflix talk about their programming decisions, and you will soon hear a reference to data-driven audience insights and endless niches. Just check out Variety’s new Netflix cover story.
Maybe this is why reboots are becoming a thing now, from Full House to One Day At A Time to Twin Peaks, Roseanne and yes, Will & Grace: the data says there’s an audience that wants more.
Also: Netflix isn’t dependent on ad revenue. Ratings in a traditional sense do not matter. Instead, it’s about driving new subscribers and keeping existing subscribers. As more traditional companies transition to premium streaming services (hello Disney), understanding this will be critical to success (see also Facebook Watch’s video efforts to keep 2 billion people engaged).
For entertainment marketers, this means driving tune-in for specific shows, AND potentially driving a subscription business for the overall brand, while managing a portfolio of shows at different lifestages across multiple audience segments.
So will Will & Grace be a success, again?
“Success” in entertainment marketing is different now than it was then.
A show that has captivated hearts for almost 20 years has proved that what it takes to break through in our streaming, digital culture can be taught. The hype, excitement and love shared for this reunion video single-handedly birthed season 9 of the series, debuting 9/28, with a season 10 already confirmed. Since the show has re-entered production, it is proving it can keep up with the marketing times: Facebook posts from the cast, live-streamed backstage intros from Sean Hayes, running old clips on social platforms, and more. It’s all part of showing Netflix what’s up, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
So may I be the (probably not) first to say and wholeheartedly congratulate you, Will & Grace. Welcome to the future, and keep giving us a reason to come back for more.
Maggie Cadigan is a Brand Director at Mistress.