Rants and Raves
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Rants and Raves

My (Second) Night with Will & Grace

My night with the cast and creative team at PaleyFest was one full of surprises, including a mysterious couple granting us the gift of front row seats and a kiss from Jack McFarland himself.

Author’s Note: This is the second article in the author’s series about Will & Grace. Click here for Part One, which analyzes the revival trend and recounts my night at an episode taping. Click here for Part Three, which reviews how the revival wrapped up the series in May 2020. Click here for Part Four, which reviews and ranks all of the holiday episodes.

For the past 35 years, the Paley Center for Media has held an annual festival dedicated to celebrating television. For two weeks in March, one television series per day (or two on the weekends) is feted at a ceremony involving a screening of a classic or upcoming episode and a Q&A with the cast and creative team.

I have been to 12 PaleyFest events in my near decade in Los Angeles and it has been interesting to watch them grow in size. My first was a celebration of Desperate Housewives in 2009, which was held at the Cinerama Dome at the ArcLight in Hollywood (approximate capacity = 800). Then it moved to the Saban Theater for a few years (approximate capacity = 1,900). There I saw celebrations of Mad Men, Modern Family, Hot in Cleveland, Parks & Recreation, The Mindy Project, and Nashville. Starting in 2014, it relocated to the home of the Oscars, the Dolby Theater (approximate capacity = 3,400). There I have seen Veep, Scandal, Modern Family (again), and — just last night — Will & Grace.

Unfortunately, as the festival grows, the ticket prices go up and the whole event seems a bit less intimate. Although they still screen sneak peeks for the audience and take extensive questions from them during the Q&A, the autograph signing and selfie taking with the cast that was once the hallmark of the event has all but disappeared (it started being heavily restricted after the move to the Dolby and last night the cast of Will & Grace apologetically walked off the stage saying they couldn’t stay for the audience interactions).

Given the decreased intimacy, it pays to be toward the front. Even with my CitiCard presale I was unable to get in the first few rows of Will & Grace, but the seats I scored were more than adequate. In an unexpected twist that still seems surreal, an unfathomably sweet couple stopped us on our way into the theater and asked us if we wanted two extra VIP passes that they had (apparently their friends had just canceled). The tickets came with a close-up view of the red carpet (actually, a blue carpet) and front row seats. Naturally skeptical, I hesitated, but my husband jumped on the opportunity.

After a hilarious and heartfelt introduction from the evening’s moderator Dan Bucatinsky (who guest starred as Will’s aggressive would-be suitor Neil on two episodes of the series and has won an Emmy for his acting on Scandal), the audience was treated to a sneak peek of the season’s penultimate episode. Entitled “One Job,” it follows two plot lines. The first involves Karen rekindling her affair with Malcolm (her debonair suitor played by Alec Baldwin) much to Jack’s chagrin. The second involves Grace forcing Will to accompany her upstate to celebrate her late mother’s birthday. Although not the high point of the season it was a solid episode that brought back many important recurring characters and featured a lovely tribute to the late, great Debbie Reynolds, who played Grace’s mother Bobbi Adler on 12 episodes of the original series.

The panel discussion itself followed and involved a host of memorable moments. Among them:

  1. The moderator noted that the event was occurring on a historic night — the 20th anniversary of the filming of Will & Grace’s pilot episode.
  2. When the moderator asked the co-creator if there was any scoop he could provide those in attendance, he stammered before noting that the second season of the revival (which is technically the show’s 10th) had been extended from 13 to 18 episodes by NBC. That’s nice, but not that exciting. Sensing the lack of enthusiasm, Megan Mullally (Karen) whispered to Eric McCormack (Will) and the two announced the very big news that NBC has renewed the show for a third season (technically 11th) even though the first (technically 9th) hasn’t even wrapped yet. It was instantly all over the entertainment news and it was broken at PaleyFest, which is one of the many joys of the festival.
  3. Debra Messing provided a hilarious anecdote, when she noted that she arranged to take the door from the set of her office (emblazoned with the words Grace Adler Designs), when the series originally wrapped production. She claims that a bill was sent to her from NBC two weeks later claiming she needed to reimburse them $250 for the wood used to make the door. “Fuck ‘em!” she yelled. “I love it when Debra drinks before these things,” McCormack cracked.
  4. McCormack disclosed that in the original pilot, there was a fifth character, Will’s black business partner (played by Cress Williams, currently making his debut as Black Lightning on the CW). Legendary director James Burrows (who has directed all 210 episodes of Will & Grace) said the character simply didn’t work and needed to be written out. (Later the ever-deadpan director quipped, “Will & Grace is the best show I have ever directed. Except Cheers.”)
  5. When asked if she shared her character’s ultra-conservative political leanings, Megan Mullally replied, “Let’s just say that now that I know that Donald Trump Jr. is available, well, it’s over Nick.” (She looked at her husband — Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman — in the audience, who it turns out was seated behind me.)

Before long, it was time to field questions from the audience. Perhaps emboldened by being in the front row, I volunteered for the first time in my PaleyFest history. The first person to ask a question was an incredibly sweet man from Arizona who gave a beautiful tribute to the show and noted that coming to this event was an anniversary present for his husband. The ever-nimble Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally sprinted over from their chairs and gave him and his husband a big hug. I went third, and before my question noted that I echoed the first man’s sentiments. In a hilarious moment, Sean Hayes yelled “then I should kiss you, too” and sprinted across the stage and embraced me. It was a spontaneous, unforgettable moment.

Oh wait, the question. What I asked them was why they had cut the extended tap dancing sequence that Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes performed at the taping of the season’s 13th episode. (I was in the live studio audience and surprised to see that the elaborate number had not made the final cut when it aired.) I connected it to a broader question about how they determine what scenes make the strict 21 minute per episode limit imposed by the network and apologized if it was a sore subject. Apparently it was. They all started talking over one another. Megan Mullally about how she had the stomach flu during the filming, the co-creator about how hard it is to edit the episodes, and the other co-creator noting that I would be able to see it among the extra footage made available online. Honestly, though, I didn’t really hear everything they were saying. After all, I’d just been kissed by Just Jack.

If you had told me that one of my favorite shows as a teenager would come back to TV in 2017 and I would get to see it up close and in person twice, I would have told you that you were crazy. A big thanks to the Paley Center and to the ever gracious, ever talented cast of Will & Grace.

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Note: All photos featured in this post were taken with my own camera.

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