Given that after tonight’s season finale, Will & Grace goes off the air (though it will live on, in syndication), I thought I’d look back a bit. I was in the audience at Radio City Music Hall the day at the upfronts when NBC proudly put the show on its 1998-1999 primetime schedule. Like everyone else, I diligently read through the program NBC handed out on the way in: it said Will & Grace was a sitcom about two best friends. And the network took the unusual step of showing a long, long, long, portion of the pilot (in fact, it sure seemed like it was the entire pilot). Will was smart, Grace was perky, and Jack clearly was the comic foil written so gay that he was downright festive. But I kept thinking as I watched, hmm, something’s weird. It seemed a pretty lightweight premise to just have two friends with a gay pal and a lush assistant. It was only when I walked out of the presentation and went to the NBC after-party that I learned that Jack wasn’t the only gay character. I remember exactly how I felt at the time: incredibly pissed at NBC suits that they didn’t have the courage of their convictions and felt they had to hide Will’s homosexuality from advertisers out of fear that Home Depot or Colgate-Palmolive might get upset. It was such a noxious notion, and so antiquated — like we were back in the days when Jews weren’t hired by the TV networks because all the advertising agencies were run by WASPs. Let me tell you, I never for a moment dreamed that things would get worse, not better, for gays in this country. Because Will & Grace goes off the air on the same day that the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. I often wonder why gays don’t stay off their jobs for a solid week just to remind the wedge-politics hacks in the White House and Congress and State Houses that homosexuals are an integrated and integral part of America’s population and deserve the same civil rights as straights.
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