The Will & Grace election-themed reunion mini-episode made waves with its surprising reveal last month, triggering talk of a possible real reunion. While nothing is set, I hear conversations have been ongoing about a new season of the Emmy-winning comedy series, which aired from 1998-2006 on NBC.
Sources caution that there are no deals in place, the sides are currently far apart and there are a lot of hurdles that make mounting a Will & Grace return a daunting task, but at least there is a will to pursue it. Producing studio Universal TV needs to secure stars Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes as well as creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan. I hear the idea is to do a one-off 10-episode installment. NBC and Uni TV had no comment.
While NBC, the series’ original network, is certainly a possibility, I hear a streaming player, like Netflix or NBC corporate sibling Hulu, is also considered likely. While I’d heard Netflix’s name mentioned as a potential partner, I hear there haven’t been formal conversations with the Internet network, which has successfully rebooted several beloved series including Arrested Development, Full House and Gilmore Girls, returning with four movies.
Will & Grace is in a different category, making negotiations more difficult. It was a very successful major network sitcom that ran for eight seasons and sold in off-network syndication where it continues to make a lot of money. By the end of the show’s run on NBC, the four stars commanded very high salaries — reported at the time to be close to $600,000 an episode — in addition to a piece of the series’ lucrative back end.
While Gilmore Girls producer Warner Bros TV had some room to maneuver with the new installment done as a series of movies (those still triggered a lawsuit by the original series’ executive producer Gavin Polone), a new season of Will & Grace would likely have to adhere to the back-end distribution structure already in place, leaving Universal TV little room to negotiate on potential new profit demands.
Netflix or Hulu have been brought up as a logical scenario for another reason: Unlike its Must See TV counterparts Seinfeld, Frasier and Friends, Will & Grace does not have a streaming deal for its library of existing episodes, which currently are only available in repeats on cable networks and local stations. So there is a potential bigger play for Universal (and possibly Warner Bros) here, with a streaming deal for a new installment as well as the old episodes of the show. In one of the most intriguing 1990s TV pacts, Warner Bros landed domestic distribution of the NBC Studios-produced Will & Grace in exchange to loaning out Mutchnick and Kohan, who had been signed into an exclusive WBTV deal, back to NBC to work on the show. Some sources indicate that deal may have expired, reverting distribution rights back to NBCUniversal, but WBTV still has a play on the new installment as it has Mutchnick under an overall deal.
It was Mutchnick who was behind the Will & Grace reunion mini-episode, getting the cast together, and getting the original set re-assembled in the basement of the lot where the NBC series filmed. He and Kohan wrote the script, with additional punch-up work by Will & Grace alums Gary Janetti and Bill Wrubel.
The episode has been a hit, drawing more than 6 million viewers since its debut on the day of the first Presidential debate, September 26. (The Will & Grace quartet will stage another reunion tonight at a Hillary Clinton fundraiser.)
What’s more, unlike some other reunions, the characters on Will & Grace almost picked up where they left off, all of them looking close to the way they did 10 years ago when the series ended, and so did the character dynamic on the show. Will & Grace has great legacy — in addition to winning 16 Emmys, including best comedy series, it is credited with paving the way for LGBT characters on TV, featuring the first openly gay lead characters on a primetime network series.
And while negotiations will be difficult — the Will & Grace ensemble players have had successful post-show careers, giving them leverage — there is a big opening as none of the four is currently tied to another network series. (McCormack stars on the upcoming Canadian sci-fi drama series Travelers, which will air on Netflix outside of Canada.) An enthusiastic fan reaction to the news of a Gilmore Girls follow-up on Netflix helped close contacts with the series’ stars. Maybe a similar response will help get deals done for a new Will & Grace season.