When Max Mutchnick and David Kohan introduced Will & Grace to NBC, the pair were tasked with creating a replacement for Mad About You.
“We wrote a simple straight love story and her neighbors were these two,” Mutchnick said, referring to stars Eric McCormack and Debra Messing. “And [former NBC entertainment president] To his credit, Warren Littlefield said, “You two really seem to be in a mood.” [those friends] next door.’ That’s how the show came about. They were part of a different ensemble.”
“Our goal was to write an entertaining show about these people we knew. It really was,” Kohan added. “We didn’t try to be brave either. We actually tried to just say it on the air.”
McCormack was originally paired with Marin Hinkle.
“I got the impression that everyone either liked you or they didn’t, and then the show died,” McCormack recalled. “And it didn’t happen that way, they offered me the role. And I thought for a month, “This show is going to die unless we find the perfect Grace.” I’ve read with several women.”
McCormack, Mutchnick and Kohan said they always wanted Debra Messing to play Grace but had trouble getting her due to her bond with the ABC show Prey at the time.
“I had just finished Prey and I was exhausted, and my agents called and said, ‘We have a special script,’ and I said, ‘I’m too tired, call me in three months.’ And they said, “We’re going to bring it to you because it’s so special.” And I read it and I was like, “Wow, that’s special.” And I went in and had a meeting with these two and still had that Feeling just too tired. And they came to my house with a bottle of vodka and a lime and they said, “Ask us questions.” And we talked for three hours, and I got better, and they said, “Okay, would you read?” We have our will and you don’t even have to negotiate, do you just want to read it?’ And I was like, ‘Okay, we’ll see how this goes.’”
McCormack said Messing and two other actresses were fooled into believing they were the only ones auditioning at director Jimmy Burrows’ house, with a “cadre of cars dropping people off.”
“Of course it had to be Debra, Nicolette Sheridan and a girl from a Kleenex commercial. She was like a hottie in ads that year,” Mutchnick said. “We always knew it would be this one, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”
“It was coordinated because not every actress could know about the other actress’ audition,” Kohan added. “It was very cloak and dagger.”
Messing said reading the script with McCormack for the first time was “effortless.”
“We laughed at each other,” she said. “And then I walked out and Jimmy came over and said, ‘You have to do the show,’ and I was like, ‘Oh Jimmy, I don’t know.’ I have to think about it.’ And he was like, ‘You’ll never find a show like this again.'”
Mutchnick announced that they couldn’t give Brass the role in the audition room because Farah Fawcett had previously set a precedent for Charlie’s Angels.
“Farah Fawcett got the job at Charlie’s Angels before they finalized their deal, so she was fed up. So you can’t give the actor the job before the contract is signed,” he said. “That’s why it was such a joke that Jim and Warren chased you out of the house and said, ‘It’s yours, it’s yours.’ We didn’t sign.”
Will & Grace, which received 18 Primetime Emmy Awards and 83 nominations, ran on the network from 1998 to 2006. The revival returned to primetime in 2017 and ran through 2020.