Kissing to be clever.
When is gay not gay enough? Ask Eric McCormack, who plays Will Truman, queer Manhattan lawyer and best friend-roommate to straight decorator Grace Adler (Debra Messing) on NBC's Will & Grace. One of the few new hits this season, the sitcom attracted 11 million viewers on Monday nights against such formidable competition as Fox's Ally McBeal (in early December NBC moved the show to Tuesdays).
Hetero and happily hitched offscreen, McCormack is puzzled by criticism that his urbane character--recovering from the breakup of a seven-year relationship--isn't gay enough.
"What's gay enough?" says the handsome 35-year-old Canadian. "Will is certainly gay enough for my parents at the moment. My mother doesn't call every day and say, `When are you going to have a nice, deep tongue kiss with some lucky guy?'"
Just because Will inhabits a different planet than does his pal, the empresslike Jack McFarland (played to scene-stealing perfection by Sean Hayes), doesn't mean he's any less gay, McCormack insists. Just less stereotyped.
Will "represents a large slab of the gay community that doesn't get shown enough," says McCormack, who recently discussed the subject with his sister's gay male buddies at her wedding in Toronto. ("She's Grace to a dozen Wills," he adds.)
"To some people it's not as colorful to think your brother or your neighbor or your doctor could be gay," McCormack says. "It's more interesting to have wacky drag queens. But there are a lot of Wills out there. It's insane to expect us to represent everyone's issues. Will can represent only who he is."
Max Mutchnick, gay cocreator and an executive producer of the show, takes offense at the suggestion that Will isn't gay enough. "He's as gay as I am, and I'm pretty gay," says the speed-talking Mutchnick, 32, who came out a decade ago. "Eventually, if we don't realize a relationship for him and flesh out the character, then it isn't fair, and it isn't the truth."
But "eventually" will arrive in baby steps. Over time the audience must learn to love Will, Mutchnick says, so that when he does begin dating, they will pull for him to meet Mr. Right. The kiss will come, Mutchnick promises, "when the character is ready and the audience is dying for it."
Make no mistake: Both Mutchnick and McCormack expect Will to move in that direction. Same-sex female kisses are old hat for broadcast TV (Ellen, Relativity, Roseanne), but two men in a serious lip lock is uncharted territory.
Because of that, Mutchnick's going after a big-time star for Will's first on-screen kiss (look for it around Valentine's Day). In the meantime, because of Will & Grace's success, Mutchnick has become "much more aggressive" about Will's sexuality in upcoming scripts. "We threw a lot of the old stuff out," he says. "We're putting more and more into episodes so Will can be more true to his gay identity."
Some examples: In Episode 3, Will got a bartender's phone number. On the Halloween segment he flirted with a neighbor. He's making more references to gay culture--Boy George, Streisand, men with whom both he and Grace have fooled around.
Says McCormack: "I believe the average gay man watching this show would say, `Wait a minute. Manhattan attorney, gay, good-looking, disposable income--never goes out? Hello!' Eventually a guy like that is going to meet somebody, or I won't have any credibility in the gay community."
Mutchnick wants credibility in the TV community too. Having lived through a failed sitcom (Boston Common) and having watched Ellen crash and bum, Mutchnick isn't looking for a soapbox. He wants laughs and a long shelf life. "I haven't hidden from a drop of controversy," he says, "but I must be true to the art of sitcom making. First and foremost, the audience has to fall in love with the center of the show. I can't do that if I have both leads going out and exploring their love lives too soon."
Mutchnick isn't out to make a statement either. "If I get a big star for `the kiss,' I get to show it in the best possible subversive way," he says. "All of a sudden the audience is thrilled for Will. That's a more artful way of doing it than standing on a soapbox."
Ironically, the strongest sexual dynamic on Will & Grace is between Jack and Karen Walker (Megan Mullally), Grace's ditsy straight assistant. "There's more sexual heat between Jack and Karen than I've seen on TV for a long time," Mutchnick says. "There are no taboos. It's totally safe for a gay man to go to a very sexual place. She gets to explore dominance and role-playing."
Despite the disparate sexual orientations of Will & Grace's cast, there is one thing they all share, McCormack muses. "There are four characters on this show," he says, "and all of them want men. You won't see too many female guest stars."
Shister is the television columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
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|Title Annotation:||television program star Eric McCormack of "Will and Grace"|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Jan 19, 1999|
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