LOS ANGELES – In May of last year, Vice President Joe Biden took time on “Meet the Press” to talk TV.
“I think ‘Will & Grace’ probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far,” said Biden, adding later that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage. “People fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand.”
Hours after those comments were made, Debra Messing, who played Grace Adler on the show, wrote on Twitter: “I’m thrilled Biden has come out in support of gay marriage and am beyond proud of what he said.”
One could argue about the Emmy-winning sitcom’s impact on public policy, but there’s no denying its effect on the prime-time landscape.
Gay characters are featured prominently on several new shows, most notably NBC’s “Sean Saves the World,” which revolves around a gay man suddenly thrust into raising his teenage daughter. Making its debut Thursday, it’s the first sitcom to star Sean Hayes since he appeared on “Will & Grace” from 1998 to 2006 as the unabashed Jack McFarland, who did nothing to hide his love for men — and for himself.
“I like to think of this as a post-gay show in that there’s a gay man in the center of it, but it’s not about being gay,” said “Sean” creator Victor Fresco. “Without ‘Will & Grace,’ we wouldn’t be here now.”
Linda Lavin, who plays an overbearing mother on the new sitcom, said even more has changed since she starred on “Alice” in the mid-’70s.
“When I did television in the Middle Ages, there was an innocence about the world those people lived in,” she said. “But we’re evolving and hopefully that will open up more opportunities for other writers and actors to explore this situation.”
The cast of “Will & Grace” never made a big deal of the show’s groundbreaking status during its eight-year run.
“I was 26 years old. It was a job,” said Hayes, who has gone on to produce several hit shows, including “Hot in Cleveland.” “I auditioned and I got it.”
Eric McCormack, who played Will Truman, said downplaying the show’s influence on culture was partly by design.
“We could sense its impact when it was running, but it was not something we wanted to talk about,” said McCormack, who is currently starring in TNT’s “Perception.” “We had to be funny, and the show got very silly as time went on. We didn’t want to be concerned about being important. We never had a very-special episode. Will did get married to Taye Diggs, but we didn’t make a big deal about it. We just sort of snuck it in.”
Since then, McCormack has allowed himself to be more reflective.
“I think we were entertaining much younger people than we first realized,” he said. “There were so many kids, 10 or 14 years old, watching with their parents and it helped them come out to their mother or father. Now those same people are taking over. They’re on the forefront of fighting for their rights.”
McCormack said “M*A*S*H” and “All in the Family” affected him as a child, but the vice president of the United States never cited those shows while talking about public policy.
“Obviously, I was delighted and overjoyed that something like that came out of his mouth,” he said. “It’s nice to know that something we did for a whole other reason could, years down the line, have that kind of resonance.”