Discussions of a limited revival of “Will & Grace” are in the embryonic stage at NBC, per several reports on Thursday. Interest on all sides apparently was piqued after the cast and creators came together in September to film a short video supporting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
No one — not the four principal cast members nor series creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick — has signed on for a revival yet, so the excitement over the news may come to naught. But if something does come of it, NBC and the “Will & Grace” team better think long and hard about how to present the show to viewers.
The end goal, according to the news reports, is a 10-episode season that will catch fans up with Will (Eric McCormack), Grace (Debra Messing), Karen (Megan Mullally) and Jack (Sean Hayes). Assuming the network would air them on a normal broadcast schedule, they would play out over 2 1/2 months, give or take a week or two if NBC should decide to double up on the premiere or finale.
But, in the Peak TV era, does that even make sense? Revivals are a key part of Netflix’s business, starting with “Arrested Development” and continuing through “Fuller House” and the forthcoming “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.” Broadcast and cable networks have tended to go more for reworking familiar titles and concepts, but FOX got nice returns on its brief “X-Files” revival earlier this year and wants to do more.
“The X-Files” scenario is probably the best case for “Will & Grace” or any other attempt at a broadcast revival, and even it had lost a good amount of steam by the end of its run.
The premiere, with a lead-in of more than 45 million people from the NFC Championship game, drew better than 16 million viewers and a 6.1 rating in adults 18-49 (live + same-day). The finale just four weeks later drew a 2.4 and 7.6 million viewers, less than half of the premiere’s audience.
NBC would be wise to take note of that fade and, should a deal come together, consider scheduling a broadcast version of binge-watching for “Will & Grace” — in other words, scheduling it like an old-fashioned miniseries over several consecutive nights.
Those who want a true binge can still set a season pass on the DVR and go all-in at their leisure. The explosion of streaming in recent years suggests it’s not hard to convince fans of a show to commit to five hours of viewing over the course of a week. It’s considerably more difficult (moreso even than in the past) to get them to show up for half-hour chunks at a given time over two-plus months.
“Will & Grace” repeats can still be seen several times a day on WE and Logo, but the show doesn’t stream anywhere at the moment. Any deal for a revival ought to make a streaming destination part of the package, even if new episodes do end up on NBC. If you’re going to revive a show, it just makes sense to give the fans you’re pitching to as many ways to watch the original as possible beforehand.
There are a lot of hurdles to clear (before even getting to the fact that the series finale implied that right now, the two title characters aren’t really in each other’s lives) before new episodes of “Will & Grace” actually go in front of a camera. Not acknowledging the way TV has changed in the decade since the show ended would be the worst kind of stumble.