Couric's Serious About 'Will & Grace' -- You Must Teach Kids 'Tolerance' Early

On Thursday night, NBC aired the final episode of "Will & Grace" after eight seasons, but on Thursday’s "Today," MRC’s Geoff Dickens noticed Katie Couric interviewed the cast and just lathered on the praise that her 14-year-old daughter learned so much about tolerance for homosexuality from the show, and "I think that’s a great contribution to society," because "I think you have to teach tolerance at a very early age and the more comfortable people feel with people who are different, starting when they're young, the more tolerant and accepting they're gonna be as they go into adulthood." So much for CBS hiring an even-handed new anchor on the hot social issues of the day.

You would expect an NBC show to praise an NBC show, but Couric went way beyond that to a serious political lecture. She began the segment by touting the victory over what critics call homophobia:

"When 'Will & Grace' first came on the air back in 1998 many people wondered if a sitcom about a gay guy and the woman who loved him, platonically of course, would really last. But it went on to become a huge success and tonight the curtain will fall on the show for the final time so we wanted to take a look back at the laughs Will, Grace, Karen and just Jack, oh sorry, just Jack have given us, have given us through the years. Roll the tape."

[Clips]

Couric: "Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally, and Sean Hayes, it's so great to see you guys, and on a serious note I have enjoyed you all so much on this show, and so appreciate all your talent and the great writing. I mean just even watching that. I mean, how much fun was this show for the four of you and how sad are you to see it end?..."

Then, another serious note:

Couric: "Meanwhile you know again on a, on a, serious note, which is so unusual especially for Sean and me, because we just laugh whenever we talk to each other. But I think that, as I said in the introduction, a lot of people thought a show about a gay guy and the girl who loved him, platonically, wouldn't fly and I think you can't really overestimate the impact that this has had culturally on the way, for example, my daughter Ellie is 14. She loved your show and I think it's really shaped the way she views people who are different, people who are gay and I think that's a great contribution to society."

Sean Hayes: "Well thanks. You know I always say that this show did for the gay community what I think the Jeffersons did for the African-American community. Nobody had seen an affluent, well-spoken, successful black man like George Jefferson just like they hadn't seen all the same qualities in Will Truman, you know, on television before and for every Florence there was a Jack to let everybody kind of come in and, and view all of the colors of those minorities, you know what I mean?"

Couric: "Yeah."

Okay now, this argument is a bit strange. It’s about ten years off. Before "The Jeffersons" began in 1975, Bill Cosby started in "I Spy" in 1965, Lloyd Haynes taught on "Room 222," Clarence Williams III was a cool cop on "The Mod Squad," and so on. They weren’t businessmen per se, but they were definitely black-male role models. That said, back to the self-congratulations for building a more tolerant world:

Eric McCormack: "But it's, but it's true. And certainly we never set out to do it. I mean number one was always laughs but in the end and I think, as you say, it's more with the kids. I mean certainly we've done some, some good politically or whatever now but I think it's in the kids that are, that are watching it now that will grow up and think of it as their Jeffersons that's, there's gonna be some, some change."

Couric: "Well, I think you have to teach tolerance at a very early age and the more comfortable people feel with people who are different starting when they're young, the more tolerant and accepting they're gonna be as they go into adulthood."

Hayes: "If I have kids I'm gonna hold back on the whole tolerance thing." [Laughter]

Debra Messing: "We never intended to be, you know, activists in any way. Our job is to make people laugh but the fact that it's had that, that social byproduct and it has, has you know started a dialogue and it's, you know when, when I was growing up there were never gay characters on sitcoms and if they were they were always the source of a joke or something and, and now it's, they're on every, every show."

Megan Mullally: "Yeah even when Will and Grace started there really weren't gay characters on, I don't think, really hardly any shows and now like every single show has at least one gay man or woman."

Hayes: "I mean, you do have Matt Lauer!" [Laughter] "I think that's pretty great."

Put aside for a minute the preposterous notion that the makers or the actors of "Will & Grace" never intended to promote homosexuality. The talk on TV characters is wrong again. Starting with Billy Crystal’s Jody on "Soap," and at least in pose, John Ritter's Jack Tripper on "Three’s Company," gay characters broke out on TV in the mid- to late-1970s. It’s true they weren’t usually the central character, but it cannot be said there weren’t any gay characters. It’s certainly true that pressure groups like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation not only powerfully press today for gay characters, but also review scripts before episodes even air. Then the talk turned to self-promotion:

Couric: "By the way, all these actors from Sharon Stone to a really terrifically talented upstart named Katie Couric have appeared on your show."

Eric McCormack: "Katherine Couric."

Couric: "That's right Katherine Couric have appeared on your show through the years. We've actually got a clip of some of the different actors who had, Al Roker. Remember you guys? There I am. And I had so much fun and a lot of people actually contacted you all and said, there's Matt who was on recently..."

Couric: "I think my producer Don Nash said, Matt wanted to, have a word with, with Sean."

Lauer: "I just want, I just wanted to say it was supposed to be our little secret."[Laughter]

Couric: "Matt, it's the sunglasses, honey."

McCormack: "Yeah, yeah the secret's out."

Hayes: "That's why he put the sunglasses on."

Lauer: "Can I just say what a thrill it's been to watch you guys over the years and how nice you've been to talk to and how gracious you were when I came there and made a mess of things on the set but I wish you all luck and you've been fantastic. Congratulations...."

Speaking of tolerance, Couric ended her kissy-kissy farewell with the actors mocking the Pope as homosexual:

Couric: "It's great to see you guys, good luck and again thanks for all the great years. We've enjoyed you all so much. And by the way the two-hour series finale, Will and Grace airs tonight at 8/7 Central right here on NBC. Up next, talk about a serious left turn, we're gonna go back to Matt and the Vatican. How about that, Sean? But first this is Today on NBC."

Messing: "Is the Pope gay?"

Couric, chuckling: "Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop..."

McCormack: "Luckily they just got that in." [Show fades to commercial break.]

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis