Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Mary Klages

Abstract

This paper explores the context in which Will & Grace aired and why it was successful. Through investigating the types of LGBT+ representation of the time, I discovered and important distinction between shows with LGBT+ characters and those containing queer content—the latter of which was all but completely kept from mainstream television. This also allowed an exploration of tropes which made LGBT+ characters acceptable or successful on this platform. An in-depth examination into the sitcom Ellen’s failure revealed just how much the featuring of LGBT+ characters in lead roles could ruin a show’s chances at mainstream success. However, it also revealed important differences in the way Ellen approached having a gay lead character and the way Will & Grace did. This highlights how NBC was able learn from Ellen and use its failure to propel Will & Grace’s success. One of the most important lessons Will & Grace implemented was the utilizing the sitcom genre and its common or familiar tropes and elements to firmly situate the show within the sitcom and mainstream culture in general. Ultimately, Will & Grace succeeded in mainstream television where other representations hadn’t because of a very intentional and specific strategy informed by the context of the era and mainstream culture. This topic was important and relevant to explore today because of the immense cultural impact of the show and its contribution to the proliferation of increasingly progressive representations of LGBT+ individuals in media which is still occurring. This topic is also especially relevant because the show is once again a successful member of NBC’s primetime line-up.

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