Back in the spring of 1997, Ellen DeGeneres, on her old sitcom Ellen, made history by having her lead character come out as gay on the show. DeGeneres herself had come out shortly earlier, following months of speculation.
Will & Grace, probably the most overtly LGBT-themed sitcom on network television up to that point, debuted a little over a year later, with the show having a major cultural influence over its nearly decade-long original run. Then-Vice President Joseph Biden — in happier times than more recent ones — said in 2012 that Will & Grace had influenced his decision to support the legalization of same-sex marriage, per The Hollywood Reporter.
On Thursday night, as part of the second season finale of Will & Grace‘s revival on NBC, that series paid direct homage to the Ellen coming-out episode.
On that famous Ellen episode, first aired on April 30, 1997, DeGeneres’ character was in an airport, talking to a character played by Laura Dern, and struggling to find the words to tell her. Finally, she says “I’m gay” into an open airport microphone, broadcasting her words to the entire airport.
Thursday’s Will & Grace episode was also set in an airport, as the character of Jack (Sean Hayes), through a series of convoluted circumstances, is marrying his boyfriend near an airport gate.
In a subplot on the show, Karen (Megan Mullally), a heretofore heterosexual character, had been having an affair with a woman (played by Orange Is the New Black veteran Samira Wiley.) Karen, just like Ellen did, struggles to find the words to say what she wants to say, before speaking it into a microphone. Only this time, she says, “I’m straight.”
It’s a neat homage, a nod from one groundbreaking show to another, but subtle enough that it’s possible not everyone in the Will & Grace audience got it, especially younger viewers. It’s also poignant that the Will & Grace episode happened in the same episode of a same-sex wedding, the sort of thing that was still quite far away in 1997.
Mullally actually appeared on Ellen’s talk show this week, talked about the Ellen moment on Thursday’s finale, and thanked the talk show host for paving the way for Will & Grace.
Last week, per The Inquisitr, Sean Hayes accepted an award at the GLAAD Media Awards and had harsh words for both actor Jussie Smollett and Vice President Mike Pence.
“I’ve been getting in shape for tonight with the Jussie Smollett workout,” Hayes joked after receiving the Stephen F. Kolzak Award. “You hire two trainers and sweat for 8 weeks.”