NBC's hit sitcom "Will & Grace" pushed the boundaries and made gay relationships part of mainstream pop culture.
But show creators were walking on eggshells the entire time.
Show co-creator Max Mutchnick joined New York City mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, and Fordham Law School professor Thane Rosenbaum Monday night to discuss cultural and legal issues facing the gay-rights movement.
When the "Will & Grace" pilot aired in 1998, gay rights were virtually non-existent.
President Bill Clinton had signed the Defense of Marriage Act just two years earlier, which defined marriage as only between one man and one woman.
And when Martin Luther King's widow, Coretta Scott King, called for activists to fight against homophobia, members of the black civil rights movement criticized her for comparing the gay civil rights movement to theirs, PBS reported at the time.
Plus Ellen DeGeneres' character on "Ellen," and DeGeneres herself, had just come out of the closet a year earlier amid an avalanche of public backlash, according to Take Part.
So Mutchnick and his colleagues had to tread carefully and learn from past examples.
He said Ellen tried to teach the public about the gay lifestyle, which was just too much for people to take in the late '90s.
"We leave all that gay teaching to Ellen," Mutchnick revealed Monday night, adding that he and his team "learned from that mistake."
Rule No. 1 for "Will & Grace" was just to be funny.
And while "they did not love us in the South," Mutchnick said his humorous approach ultimately did teach the viewing public a thing or two about the lives and relationships of gay people in America.
The panel was hosted by the Forum on Law Culture & Society at Fordham Law.
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