<i>Will & Grace</i> back for eighth season (15843)

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Will & Grace back for eighth season

After a lengthy renewal negotiation, NBC and the producers and cast of Will & Grace have clasped hands on a deal for an eighth and probably final season of the Emmy-winning comedy series. Contrary to earlier speculation about the actors facing pay cuts, sources said the show's four key cast members--Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes, and Megan Mullally--secured significant salary bumps in the one-year deals that were hammered out late Friday. Each of the actors will pocket between $13 million and $15 million for the 2005-2006 season, or about $600,000 per episode, compared with fees estimated at $400,000 per episode this season.

NBC has ordered at least 24 new episodes of the NBC Universal-produced series, plus a highlights clip show, probably in anticipation of a series finale in spring 2006. And for the first time since the series debuted in 1998, Mullally and Hayes will be brought up to full paycheck parity with Messing and McCormack, sources said.

NBC declined comment on the deal late Friday. Representatives for the actors declined comment or could not be reached during the weekend.

The actors' pay hike comes even as NBC has cut the license fee it will pay to its sibling production unit for the upcoming season to what sources said was about $4 million per episode, compared to a fee in the neighborhood of $5 million per episode this season. Will & Grace, like the rest of NBC's Thursday lineup, has taken a big hit in the ratings this season. But overall, Will & Grace has been highly successful in syndication, and the long-term back-end value of the additional episodes will more than offset the higher cast costs and anticipated production deficits next season, sources said.

The show's core cast members are among the most honored TV actors of the past decade, with Messing, McCormack, Mullally, and Hayes each having earned one Emmy and a slew of nominations for their work during the past seven years. Will & Grace won the Emmy for best comedy series in 2000.

NBC's renewal negotiations on the show were complicated by the litigation pending between NBC and series creator-executive producers David Kohan and Max Mutchnick. (James Burrows, another profit participant and executive producer on Will & Grace, is not involved with the suit.) Mutchnick and Kohan sued NBC in late 2003, claiming they were short-changed on potential profits in an earlier license fee renewal negotiation on the show because the studio (then NBC Studios, now NBC Universal TV Studio) was motivated to keep the show at its sibling broadcast network rather than shop it around to the highest bidder.

NBC has strongly denied cutting any sweetheart deals on Will & Grace. In court papers, NBC has maintained that its previous three-season renewal deal for Will & Grace was highly lucrative for the profit participants and in line with fees paid by NBC and other networks for comparable series.

Despite the legal wrangling and Will & Grace's ratings slide this year, NBC brass likely saw retaining the show as a crucial move at a time when it has few comedies on the air and is struggling to stay competitive with its Big Four network rivals. (Reuters/Hollywood Reporter)


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