After eight seasons as the wisecracking socialite Karen Walker on NBC’s Will & Grace, Megan Mullally says it just “felt right” to be hosting her own daytime talk show. Filmed live to tape in Los Angeles, the NBC-syndicated The Megan Mullally Show (airing weekdays beginning Sept. 18) features celebrity and noncelebrity guests, comedy sketches and Mullally’s uncanny wit.
Mullally explains that this is a daytime show with a late-night feel. “I’ve gone through and thought about all the shows that I’ve really loved over the years and what my favorite elements were, and then I’ve stolen them.”
At age 47, Mullally is more confident than ever as she talks about her new series and more.
How is it to have everything focused on your name?
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Megan Mullally: That is creepy. I already kind of have disassociated myself with my name. It’s kind of everywhere. It’s slathered on every piece of paper, it’s on the side of the building, on the doors, on the set — when people answer the phone they say The Megan Mullally Show. It might as well be Heinz Ketchup. I don’t even hear it. I’ve completely tuned it out. I was flying one day and I realized if the plane went down, like 135 people would be out of the job — that’s crazy.
What shows influenced your career path when you were growing up?
Born in late ’58, I grew up in the heyday of the talk and variety shows — Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, and then on the variety end, Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson, Smothers Brothers, Laugh In and The Ed Sullivan Show. So many great shows — it really influenced my career path. During the course of Will & Grace I found myself in a few host or interview-oriented situations, probably the most high-profile when they asked me to sub for Letterman and I interviewed Madonna for a VH1 special. The Letterman thing was pretty much the turning point — I loved doing it. I wasn’t the slightest bit nervous. I took a nap before the show, it was crazy. I had no rehearsal. I should have by all rights been nervous. I don’t know why — I just couldn’t wait to get out there. It just felt really right for me. It sounds so dorky but I just really liked it.
So is that when you realized you wanted to host a talk show?
I had always assumed that after Will & Grace I’d go on and I’d keep acting and maybe do another TV show or whatever. The more I thought about it, the more sense it kind of made to me that maybe hosting a talk show is really where I have more to offer, so that was kind of it. I mentioned it in passing once to Jeff Zucker [chairman and CEO of NBC Universal Television Group], and he was neither here nor there. About a year or two go by, and I get a call at home from someone at my agency — who had no idea that I wanted to host a talk show, because I had never told them that — and they had gotten a call from King World saying that King World wanted to talk to me about hosting a daytime talk show. I said, “This is crazy, because I really want to host a talk show.” First I said, “What’s King World?” because I’m a complete idiot and I had no idea what King World was. I knew it sounded familiar but really had no idea. After they got done telling me I was a moron, I ended up meeting with King World a few times. Two or three months into that process, my band that I have [been in] for a million years — Supreme Music Program — was playing at Lincoln Center, and Jeff Zucker and his wife happened to be there, unbeknownst to me, and he comes up to me after the show and says “I know you mentioned to me a talk show once before. We have to do a talk show. I’m thinking daytime.” I originally had pitched nighttime to him. I said, “Well that’s funny because I’ve been meeting with this company, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, called King World?” He went haywire. And there was an offer on the table the next day. So that’s how it happened.
Was it helpful to know you had this as your next venture when you were wrapping “Will & Grace?”
I’ve been working on this full time for almost two years; a long time. Even before I had the deal with NBC I was thinking about it before that. It’s nice to know you have another job to go to, but also something so completely different than what you had been doing. It didn’t really ameliorate the sadness of ending Will & Grace. We worked together for eight years, the whole cast and crew and staff of people that had been together for that. We had so much fun, too; it wasn’t like we were dragging ourselves in to some miserable factory job. We were all having fun and laughing all day long. It’s kind of like going through high school and college together and then the day after you graduate from college they burn the college down. Because it’s just gone.
As a guest on many talk shows over the years, is there anything you learned that you would not do?
As a guest I’ve always viewed it as entertainment for the audience, just the same way I view playing Karen on Will & Grace or anything else. So I’ve always tried to think of it as that, which helps with hosting — I’m just sitting in the other chair. There are maybe a couple of times over the years where I felt like I was being fitted into a format that I didn’t really feel comfortable with, so I want to be sure that we accommodate our guests in that regard. If people want to come on and be fun and be silly and do crazy things, great. If somebody is more serious and doesn’t want to feel the pressure of being hilariously funny, we’ll do more of an Actors Studio-like thing with them. We have celebrity and noncelebrity guests on every show. I plan to not discriminate. I want to make everyone look good and feel comfortable. Something I like about Conan [O’Brien]’s hosting style is how he’ll always take the hit for the guest. He’ll always make the guest look good. If someone’s going down a road not really working, he’ll intervene and turn it around to their advantage. I admire that.
Do you have a guest wish list?
We already booked some really great people. Of course, if I tell you I’ll be murdered in my sleep by the people at NBC Universal. So I won’t. There’s so many people that I’m really interested in talking to that I don’t want to single anyone out.
What about your former “Will & Grace” castmates?
Oh, they’ll all be on. They all will be appearing. Sean [Hayes] and I were laughing. Remember back in the day with The Dinah Shore Show? She was at one point dating Burt Reynolds. She’s doing her show and she’s doing some cooking segment with someone and they’re going to bake a pie, and she goes over to the oven on the set and Burt Reynolds was, like, in the oven. Sean and I were laughing, like Sean would just be in the kick drum, or you open the refrigerator and Sean’s in there — in some unlikely shot. We have some plans for this.
You’ve got your own band. Are you ever going to play on the show?
We have a live band for the talk show, and so they’re the musical element to the show. It’s not going to be me in a blue pin spot singing “The Man That Got Away.” I would like to do funny things with music, for sure. If I’m ever going to sing where it’s supposed to sound relatively decent — definitely, I can do duets with musical artists. Like if Harry Connick Jr. ever came on the show and he would do a duet with me, I might do that. Or maybe every once in a while I might do a song. I have to go back a little bit, because we have this really interactive website that goes hand in hand with the show, and that’s a place where viewers could vote. If they really wanted me to sing, they could vote on what they want me to sing. The website’s great — the show is entertainment, the subtext of it is creativity — so on this website, people will be able to get involved in the show in a really active way.
Outside of your career, who or what makes you laugh or makes you happy?
My biggest hobby is sort of a boring hobby. I love to read, and that keeps me sane and gets my mind off work when I need a break. I like to read fiction. My husband makes me laugh the most of anything. A lot of people I know make me laugh, [as well as] shows that I watch on TV or movies, but he makes me laugh in a different way. My dogs make me laugh too.