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Hayes, Sean (b. 1970)  
 
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Will & Grace debuted in September 1998. Warren Littlefield, then president of NBC Entertainment, later recalled that some in management "were a little freaked out [by the gay theme]. They said it would drive advertisers away," but, he told Gail Shister of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "it was our best comedy pilot of the year. I knew we had a hit show."

Predictably, some conservative groups immediately decried the presence of openly gay characters on television.

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Some in the glbtq community were initially concerned about the perpetuation of stereotypes of gay men, particularly with respect to Hayes's over-the-top interior-decorator character, Jack. The more staid lawyer Will, who lacked for romantic attachments, on the other hand, seemed to some not to convey a sufficiently strong gay image.

As the show found its feet, however, the writers addressed important issues such as , gay parenting, and marriage equality while maintaining the sure sense of comedy that Littlefield had seen from the start. During its eight-year run, Will & Grace won seven GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Awards for its affirming message.

The show was enthusiastically greeted by both the public and the critics. Among other honors, it received 49 Emmy Award nominations, with 12 wins. Hayes was nominated for Best Supporting Actor every year from 2000 to 2006, and he took home the prize in 2000.

Hayes's success in television led to movie roles, including a voice-over in Lawrence Guterman's animated feature Cats & Dogs (2001) and John Gray's made-for-television biopic Martin and Lewis (2002), in which he had a co-starring role portraying comedian Jerry Lewis.

Upon learning of the latter project, Lewis was incensed and demanded that executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron call him, but they delayed doing so because, Meron told Joanne Weintraub of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "we were terrified."

Once Lewis had read the script, however, he became entirely supportive and mentored Hayes, whose performance he praised in the highest possible terms.

Hayes remained in the cast of Will & Grace until its series finale in 2006. Like many sitcoms, the show had somewhat run out of steam and had declined from its once lofty position in the ratings. Many viewers also thought that the plots had become increasingly outlandish and that the secondary characters Karen and Jack had come to so dominate the series that the initial premise had been compromised. But, having engaged the hearts of many viewers who had come to care about the characters, Will & Grace retained loyal fans to the end.

Throughout the run of Will & Grace, Hayes was consistently evasive about his sexual orientation, fearing, as many had before him, that being stereotyped would reduce his professional opportunities. He never resorted to appearing in public on sham dates with women to give the impression that he was in a heterosexual relationship; he merely kept his private life a closed book.

Hayes—or at least his character, Jack—had nevertheless become a gay cultural icon. "Some gay men would thank me for making it easier to come out to their parents," he stated to Walt Belcher of the Tampa Tribune. "That blows my mind because it means we were educating America, and that wasn't our intention. We just wanted to be funny. But we were making it easier for some parents of gays to adjust because they had seen us on TV."

In the years since Will and Jack first appeared on the small screen, opportunities for viewers to see other gay and lesbian characters and glbtq participants in reality shows have increased. The public's reception of Will & Grace can be seen as one of the catalysts of this change.

After Will & Grace left the air, Hayes and business partner Todd Milliner established a production company, Hazy Mills, to develop television shows. Hayes has also appeared as a guest star on television series such as 30 Rock and in films, including Rob Reiner's The Bucket List (2007).

Hayes has also gone to Broadway in a 2010 revival of the musical Promises, Promises (book by Neil Simon, music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David). The project took shape after Hayes took part in a 2008 reading and sing-through of the show that was attended by both Simon and David.

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