There would be no Sean Saves the World were it not for Will & Grace, according to star Sean Hayes. The actor returns to NBC with a starring role on the fall comedy, where he plays an openly gay man adjusting to fatherhood when his daughter moves back in with him.
The actor, who rose to stardom on the 1990s comedy alongside Debra Messing and Eric McCormack, told reporters Saturday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour that the eight-season show helped pave the way for gay characters on TV.
"I would like to believe it had a big influence on the gay movement in America," Hayes said, adding with a laugh a nod to the vice president's recent remarks: "According to Joe Biden it did!"
Hayes would like to think that gay characters on TV are now more widely accepted -- even if this past fall was notably brutal following the cancellation of The New Normal, Smash and Go On, among others.
"Thankfully [gay] is an afterthought like any minority now -- it's normal to everybody," Hayes noted. "Which is how it should be. It's said it's even a question."
Writer/executive producer Victor Fresco (Better Off Ted) also noted that Hayes' Will & Grace allowed shows like Sean Saves the World to happen. "Without Will & Grace, we wouldn't be here now."
The series co-stars Alice's Linda Lavin as Hayes' on-screen mother and Smash's Megan Hilty as his best friend and colleague, with both helping to parent his teenage daughter (played by Samantha Isler).
The comments came shortly after NBC Entertainment president Bob Greenblatt noted that he didn't feel The New Normal didn't work because of its central gay story line about a same-sex couple having a baby via surrogate.
"We think the country is moving in the right direction, the Supreme Court made the right decision," Greenblatt said, noting Sean Saves the World would be less "issue-oriented" as the Ryan Murphy-Ali Adler vehicle. "It may have been slightly ahead of its time."
Meanwhile, the series has no plans to meet the mother of Hayes' on-screen daughter anytime soon. "We'll hear about her off-camera presence but we won't see her yet," Fresco said, noting the character could eventually show up.
"He will be dating but his focus is on his daughter, that's the big new thing in his life," Fresco said. "But he is a single man and he will be dating."
Sean Saves the World premieres Thursday, Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. on NBC. Watch the trailer, below.