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August 14, 2019

State of Grace

An Emmy-winning editor finds comfort in comedy.

Dinah Eng
  • Chris Haston/NBC
  • Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes and Jet Jurgensmeyer in the “Grandpa Jack” episode of Will & Grace

    NBCU Photobank

Working on NBC's hit revival of Will & Grace may be the toughest editing job Peter Beyt has ever had, but he counts it among his most satisfying endeavors.

Beyt, who won an Emmy last year for his editing of the show, makes an average of 2,500 editing decisions per episode. "The edginess of the show makes it hard," he says. "We have a 21-and-a-half-minute timeslot, and we shoot nine to 10 minutes over that. Editing is the last stage of writing, and I do my best to intercut between scenes and not slow down the comedy."

Television comedy, Beyt says, has given him a direction and purpose in life. What's more, it has helped heal some personal wounds.

He began editing documentaries, commercials and industrials after film school, then started cutting music videos and a video game for Hasbro. It wasn't long before his talent caught the eye of a Warner Bros. production executive, who hired Beyt in 1988 to work on The Golden Girls. At age 25, he was editing the show, and three years later, he was directing it.

But his partner had been diagnosed with AIDS, and Beyt was in a downward spiral. One day in 1990, he missed a taping and started editing without knowing what the story was about.

In that episode ("72 Hours"), Rose Nylund (Betty White) worries that she might be HIV-positive because of a suspect blood transfusion. Southern belle Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) tells her, "AIDS is not a bad person's disease."

"I started crying," says Beyt, who grew up in the South feeling ashamed of being gay. "It was a turning point for me. The people I was working with were saying we weren't bad people."

Beyt went on to edit The Ellen Show, According to Jim, The Exes and many other series before joining the revival of Will & Grace. He is thrilled to have won his Emmy for "Grandpa Jack," an episode about the emotions Jack (Sean Hayes) feels when a grandson he never knew he had — who's also gay — comes to find him.

"This incarnation of Will & Grace makes a point with its stories, which is what we need right now," Beyt says. "People are so hard on each other and can't see what it's like to walk in another's shoes. Comedy is the healing power of television."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2019

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