Television

TV Critic’s Corner

Alan Cumming to be the first to play a gay lead in a TV drama

In “Instinct,” Alan Cumming will play a married author and former CIA operative.
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In “Instinct,” Alan Cumming will play a married author and former CIA operative.

In March, Alan Cumming will break some ground for network TV. On his new CBS procedural, “Instinct,” which is based on the James Patterson novel, he will be the first openly gay lead character on a drama.

That landmark sounds strange, given the fact that network TV has featured gay characters in dramas for many years. But most of them, from Kurt in “Glee” and Callie on “Grey’s Anatomy” to Jack on “Dawson’s Creek” and Jamal on “Empire,” have been part of an ensemble, not in the central position. They haven’t been the linchpins of their entire series. If Steven left the “Dynasty” reboot, no biggie. But if, to use a non-network example, Leonard left SundanceTV’s “Hap and Leonard,” the entire premise of the show would fall apart.

In “Instinct,” Cumming will play a married author and former CIA operative who gets pulled back into service. The preview clip has a light tone, akin to another CBS procedural, “The Mentalist.”

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“To be the first ever network drama [with a gay lead] on US television, it’s an incredible thing and a terrible thing at the same time,” Cumming said last week at the TCA press tour. “It’s another layer to the character. Socially and politically, especially at a time in America where gay people are being persecuted and our rights are being removed and the president is condoning the persecution against gay people by his silence, it was all the more important to have a character with a healthy same-sex marriage on TV. I applaud everyone on CBS for having the courage to put that on right now in a climate where that may not be the best time to do that. But I think it’s the perfect time to do that.”

Sharon Leal, Bojana Novakovic, and Naveen Andrews costar on the show, set to premiere March 11.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.