Alan Cumming on Being Broadcast's First Leading Gay Character on CBS' 'Instinct'

Premiering in March, the drama is based on the James Patterson book in which the central character is gay and married.
Jeff Neira/CBS
"Instinct"

CBS, which has been criticized in recent years for its lack of onscreen diversity, is breaking new ground in March with the series debut of Instinct. The drama, based on the James Patterson novel, stars Alan Cumming as a former CIA operative who is pulled back into the CIA. Cumming's character also happens to be gay, as he is in the source material. That gives CBS the distinction of having Instinct be the first broadcast hourlong series with a gay leading character.

"While it's a procedural with a light tone, that's something that sets it apart," showrunner Michael Rauch told reporters Saturday morning at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour. Rauch said the series takes liberties that aren't in the book — and also changed some of the male characters from the source material to be women on the CBS take as a way to "subvert traditional dynamics." Sharon Leal, Bojana Novakovic and Naveen Andrews co-star.

For his part, Cumming said playing the first openly gay leading character in a U.S. drama was part of what appealed to him about Instinct, which brought him back to the CBS fold after his time on the network's beloved The Good Wife.

"It was one of the reasons I wanted to do the show," said Cumming, who also is an exec producer on the drama. "To be the first ever network drama [with a gay lead] on U.S. television, it's an incredible thing and a terrible thing at the same time. 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."

While Cumming's character of Dr. Dylan Reinhart in the book is also gay and married — as the actor is in real life — he said that the draw was really taking on a multilayered character. Reinhart is a former spy, author and, Cumming said, on the spectrum in a way like he's a child musical prodigy.

"I'm married to a man so I brought that to the table. Most times when we see gay characters on American TV, their gayness is the prime thing," Cumming said. "Their gayness is sometimes the problem. What's refreshing about this is there's a successful relationship and they're supportive of each other. And [being gay] is also the fourth or fifth most interesting thing about this character."

Instinct premieres Sunday, March 11, at 8 p.m. on CBS. Watch a trailer below.

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