At first glance, the new CBS series, "Instinct" looks like just another cop show where a renegade police officer is assigned a partner who has an expertise in another world. It's when you look closer that it becomes clear what a history-making series it is.
"Instinct" is the first American network television drama to have a gay character as the lead.
Alan Cumming plays Dr. Dylan Reinhart, a gifted author and university professor living a quiet life. NYPD detective Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic) appeals to him to help her catch a serial murderer who is using Reinhart's first book as a tutorial. The series is based on the James Patterson novel.
"Instinct" is the first leading role in an American series for Cumming who has previously spent most of his time on stage ("Cabaret") or starring in feature films ("Battle of the Sexes"). It was a role that was too good – and too important – for Cumming to reject.
Never miss a local story.
"It's really just that it's such a sort of confounding character. There's so many different layers to it. He's sort of a fuddy duddy professor, a bit of a dandy. He kind of is a former spy. He drives a motorbike. He's gay," Cumming said. "There's all these different things that seemingly there are so many different layers. And I guess the challenge was to make them all into one sort of whole person.
"He's also kind of has these is kind of a little bit on the spectrum. He's a child musical prodigy. There's a lot going on. And I just really liked that idea of he's kind of as you say in America, he opens up a kind of whoop ass sometimes. And that's quite a nice thing to be able to do in your 50s."
There's a lot going on with the character but the most important element for Cumming was that he's playing the first gay lead on a CBS series. Along with being one of the busiest actors in Hollywood, Cumming is very active in humanitarian work, particularly in the field of LGBT rights and equality. He has been honored by the Human Rights Commission, GLAAD, The Trevor Project and The Matthew Shepard Foundation, among many others.
The fact this television series is breaking new ground by having a gay character as the lead is both an incredible thing and a terrible thing at the same time for Cumming.
"It definitely was something that it's another layer to the character that makes it interesting to play, but sort of socially and politically especially in the time that we find ourselves in in America where gay people are being persecuted again and their rights are being removed and the president is actively condoning, by his silence, violence and persecution against the LGBT community," Cumming said. "I think it's all the more important that we should have a character with a healthy, successful same sex marriage on network screens.
"I really do applaud everyone at CBS and Secret Hideout for having the courage to put that on right now in a kind of environment or a climate that you might think possibly might not be the best time to do that. But I think it's actually the perfect time. It needs to be done, and I'm really proud to be a part of that."
Cumming, who is also an executive producer on the series, is making sure that everything about his character is portrayed in a proper way. The fact Cumming is in a same-sex marriage gives him a natural insight to that part of the story.
He's also very conscious of the fact that most times when gay characters are presented on American television their sexual orientation is the primary thing.
Cumming says: "The gayness is somehow a problem. What I think is really refreshing about this and what I was definitely advocating was that there's a successful relationship and very supportive of each other, and it's also the fourth or fifth most interesting thing about the character."
There was already extra pressure on Cumming just to be stepping into the lead role in a network series, but that pressure increased because the character is making history. Cumming is aware that it may not matter who well the show written, shot and performed, there will be people who just don't like him or the character.
He's handling that pressure by keeping huge hope in his heart the show will find an audience but if it doesn't then he will still have all the positive memories of working on the show. This is a set where cast and crew will dance when the cameras aren't rolling.
"It's much more important for me the experience of doing something than how it ends up, because I've discovered in my long career that actually some of the things that I've the scripts and the best kind of combinations of people can actually turn out to be not very good films or whatever, and you can have a miserable time on a film and it turns out to be a really great film," Cumming said. "I've realized it's much more important to work with good people that you like and to do material that you care about. Then you throw it out there and see what sticks."
It doesn't hurt that the series shoots in New York, the city Cumming calls home and the Big Apple is used as much as possible. When he was working on "The Good Wife," that also filmed in New York, the city filled in for Chicago so none of the notable landmarks could be shown.
8 p.m. March 18, CBS
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):