Is it time for “Instinct,” a network TV show premiering Sunday about a brilliant detective who just happens to be gay?
“I think we’re ready for this,” said Angie Salot, the director of operations at the Utah Pride Center. “We’re beyond ready for this.”
Even though, undoubtedly, some people aren’t going to like it.
“This series will give the Eagle Forum another reason to boycott CBS for promoting the homosexual lifestyle — which evidently now includes hunting serial killers,” joked Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, referring to the conservative interest group led in Utah by Gayle Ruzicka. “How could Gayle oppose that?”
“Instinct” is the latest in a long line of CBS detective/police dramas. It’s about a best-selling author/college professor/ex-CIA operative, Dylan Reinhart (Alan Cumming, “The Good Wife”), who teams up with police detective Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic) to solve murders.
They banter. They develop a chemistry. They solve the sorts of murder mysteries familiar to TV viewers.
Oh, and Dylan is gay. “Instinct” is the first drama in American broadcast TV history to feature a gay lead character.
The show has engendered very little controversy, although CBS isn’t noting that Cumming’s character is gay in its promos.
But maybe the fact that the character’s sexuality is not being played up can be seen as a sign of progress, a sign that CBS, arguably the most conservative of the broadcast networks, thinks that this groundbreaking event is not that big of a deal.
“I think that’s a good thing,” said Salot. “There are a lot of people who stereotype what being gay is. And this shows that gay can be your teacher, your neighbor, the clerk at the supermarket. Or a CIA agent or an author. It just shows that we’re just like anybody else.”
The lead character’s sexuality is “really something that sets the show apart from other procedurals,” said executive producer Michael Rauch.
But what is so remarkable about “Instinct” is that it is so unremarkable. Other than the lead character’s sexuality — and Cumming’s charm — “Instinct” isn’t greatly different from umpteen other TV detective shows.
“Which makes it perhaps all the more interesting that a by-the-numbers procedural has a gay protagonist,” Williams said.
And there’s something kind of great about a male-female partnership that won’t ever have to deal with the played-out TV trope of will-they-or-won’t-they hook up.
Dylan is out and proud, but his sexuality is not a major plot point. Viewers have no indication that he is gay until 12½ minutes into Sunday’s premiere (9 p.m., CBS/Channel 2). When he drops by to see his husband, Andy (Daniel Ings), the two share a brief kiss — just like any other spouses.
Lizzie doesn’t find out Dylan is gay until the middle of the show.
Cumming brings real-life experience to the role. He’s never been a CIA operative, but he’s been married to Grant Shaffer since 2012.
“When I come home, I give my husband a kiss,” Cumming said. “Maybe kiss the dogs first, actually. I want [Dylan and Andy] to be like a grown-up, adult, same-sex relationship.
“People who watch these shows will be a bit shocked, perhaps, because they’ve never seen it. So if we are going to show it to them, let’s show it to them in an authentic and real way. And show a kind, loving relationship.”
“Instinct” is not “Ellen,” “Will & Grace” or “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Dylan and Andy are not Cameron and Mitchell on “Modern Family.” “Instinct” shows us a different view of gay marriage, with subtlety.
“This show wisely meets Americans where they are,” said Williams, “in their living rooms, solving crimes with a brilliant male criminologist who just happens to be gay married to a hot butch bartender.”
“Instinct” is loaded with TV tropes when it comes to the crime solving. But it avoids TV’s gay stereotypes.
“I think most times when we see gay characters, on American television especially, their gayness is the prime thing,” Cumming said. “And the gayness is somehow a problem.”
What he finds “really refreshing” is that Dylan and Andy are in “a successful relationship and very supportive of each other — and it’s also the fourth or fifth most interesting thing about the character.”
Cumming, who’s also an executive producer of “Instinct,” admits that the opportunity to break through a barrier is “one of the reasons” he signed on. That there’s never been a gay lead in a U.S. broadcast TV drama is, he added, “an incredible thing and also a terrible thing at the same time.”
Network television began some 70 years ago, after all.
Still, Cumming said, given the current political times, “it’s all the more important that we should have a character with a healthy, successful same-sex marriage on network screens ... and I’m really proud to be a part of that.”