The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation received a welcome gift this holiday season: the promise of not one but three prime-time shows in 2003 featuring gay lead roles. Fox's flashback comedy ''Oliver Beene'' (premiering this March) features newcomer Taylor Emerson as an 11-year-old schoolyard buddy of Beene's who displays homosexual tendencies (he comes out in flash-forward scenes), while CBS' ''Charlie Lawrence'' (also due in March) stars Nathan Lane as an openly gay senator.
But the season high could be ''Mr. and Mr. Nash,'' an ABC dramedy in development for fall from exec producers Steve Martin and Joan Stein with Carsey-Werner-Mandabach that offers a new twist on the '80s drama ''Hart to Hart.'' Alan Cumming plays half of a gay San Francisco couple who moonlight as amateur sleuths (the second lead has not yet been cast). ''They're interior designers who solve murders while picking out Tiffany lamps!'' says GLAAD media director Scott Seomin. ''We haven't seen two gay leads in a longtime relationship in a sitcom or drama. This is a first.''
That isn't to say GLAAD does not have some reservations about the project: Despite assurances from ABC, Seomin's worried the Nashes will turn out to be averse to public displays of affection. ''There was a lot of canoodling and innuendo in 'Hart to Hart,' which was part of its charm,'' says Seomin. ''We hope to see that in 'Mr. and Mr. Nash.''' Fine, just as long as they don't actually refer to it as ''canoodling.''