Four years after getting booed off stage as the star of the NBC sitcom Encore! Encore!, Nathan Lane is finally ready for his curtain call. CBS has elected the Tony-winner to play a freshman congressman in the midseason comedy Charlie Lawrence. And this time around, Lane insists, he got it right.

For starters, while Encore! cast the openly gay Birdcage thesp as — gasp! — a skirt-chasing opera singer, Lawrence finds Lane in more familiar territory. "He's an openly gay actor who ends up getting elected to Congress," the 46-year-old performer tells TV Guide Online. "I thought this was an interesting venue, to put a gay character into the world of politics."

In addition to starring in the series, Lane also serves as an exec producer and writer. In other words, if Lawrence is a flop, he has no one to blame but himself. "The first time around, I was terribly na&#239ve," he laments of the Encore! debacle. "For some reason, I got it into my head that I wanted to work with those particular producers from Frasier [Peter Casey and Suzanne Holmes], and I just wanted to be an actor and leave it all up to them. The next thing I knew, I was in the Napa Valley with Joan Plowright [playing my mother].

"So, this time around," adds the Nicholas Nickleby star, "I had to see a script. I can't just meet with high-powered writer-producers, and, because we hit it off at lunch, that means we're going to do a show together."

With seven episodes of the series in the can, Lane is optimistic that Charlie Lawrence will garner high approval ratings from the public — not to mention A.C. Nielsen — when it debuts in March. "It's a different kind of show for CBS," says the theater vet, who plans to recruit some famous ex-sidekicks (Robin Williams, Matthew Broderick) to drop in as guest stars. "People have said that this is almost risqué for [the network]."

Of course, the mere existence of a gay lead on a CBS show qualifies as bold. But unlike the sapphic character Ellen DeGeneres played on her short-lived comedy last season, Charlie Lawrence will not be all work and no play. "Of course he'll date," Lane insists. "[His personal life] will be prominent in the sense that, like any other human, he'll want to get together with others. In fact, the first episode I go out with [Dharma & Greg alum] Thomas Gibson. That's a good way to begin.

"But," he adds, "it's not a show about being gay. It's not Queer as Folk."