LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The sexy bravado of ''NYPD Blue'' kicked off the television season. Then came the gay bar kiss on ''Roseanne'' and the gay wedding on ''Northern Exposure.''

''Melrose Place'' could bring TV's most daring year yet to an end with a bang - or a whimper. A shared kiss between two men might be deleted by Fox Broadcasting Co. before the season finale is broadcast May 18.

The network has yet to receive the completed episode and will review it before making a decision, Fox spokeswoman Sharan Magnuson said.

The producers were mum after bold talk about enlightened treatment of gay characters. Whatever Fox does, critics are ready to pounce.

''I think it's a real problem that such a progressive network would be worried about this ... a recurring gay character who happens to get kissed,'' said Lee Werbel, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's Los Angeles chapter.

But L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group in Alexandria, Va., condemns such scenes as gratuitous - and as the industry's liberal politics as usual.

''I don't want a program that teaches homosexuality is wrong,'' he said. ''I don't want a program that teaches it's right. ... If you want to entertain, entertain. If you want a documentary on this, put it on PBS.''

Television has been intent on working sexual themes, both gay and straight, into comedies and dramas this season.

The PBS miniseries ''Tales of the City'' chronicled the lives of friends in 1970s San Francisco and included a scene with two men embracing and kissing.

''NYPD Blue'' featured partial nudity and bedroom scenes; Roseanne Arnold was smooched by Mariel Hemingway in a ''Roseanne'' episode; two male residents of Cicely, Alaska, tied the knot on ''Northern Exposure.''

The camera discreetly cut away before the couple kissed, but the episode drew criticism anyway from a conservative crusader, the Rev. Donald Wildmon. He called for a boycott; two television stations refused to broadcast it.

The networks are wary of such fallout. But there's also the chance that publicity might titillate viewers and improve ratings.

Michael A. Kupinski, an industry analyst with A.G. Edwards in St. Louis, suggested that including alternative or minority characters on television can be beneficial.

''In a way such programs are healthy because they reflect other aspects of society that viewers may not be exposed to and may not understand,'' he said.

In the ''Melrose Place'' episode, a man falls for series regular Doug Savant, who plays gay Matt Fielding. A scene was shot in which the two kiss, according to the show's executive producer, Darren Star.

Star was in Europe this week and unavailable for comment, his office said. But he told Daily Variety that the intent of the kiss is not to break new ground: it's to show a gay man who has a ''well-rounded life.''

''Whether it airs is up to the network, and right now, they're coming down and saying it's something they don't want to air,'' Star told the trade newspaper.

Aaron Spelling, whose company produces both ''Melrose Place'' and another popular Fox drama, ''Beverly Hills, 90210,'' has featured other gay themes and characters.

Fear of alienating advertisers is usually cited by networks when dodging controversy. An episode of ''thirtysomething'' showing a gay couple merely talking in bed reportedly cost ABC $1 million in ad revenue.

Werbel said what her group wants, and is willing to demand through its national membership, is what other viewers routinely enjoy.

''I want to see myself on television,'' she said. ''It's just about being included as part of the cast of characters.''