Ed Asner's political activism has hurt his career in the past, but he's not about to keep quiet about his beliefs.

When he's not working on projects likeSunday's NBC TV movie "Good Cops, Bad Cops" (8 p.m., Ch. 2), he can usually be found out on the lecture circuit.

"I hate it, but the results are very good," he said from a hotel room in Kansas, where he was speaking later in the day.

"I talk about actors and activism, about the need for union activism. I'm spreading the gospel that this can be a better nation and that we should all work toward making it one."

Asner wasn't always vocal about his liberal beliefs. He said he regrets keeping quiet during Hollywood's blacklisting days.

"I think what I did was as a result of being fearful all those many years," Asner said. "I was afraid to speak out on my beliefs because I was afraid it would cost me work.

"But when I did speak out, I felt very good doing it. I felt very proud."

But his activism as president of the Screen Actors Guild and his formation of a group to provide medical relief for rebels in El Salvador did end up costing him work. Asner successful series "Lou Grant" was abruptly and surprisingly canceled in 1982.

CBS executives never came right out and said it was because of Asner's politics, but no other credible explanation for the cancellation was forthcoming from the network. And there's no doubt in Asner's mind why the show was dumped.

"Oh, I don't think there's any question," he said. "I was sorry to get the show canceled because of it. But I'm not sorry I took a stand."

One of the stands that got him in trouble was his refusal as SAG president to approve an award for former SAG President Ronald Reagan.

"He'd just destroyed the air traffic controller's union. How could we give him an award?" Asner said.

He also believes that part of the reason "Lou Grant" was canceled was simply that he opposed Reagan at a time when the president's popularity was at its peak.

"Nobody else was challenging him at the time," Asner said. "Everybody in the press and in the public was crying `Hosanna!' I was the apple cart upsetter. I was raining on his parade."

And Asner isn't particularly fond of Reagan's successor, either.

"The nation bought George Bush's baloney," he said. "Its only been two years and already its unraveling."

Asner's latest concern is American intervention in the Persian Gulf.

"We have become a warring nation," he said. "Every time we're about to start counting the money for a peace dividend, we raise up another monster to destroy - Saddam, Noriega.

"I also think it's to keep out military going and to demonstrate the pomp and circumstance and greatness of the United States.

"We are in an embarrassing position right now. We're over there, and Bush feels like he has to do something. But if we do go to war, there are going to be far more body bags than in Grenada or Panama.

"We ought to be more concerned about the quality of American life. We ought to be housing the homeless and repairing our decaying infrastructure."

Despite his interest in politics, he has no interest in entering the political arena as an office-holder.

"I would not be a good politician. I don't have the patience. I don't have the art of compromise," Asner said.

"Besides, I want to act."

And politics have nothing to do with his NBC movie "Good Cops, Bad Cops," which airs Sunday (8 p.m., Ch. 2).

"It's a good story and a good role. I liked it a lot," Asner said.

On Sunday, Asner plays the "Good Cop," Jake Quinn, who's called in to clean out a corrupt division of the Boston police force. His "Bad Cop" adversary (Ray Sharkey) is not only into myriad small-time illegalities but helps mastermind the biggest bank robbery in history.

Although the story is fact-based, Asner's character is fictional.

"It was well-written, and that's what I'm interested in doing," he said. "I've never chosen projects because of any message they contain, but because of their entertainment value."

And don't be surprised if Asner returns to series television soon. He may end up in a hourlong police drama for NBC, and if not there are a couple of sitcoms beckoning.

But could his activism cause still another cancellation?

`It's still possible today, but I don't think it is as likely as it was then (in the early '80s)," he said. "I think the political climate has changed.

"I've got a lot of people in me that I can let out," he said. "Some people are still afraid of me, but I can do the job if they give me the chance."