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Queer as Fowl 

One hilarious duck makes up for the loss of gay characters.

What with all the post-9/11 emphasis on home, hearth and security, it would be easy to see a sinister hand at work. But that's probably not the case. Many of the new and returning hit series focus on procedure rather than personalities — shows like the "CSI" and "Law & Order" spinoffs. And some of the series that used to feature gay characters, like "Spin City," "The Ellen Show" and "The Education of Max Bickford," simply ran their course or were shot down in the ratings wars.

Last season, there were 20 gay characters on 16 shows on network TV. This year, there are only seven. If gay people want to see their like on TV now, they're left with only a few, such as on "Will & Grace" and "MDs."

When you add in pay TV, the picture is a bit brighter. HBO has its "Six Feet Under" and "Sex and the City." And Showtime noted a big bump in subscribers, many of them gay, when it began airing the queerest series of them all, "Queer as Folk."

But the newest and most flamboyant gay character to show up on TV this year isn't some hottie lawyer who shares his life with a straight woman or a fumbling hospital administrator who likes to cross-dress for Halloween. No, he's a duck. A male-nurse duck. A cartoon duck, created by Emmy-winner Mike Reiss ("The Simpsons") for his series "Queer Duck."

Reiss first created the animated homosexual — and his pals Bi Polar Bear, Openly Gator and Oscar Wildcat — for the Internet's www.icebox.com several years ago. Now Showtime has picked up the series and ordered new episodes to play after "Queer as Folk," at 10 p.m. on Sundays.

In a word, "Queer Duck" is a hoot.

Complete with a theme song sung by RuPaul, "Queer Duck" takes on everybody from Dr. Laura, Jerry Falwell and Barbra Streisand to wacko doctors who think they can reprogram gays to be straight. And it does it with insider wit, jokes so risqué they could only play on cable and a sensibility to queer life rarely seen except at Liza Minnelli concerts.

Take the episode when the four pals host their own radio show, for example. "It's like 'Frasier' with a gay cast," says Openly Gator. "No, 'Frasier' is like 'Frasier' with a gay cast," quips Oscar Wildcat. "Those gay Munchkins are cute," observes Queer Duck. "And just the right height," says Oscar Wildcat.

Reiss has voice-cast his characters to sound like great gay entertainers from real life - Oscar is a dead ringer for John Gielgud, and Bi Polar Bear sounds like Paul Lynde, although Reiss maintains that Openly Gator's voice is not supposed to be Harvey Fierstein's but an amalgam of several tough-guy actors who happened to be gay.

Nothing is sacred on "Queer Duck." Reiss takes shots at pop-media icons, as in an episode on the Academy Awards, when Bjork is seen wearing a dress "made from the late Bette Davis," and Randy Newman is said to be nominated for an award for a song titled "This One Sounds Like All the Others." In the episode "Ku Klux Klan and Ollie," Bi Polar Bear insists that Charlton Heston can't be gay. To which Oscar Wildcat deadpans, "No gay man would ever wear such a bad toupee." And in an episode on reprogramming gays, Queer Duck comments on Christ's "killer abs."

Best of all, you don't have to subscribe to Showtime to watch the "Queer Duck" merriment. The network has posted 20 episodes online at www.showtimeonline.com/queerduck with more to come.

Clearly, "Queer Duck" is too good, and way too funny, for any one medium. S

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