Fox News Channel has sued Al Franken and his publishing house to stop them from using the expression "fair and balanced" in the title of his upcoming book.

"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" is due out next month from Dutton, a unit of Penguin Group.

But Fox News, in a trademark infringement lawsuit filed in Manhattan, claims that it registered the expression "fair and balanced" in 1998. Franken and Penguin, the suit claims, are trying to exploit the trademark to boost sales.

In its fair and balanced way, Fox News refers in its suit to Franken as an "unstable" and "shrill" "C-level commentator" who is "not a well-respected voice in American politics."

The attorneys do concede that Franken "achieved some renown as a comedy writer in the 1970s when he worked for the television program 'Saturday Night Live' " but add he since "has attempted to remake himself into a political commentator" and "is neither a journalist nor a television news personality." (Note the distinction being made between "journalist" and "television news personality.")

"His views lack any serious depth or insight," Fox News sniffed for good measure.

And in its fair and balanced way, the suit filed by Fox News refers to Fox News Channel as that "world famous" cable channel.

The biggest star in the FNC firmament, Bill O'Reilly is, according to the suit, "a national celebrity."

The suit also takes issue with the preliminary cover of Franken's book, which, the attorneys charge, resembles the cover of an O'Reilly book called "The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life."

The use of "fair and balanced" in the title and the resemblance of the cover to the O'Reilly book is "likely to cause confusion among the public about whether Fox News has authorized or endorsed the book and about whether Franken is affiliated with FNC." They are referring, of course, to the large segment of the population that still counts with its toes.

Franken could not be reached for comment yesterday but his publishing outfit could:

"It is extraordinary that one of the largest media corporations would take such action," Dutton responded late yesterday via a rep. "In trying to suppress Al Franken's book [Fox News Channel owner] News Corporation is undermining the First Amendment principles that protect all media, guaranteeing a free, open and vigorous debate of public issues. The attempt to keep the public from reading Franken's message is un-American and runs contrary to everything this country stands for."

If the Fab Five of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" accomplish nothing else while on the NBC payroll, we will be forever in their debt for having made a little less drab the clueless straight guys seen on the various NBC-owned television networks.

Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley and Jai Rodriguez are the stars of the new reality series on NBC-owned Bravo. Each week, these gay experts in grooming, fashion, food, etiquette and interior design make over one clueless straight guy, who is grateful.

One day not long after the show's launch, so the story goes, NBC suits looked around at the enormous pool of clueless straight guys they had working on the air, shouted "Eureka!" and a marketing campaign was born. They would send out the Fab Five like crusaders, from network to network and show to show, bestowing style and couth on the Clueless Straight Guys of the NBC Networks, while exposing the five stars to thousands if not millions of viewers who might not normally watch a show called "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" on the Bravo cable network.

First, NBC announced, the Fab Five would visit NBC's late-night "Tonight" show to make over host Jay Leno. That would coincide with another "Queer Eye" publicity stunt: NBC's Thursday night telecast of a complete episode of the Bravo series.

But it's unclear how dramatic will be a makeover of a guy who wears $5,000 suits, has soft, manicured hands and collects expensive cars like Duesenbergs, Bentleys and Lamborghinis. Maybe they could work on getting his voice down an octave when he gets excited, or improving his listening skills during interviews.

But an overhaul of MSNBC wonks Bill Press and Pat Buchanan -- now that would be something to watch. So NBC has wisely chosen the hosts of "Buchanan and Press" for the first "Queer Eye" treatment, tonight on MSNBC.

Ironically, SpongeBill SquarePants and Pitchfork Pat already have spent a lot of time thinking and talking about "Queer Eye." They don't seem to like it. Take their July 11 telecast, four days before "Queer Eye" debuted on Bravo, in which Press warned MSNBC viewers the new show would attempt to "turn virtually any man into a handsome sharp-dressed homosexual."

Press went on to warn that "Queer Eye" would present "all straight men" as "pigs."

He then took the pledge that he would never watch "Queer Eye" because New York Post TV critic Linda Stasi had told him that in the pilot episode the Fab Five "say things . . . that are truly dirty."

Press also forecast that "any self-respecting individual who is a homosexual would be turned off" by the show, and suggested that Bravo was targeting a "tiny segment of the gay community" known as "some real sludge."

Now, we all know that this show actually targets young women who are anxious to see the clueless straight guy whom they date made over. Will someone please tell Mr. Press?

Buchanan was not sitting idly by that night, no sirree. He expressed the opinion that "Queer Eye" was "grungy" and "like the kind of humor . . . that kids might laugh at if they're freshmen in high school."

Buchanan then observed, in his usual insightful way, that "I saw a comment by Bill Cosby the other day which I thought was pretty good and he's an extraordinarily talented comedian and I remember in the '50s you had Sid Caesar and Milton Berle and these guys, extraordinary talent.

"Is this just a sign that there are so many shows out there it's an utter lack of talent these guys have got to go into this really 12-year-old humor?" Buchanan asked, rhetorically.

At the end of that scintillating chat, Press stated firmly "for the record" that "my reality never included having five gay guys teach me how to dress."

Al Franken is being sued for trademark infringement by Fox News Channel, which wants his new book judged by its cover -- specifically the title's use of "fair and balanced."