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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former "Friends" star Courteney Cox says she has no problem starring in a TV comedy called "Cougar Town".
So does her endorsement make "cougar" -- the popular term for sexually aggressive older women on the hunt for younger men -- the new cool? American TV executives seem to think so.
After years of highlighting the charms of youthful sex kittens while sidelining older actresses, new TV shows like "Eastwick" and "The Good Wife" are showing that more than just one type of mature woman is at work -- and play -- in the world.
"You can use the label 'cougar,' but what is really happening is that TV is acknowledging this trend in society of women getting better as they age," said Todd Gold, managing editor of TV entertainment website Fancast.com.
"Mainstream television no longer just focuses on the pretty 20 year-old," Gold said.
Leading the charge and dividing feminists is Cox, 45, who plays a recently divorced woman desperate for love in ABC television's new comedy series "Cougar Town."
"I think it's great to be a cougar, if that's what they are called," Cox told journalists recently of her most high-profile role since "Friends" ended its 10-year run in 2004.
"I was looking to do another comedy ... and it was just the perfect idea," Cox added, noting that her own husband, actor David Arquette, is seven years her junior.
Cox is in good company. In "Eastwick", also on ABC, former supermodel Rebecca Romijn, 36, plays a divorced mom with a much younger boyfriend who is bewitched by the bad boy sex appeal of a small town newcomer.
Actress Jenna Elfman plays a woman in her 30s who gets pregnant by a 20-something chef after a one night stand in the CBS comedy "Accidentally on Purpose".
And in CBS drama, "The Good Wife," Julianna Margulies, 43, portrays the spouse of a philandering public official left to pick up the pieces after a scandal. The series has quickly become one of most popular new shows on U.S. television with an average 14.3 million viewers per episode.
"Cougar Town" has an audience of about 9.6 million weekly viewers, and ABC said women make up 58 percent of them.
Still, not all women are in love with the new programs. Author Linda Franklin, who runs website www.therealcougarwoman.com, says "Cougar Town" depicts relationships between women and younger men in a bad light.
"It makes people think that if you are out with a younger guy you are empty-headed, walking around with your boobs hanging out and all you want is to get your fangs into some young meat," she said.
Franklin, 60, set up her website in 2007 after first coming across the term "cougar." She wants to redefine the word as something positive for women over 40 years old.
Bill Lawrence, executive producer of "Cougar Town," told reporters that the title of the show was designed to provoke. But he said he had seen "cougar" being used as both "a misogynistic word and a word of empowerment."
While the current crop of TV shows may divide as much as unite women, both sides seem to agree on one thing -- it is usually men who are doing the chasing of older women, not vice-versa.
"Women today at 40 are strong, confident and financially independent, and they are very enticing to a younger guy," said Franklin.
Or as Gold put it: "Hot older women are the fantasy of a lot of guys."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Patricia Reaney