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ART IMITATES DRESCHER'S LIFE

"It's a man's world," says Fran Drescher, when asked why it's more acceptable for older men to date younger women than the other way around. But even as far back as the Founding Fathers, the idea of Mr. May loving Ms. December was not beyond consideration.

Ben Franklin wrote a whole treatise on the virtues of romancing an older woman, whether it's her greater knowledge, wisdom and practical skills ("Every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement," he observed), or the last reason, "They are so grateful!"

It's also a situation that Drescher ("The Nanny") knows very well, having spent four years with a man 16 years her junior, who helped her recover from the trauma of uterine cancer. After writing about the relationship in her 2002 book, "Cancer Schmancer," Drescher was busy developing a TV show based on the romance. Coincidentally, actor-producer Jamie Kennedy was developing a similar show at the same time.

The two came together, and the result, "Living With Fran," premieres at 8:30 p.m. Friday on the WB Network. Drescher plays Fran Reeves, a recently divorced, 40-something interior decorator who's fallen for her hunky, mid-20s contractor, Riley (Ryan McPartlin, "Passions").

Fran's daughter, 15-year-old Allison (Misti Traya, "Joan of Arcadia," "Huff") is coping fine with the new arrangement, but the unexpected return of Fran's 21-year-old son, Josh (Ben Feldman), upends this cozy domesticity.

After a mental breakdown that caused him to chase a male nurse with a bone saw, Josh has been kicked out of medical school and ordered to return to the nest. He's none too happy to find his mother with a big, blond beau only a few years older than he is -- and to top it off, his old room is now a gym.

With her chocolate Pomeranian, Esther Drescher, tucked in her lap, Drescher takes a break from filming in Culver City, Calif., to talk about the show, with some help from parents Sylvia and Morty Drescher, who are guest starring in the episode currently in production. Morty previously appeared in "The Nanny," and both appeared in that show's recent reunion special on Lifetime.

In a dressing room that's a riotous combination of leopard print and pink, Drescher says, "Jamie's idea was a little further along with the WB than mine. I wasn't exactly sure whether I wanted to do another sitcom, but I thought this was a good area to explore if I did.

"I have a lot of ideas for stories, because I lived it. I'm really liking it. I get to hug and kiss that beautiful man every week."

"I think it's very timely," Drescher says. "It's a relationship that has not been explored in sitcoms."

While you might think otherwise, Drescher wasn't in on any casting decisions.

"I actually had no say at all," she says. "They just cast everybody. Ben was already cast, and I thought I could work with him."

Drescher's former "Nanny" co-star Charles Shaughnessy has been cast as Fran Reeves' ex-husband, but his character is apparently going to come a poor second to Riley.

"It was a loveless marriage," Drescher says. "He cheated on her a lot. In contrast to that, this new man allows her to recapture a youth that was spent being a young mother to the Josh character. Riley's totally into her, very accepting of who she is, doesn't try to turn her into a Stepford wife, which is what the former husband did."

Drescher says that it was more her fame than the age difference that eventually ended her May-December romance, but she wouldn't change a thing.

"It might have been personal baggage that we carry that has nothing to do with age," she says. "I had cancer during that relationship. He was there for me. I don't know what I would have done without him. He's finding his place in the sun, and I wish him all the best. Nobody has a bad thing to say about him."

"I feel the same way," Sylvia says. "A very special young man."

"Some people come into your life for a season," Drescher says, "some people come into your life for a reason, and then some come in for a lifetime. He definitely came in for a reason, because he was there for me when I needed someone. That was enough."

Speaking of people there for a lifetime, Drescher gives all credit to Sylvia and Morty.

"All my talent comes from them," she says. "It is genetic."

But as far as getting roles on "The Nanny" and "Living With Fran," Morty insists, "It has nothing to do with nepotism. We happen to be very talented."

"You are very talented," Drescher says, smiling. "You are."