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Sela Ward, the beautiful actress who starred as Teddy in the NBC series "Sisters," did something very unusual in Hollywood during the recent TV critics tour. She revealed her age.

She's 43 and proud of it, as she prepares to co-star in the poignant ABC post-divorce drama "Once and Again."

Her age became an issue when a critic asked if roles are getting scarcer for actors and actresses out of their 20s.

"I'm having a real problem with this issue," Ward said. "I feel like my life is just beginning. I don't think I've ever been happier. I feel right. I feel yummy. I feel incredibly intelligent. And (I have) a lot of life experience to offer."

She knows that Hollywood looks at her differently than she looks at herself. She learned that when she auditioned for a role in a James Bond film several years ago.

"The comment from the director afterward was, 'You know what we really want is Sela 10 years ago,' " recalled Ward. "And I went: 'Ah! Does this mean I'm no longer sexually viable? Does this mean my life is over? My career is over?' "

Of course not. Just her movie career. She is on one of the best new series of the fall.

"One reason why I fell so in love with this script (for 'Once and Again') is because, I think perhaps unwittingly, they've written something that celebrates age, that celebrates that at 40 there is life. At 40, there are new experiences. At 40, you can have the same feelings and emotions and states of expectancy about life that you had when you were 19. So that's why I was drawn to the project."

While this is the season of teen-agers and young adults finding and looking for love on television, "yummy" actresses in Ward's age group haven't been eliminated.

Kathleen Quinlan stars in the CBS drama "Family Law," Markie Post is in the ABC sitcom "Odd Man Out," Nancy Travis is in CBS' "Work With Me," and Mimi Rogers has a small role in the Fox series "Manchester Prep."

And there are three actresses in their late 30s or early 40s who deserve success after years of looking for a series that would last as long as Ward's "Sisters."

It seems as if every other year, Debrah Farentino, Margaret Colin or Jane Kaczmarek stars in some series that crash-lands.

Farentino has been around so long that some younger critics believe she is the daughter of actor James Farentino. In truth, she's his ex-wife.

She had some success in the ABC drama "Equal Justice" and did a memorable turn as one of Detective John Kelly's romances in the first season of "NYPD Blue." Since then, she has starred in one-year wonders such as "Earth 2" and "Easy Streets."

She's back this season in a controversial Fox series, "Get Real," playing the mother of three children whose marriage is in danger of unraveling. Her TV husband is played by Jon Tenney, who co-starred with her in "Equal Justice" and has been in as many failed series as she has.

If Debrah Farentino finally gets TV stardom, who would have thought it would come as the mother of three teen-agers?

Her character's parental instincts on "Get Real" were under scrutiny because she didn't strongly confront her 16-year-old son after his girlfriend spent the night in his bedroom.

Farentino, however, assured critics that her character will get stronger as the season goes on. If it goes on longer than "Easy Streets," that is.

Executive Producer Clyde Phillips "has gotten inside the head of a woman who basically gave up her young adulthood to be a mother," said Farentino. "At 17, she got pregnant. . . . And she has clearly lost herself.

"You're coming into this family at a crisis point. Television often portrays people as being in a perfect place. It's hard being a wife, a mother and a woman all at one time, and I think that's the journey we're going to go on. And I think now, because the parents are relatively young and the kids are relatively old, they're on this journey together."

Jane Kaczmarek is a mother with one teen-ager trying to clean up his act in military school and three younger kids in the promising Fox comedy "Malcolm in the Middle."

First noticed in the series "Paper Chase," Kaczmarek has a familiar face, if not name. She was a regular on "Equal Justice" and has had recurring roles on "Party of Five," "Frasier," "The Practice," "Cybill," "Hill Street Blues" and "Felicity."

Even if "Malcolm" tanks when it premieres in midseason, Kaczmarek will be remembered as the first topless mother on television. Her character, Lois, is the one running around topless while she does the laundry.

How does she see Lois?

"Daft but harmless and huge-hearted," Kaczmarek said. "I think that her love and her care for these children is very, very big. As far as the running around without clothes on, when I first read it, I thought, hmm, that's unusual. I wonder if a woman would really do that."

Then she remembered that her mother, Evelyn, in Milwaukee, used to put on her girdle in front of four kids before they went went to Catholic school and Mass every morning.

"And we would run up to Mom's bedroom, where she would be struggling into her girdle -- this is circa 1961 -- and one of the kids would have a bra on her head, playing Mickey Mouse."

Mom must be a proud role model.

"It's also not in a sexual context at all," Lois says of walking around topless. "She's getting ready to go to work. It's very tastefully done. There's not any kind of titillation or sexual content in this at all. I think it's just trying to establish the kind of chaos that goes on in this family."

Compared to the characters played by Farentino and Kaczmarek, Margaret Colin's role may be the most realistic. In CBS' "Now and Again" from Glenn Gordon Caron, Colin plays a woman married to a chunky guy played by John Goodman. He gets killed in a freak accident and has his brain implanted in the body of a handsome man manufactured by the government and played by hunky Eric Close.

After starring in such TV series failures as "Legwork," "The Wright Verdict" and Diane English's "Foley Square," Colin was asked about her first reaction to the Caron script.

"Well, you know, 'Blah, blah, blah, where's my line?' is my first reaction to anything," cracked Colin. "And there aren't a lot of them."

That doesn't trouble her, because she'll be able to spend more time with her family. She added that Caron also convinced her that the role would expand and be challenging.

"The problem I was having with it is that she's a little bit of a victim," said Colin. "She doesn't seem to take care of herself in the way that I imagine that I would. So that's very challenging for me. And being against the system -- having so many things you count on pulled out from underneath you."

Actually, it isn't much different from the system she, Ward, Farentino and Kaczmarek are in. If one of these "yummy" actresses is fortunate to have a series that lasts for years, it will prove that life can be delicious for an actress beyond the Bond years.

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