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PRIME TIME <br> AT LAST, 40-SOMETHING WOMEN GET SOME JUICY TELEVISION ROLES

I turned 40 last year and found it less than traumatic. (Though it didn't help to discover that Barbie and I are the same age.) But with all the talk lately about viewers wanting to see "people like themselves" on television, I have to give TV credit. I may be getting older -- but so are the women on TV. It seems that on the tube, life does indeed begin at 40 -- and so do some careers.

When Rene Russo played a sexy 40-something insurance investigator in last year's remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair" it made headlines. On television, it's getting to the point where a plum role going to a Gen-Xer will make news.

It wasn't long ago that "Cagney & Lacey" were the exceptions and Heather Locklear and Melissa Gilbert were the rule. It seemed like the only actresses on TV over 40 were Angela Lansbury and the woman who had fallen and couldn't get up.

Happily, those days are over. Sure, there are shows that focus on young women like "Felicity," "Dawson's Creek" and "Ally McBeal." But the very best female roles seem to be going to real women of substance -- actresses over 40 and even 50, many of whom have been waiting in the wings for worthy roles.

Last month, when TV Guide featured "Judging Amy" 's Amy Brenneman on its cover, fan reaction to the story suggested it may be veteran actress Tyne Daly who's really attracting viewers. Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper will reprise their roles as Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern for a TV movie next month.

If this keeps up, Michael Douglas may soon be the only one in Hollywood looking for 25-year-olds.

It's worth noting that this "renaissance of the middle ages" is being enjoyed by men a bit, too. The biggest furor this season wasn't Ricky Martin. It was the return to prime time TV of senior citizens Alan Alda and Regis Philbin.

So, for those of us who have turned 40, life is good. Can the day be too far off when David E. Kelley calls the Paltrow home and says:

"Gwyneth, honey, congratulations on your movie career. Yeah, I'm casting a new network series that needs a really sexy female leading lady and I was just wondering --

"Is your mom home?"

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