Sept. 23, 2009 -- Cougars, cougars, cougars are everywhere.
Not the large solitary wild cats who feast on elk and deer, but the older women who delight in younger men: Those cougars are in magazines, books, the Internet and the big and small screen, and they are about to proliferate even further.
Starting tonight, Courteney Cox, who could be considered a cougar in real life with husband David Arquette seven years her junior, will also play one on the small screen in the ABC sitcom "Cougar Town."
Just don't expect her to say the word.
"The word is definitely in the zeitgeist," "Cougar Town" executive producer Bill Lawrence told ABCNews.com. "To me it's just a word, a hooky title that tells you what the show is about. No one would have cared if we called it 'Forty and Single.' But we never use the term. It's more about Courteney as a single 40-year-old woman, pulled between younger and older friends, and trying to hold onto her dignity. She doesn't want to be one of those women we make fun of."
In "Cougar Town," Cox's character Jules Cobb, a divorced mom of a teenage son and successful real estate broker, looks down on her real estate rival, a desperate older woman with a thing for younger men. At the same time, she's eager to dive back into the dating world but is uncertain how.
"I'd date guys my own age but they're all dating younger girls," Jules says in tonight's season premiere.
"I think Courteney Cox is great at playing the comedy of discomfort," said Lawrence, who approached her with the sitcom after he heard through the grapevine that she was looking to do comedy again. "She's a fearless comedian."
That includes being unafraid to show less than perfect sides of herself. In the opening scene, she scrutinizes her naked body in the shower, squeezing her stomach, jiggling her arms and thighs and pinching her back.
No Body Double for Courteney Cox in 'Cougar Town'
Lawrence said executives and test audiences who saw the scene thought Cox used a body double. It's all her, he said, as is much of the character's personality.
"Courteney says what's on her mind," he said. "She sometimes doesn't have a filter. She's basically playing an exaggerated version of herself."
Lawrence, who has known Cox for a long time, had the "Friends" star do a guest role on his sitcom "Scrubs," before they moved forward, just to make sure "she didn't hate me," he said. "It actually went really well."
Both are hoping their new show does as well as "Scrubs."
"She's nervous, excited," he said. "She just wants it to work."
They are counting on hooking audiences with "cougar," a word Lawrence said may be played out, even though the concept isn't.
The word has become a punch line ever since author Valerie Gibson first brought it to the mainstream with her 2001 book "Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men." And the joke, more often than not, is on the woman.
Just check out the recurring "Saturday Night Live" skit "Cougar Den," which always seems to star Cameron Diaz, who, in real life, has been linked to younger men.
Earlier this year, there was the over-the-top TV Land reality show "The Cougar," hosted by Vivica Fox. Forty-year-old Stacey Anderson lived with 20 men under 30, choosing one to be her "soul mate."
Recently, Jennifer Aniston), Cox's BFF and "Friends" co-star, announced she is developing a big-screen comedy about pumas -- cougars in training -- called "Pumas," in which she'd co-star with Elizabeth Banks.
"It's sort of a female 'Wedding Crashers,'" she said in the December issue of Vogue. "It's these two girls who are aspiring cougars. It is so a comment on the sexual double standard -- and what's been ironic is how hard it's been to get this movie made. Studios want it, but they're afraid of Middle America. They'd want to change it; they're saying, Oh, you can't do that, people just can't imagine you…"
Courteney Cox Pal Jennifer Aniston a Cougar, Too?
Can't imagine Aniston with a younger man? They have only to look at pictures of Aniston with John Mayer, the 31-year-old singer who recently helped her celebrate her 40th birthday, which officially makes her a cougar.
Lawrence is hoping to milk the term for more laughs while also commenting on the sometimes vexing place that single women over 40 find themselves.
"It's a burden for a lot of women in my life," he said. "In its positive sense, this show is about, I hope, female empowerment, a woman getting over fear of being judged, learning that she's allowed to have fun, even though there seems to be a double standard."
The very notion of an older woman with a younger man still titillates audiences.
"You wouldn't have a sitcom about a man that age looking for a younger woman," Tedra Osell, a former college professor who writes the blog "Bitch PhD," told ABCNews.com. "It doesn't have that sense of turning the stereotype on its head. The older woman-younger man can be played for laughs but also titillation."
Osell finds the word "cougar" to be a put-down -- a reaction to women's growing sexual and economic independence.
"As much as I hate the label, though, it's hard to get too worried about it," she added. "Women having economic independence is a good thing.
"Plus, I have to say, it's kind of nice that we're in a cultural moment where Americans finally acknowledge that middle-age women have sex."