August 27, 2006

Taxable loot awaits Emmy presenters

By Denise Abbott

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - They have become as much
a part of the award season milieu as limousines and acceptance
speeches, but awards show presenters' elaborate gift baskets,
typically filled with everything from jewelry to weekend spa
visits, might be headed the way of the dodo.

To the surprise of many (and the delight of others who deem
the gift bags studies in material excess), earlier this year
the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to
discontinue the practice of thanking Oscar presenters and
performers with gift baskets, often valued at more than
$100,000, beginning with the 2007 ceremony.

And earlier this month, in response to the Internal Revenue
Service's assertion that the contents of the Oscar gift basket
constitute taxable income for presenters (all of whom make
otherwise unpaid appearances onstage), the Academy agreed to
send informational tax forms to the recipients of this year's
swag. They, in turn, will be responsible for any tax

Will the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which
organizes Sunday's Primetime Emmy Awards, follow suit?

"It's premature to say whether they will make any changes,"
says Pam Golum, a publicist for the event. "The academy is
complying with IRS regulations, and hopefully, the recipients
will make whatever decision is right for them." In other words,
recipients of the Emmy bag will find a little something extra
at the bottom of their treasure trove: a tax reporting form.

For now, forms or not, one thing's for certain: The TV
Academy will have one heck of a goody bag waiting for Emmy
presenters this weekend.

Even if one isn't in favor of such gift bags, one must
appreciate the time and effort that goes into putting the
packages together. According to Cheryl Cecchetto, whose Sequoia
Prods. puts together the Emmys' Governors Ball, getting just
the right mix of items typically takes about four months and
involves choosing 15 items from among roughly 100 submissions.

Each item must fit into one of several categories:
body/bath, clothing, electronics, food/travel, hair/spa, home,
jewelry and skin care. Semifinalists are presented to the TV
Academy's Board of Governors for a final decision.

"A celebrity may only use five of the 15 items," Cecchetto
explains. "If they have a home gym, they won't use the Sports
Club/L.A. membership. If they have their own hairdresser, they
won't use the Prive certificate. We need to make the basket as
diverse as possible because these items are nontransferable."

Sponsors are eager to get in on the gifting, which -- if a
celebrity is seen wearing, holding, eating or otherwise using a
sponsor's product in public -- equates to "free" advertising.

Included in this year's haul are products from Sprint, Dove
and wines from Beaulieu Vineyard. Some items make the cut year
after year by virtue of their sheer fabulousness. "Who wouldn't
want another year's membership at Sports Club/L.A. or an
invitation to host a private dinner party at Morton's?"
Cecchetto notes.

While Cecchetto's aim is to elicit a "wow!" response, she
strives to keep the basket elegant and manageable. "This is not
about swag and getting crazy and needing a moving company to
transport the thing," she says, refusing to assign a monetary
value to the basket. Items are neatly tucked in a rolling
trunk, and are either presented during rehearsal or delivered
to the recipient's home.

Inevitably, a big part of Cecchetto's job is saying no.
"Sometimes, the level of greatness in any given category is so
high that we have to nix terrific items. To them I say,
'There's always next year."'

Or is there?

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter