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Every year at holiday time, my mom...

Every year at holiday time, my mom makes me sit by the fireplace and open three identical Old Navy sweaters while my sister unwraps cashmere sweaters, diamond earrings and mid-size sedans. It’s Mom’s way of telling me to try a little harder next year. Like by being a girl.

The entertainment industry is less subtle than my mother. Christmas in Hollywood is an opportunity to let people know how much they’re worth. This is what happens when you force Jews to send Christmas gifts to each other.

Every studio, network and agency picks out an A, B and C-level gift to send people with whom they do business. Those outside the industry might avoid doing this because they’d worry their clients would find out that others got nicer presents. People inside the industry hope they do.

Because all Hollywood relationships are overtly built on utility (see the Disney trial), you’re allowed to revert back to elementary school and rank your friends right in front of them.

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This year, Bravo let me inside their Christmas gift process, attending the meetings in which the channel’s executives chose presents and made their lists. It was like being a basic-cable elf.

Head of marketing Jason Klarman presented President Lauren Zalaznick with a table full of gift options. A spirited discussion broke out over whether a skin care company called Kiehl’s was “timeless or over.” Zalaznick, concerned about being behind the moisturizer curve, warned of previous devastating beauty errors: “USA [Network] sent out Origins with their ‘Helen of Troy’ movie. Maybe it was a little too ‘90s.”

It was during Klarman’s flip-board presentation about the pros and cons of the Vespa scooter that I learned the word “VVIP.” In a world where everyone is very important, Hollywood slang is forced to balloon out to terms like “very, very important.” By 2006, there will be VVVVVIP rooms. This is undoubtedly where Lindsay Lohan will die.

So in addition to A, B and C gifts, Hollywood bosses send a super-expensive gift to a select few. In fact, the stars of Bravo shows were considered so important that Zalaznick ultimately decided the Vespas were too dangerous. Though I think sending “Inside the Actors Studio” host James Lipton a super-fast one wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Instead, Zalaznick decided that VVIPs are getting iPods and cute little speakers. They’re going to all Bravo on-air talent, which includes upcoming reality-show stars Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, who will probably try to snort theirs.

Some people just get greeting cards, the horse-head-in-the-bed of entertainment yuletide. “We want them to get a card and say, ‘Didn’t I get something cool from Bravo last year?’ ” explained Zalaznick. “I better get on the phone and pitch them my idea.”

A few weeks later, Zalaznick met to whittle down the list compiled from all her departments, which had blown up to 793 names. The C gift, as always, was eliminated because cheap gifts are hard to find and expensive to mail.

Even when she finished her list, it wasn’t quite done, because it had to be run by Jeff Gaspin, the head of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment, which owns Bravo. Gaspin will inspect the list for overlap with his. “If we are both giving the same person a gift, he needs to give the better gift,” Zalaznick admitted.

The gift list had ballooned to:

* 39 VVIPs getting iPods;

* 95 A people getting poker chip sets to promote “Celebrity Poker Showdown”;

* 230 other A people getting a giant bag of Kiehl’s to promote “Queer Eye for the Straight Girl”;

* 175 B-listers getting a small bag of Kiehl’s;

* 254 suckers getting cards.

Zalaznick, needing to bring her costs down, tried eliminating iPod recipients. She considered offing the producers of “Project Greenlight,” Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. “It’s easy to think, ‘Oh, Matt and Ben, they can afford an iPod,’ ” she said. “You don’t want Matt feeling bad though.”

Even Carmen Electra, who hosted the male-model-search flop “Manhunt,” and Ewan McGregor, who had some awful reality show in which he and a friend drove across several countries on motorcycles, got pity pods. By the end of the meeting, Zalaznick had added 15 names. Directors Steven Spielberg and McG got iPods because they’re involved in an upcoming show called “The Dan Band.” The only guy taken off was a lawyer who somehow had annoyed Zalaznick.

And me. Because I had done some work with Trio, Bravo’s sister company, I was on the list three times from various departments, one of which considered me a B Kiehl’s guy, one an A Kiehl’s guy and one a poker chip guy.

This made me confused about both my importance and my masculinity. Instead of facing these issues, I told Zalaznick that letting me attend the Christmas gift meetings was present enough.

Still, I really wanted those poker chips.

Mom?

As if she’s reading my columns.


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