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Tax Bill Wasn't a Surprise to the Lucky 276

September 27, 2004 12:00 AM

If you read news stories last week in Chicago and Denver papers, you would think the 276 "Oprah Winfrey Show" audience members who were offered new Pontiacs at General Motors' expense had no idea they would be hit with a hefty income tax bill if they accepted the $28,000 gift. In fact, the winners were told there would be a tax bill, with the amount depending on their personal situation. Each recipient signed a paper that made clear the tax consequences. They were given the choice to decline the prize, accept and pay the tax or sell the car immediately and pocket the difference-about $20,000, according to a spokesman for Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions in Chicago. It will take at least six weeks before any cars are delivered. The lucky 276 can wait until February 2005 to pick up the car, customized to their taste, from their local dealer, so taxes can also be postponed for a year. "The Chicago Sun-Times reporter never called us or GM for comment, so we called the reporter and said it was unfortunate they had made this story seem negative," said the spokesman, who added that Ms. Winfrey at some point will do a follow-up show.

-ALEX BEN BLOCK

BET originals

The BET Network is looking to amp up its original programming by creating a new bi-coastal development department. BET's Senior VP of Programming and Production Gina Holland said the African American-targeted entertainment channel, owned by Viacom, is searching for one or two execs to head development in New York and L.A. "We want to continue to grow and be competitive in the marketplace," Ms. Holland said. "Our focus will be on developing our prime-time block to complement our acquisitions." They hope to add more comedy and reality programming to a lineup largely dominated by music videos. BET's profile has been on the rise this summer, with the "BET Awards" setting an all-time ratings record for the cable net, a successful upfront and the upcoming "BET Comedy Awards." With its 25th birthday next year, Ms. Holland said, an anniversary special and a new look are in the works. "I don't think you'll see a drastic change," she said, "but it's going to feel good."

-JAMES HIBBERD

Singing Forever

During Advertising Week in New York City last week, Coca-Cola and its ad agency, McCann Erickson Worldwide, held a brief memorial for songwriter Billy Davis, who died Sept. 20, and introduced the first ad they have ever restored in high definition. It's a version of Mr. Davis' memorable "Hilltop" Coke ad featuring the song "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." It also aired on some New York stations. The ad shows young people from all over the world singing "in perfect harmony" and ends with the message, "In memory of Billy Davis, for teaching us all to sing, your friends at The Coca-Cola Co." After the ad airs nationally this week it is being donated to the Library of Congress.

-ALEX BEN BLOCK