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Sweet on swag

Anything goes in the world of freebies

Does anyone want my “National Treasure” board game?

Or my “Bewitched” broom wrapped in orange cellophane?

How about my “Ladykillers” waffle iron?

Journos worldwide have always been blanketed with swag — and on behalf of them all, keep it coming.

But in an era of corporate downsizing and self-imposed post-9/11 prudence, the recent flood of freebie items — cheap (thank you, MGM, for the “Walking Tall,” slab of wood), expensive, sensible or over-the-top — indicates the return of a liberal spending mood in Hollywood.

Not that it’s like days of old. In the Hedda Hopper/Louella Parsons era, swag was lavish. From jewelry to cars, their goodies, often sent directly to their homes, easily trumped the items shipped out today.

Then again, it isn’t hard to top a Bernie Mac “Mr. 3000” bobblehead.

As for the meaning of it all, the importance of booty can always be argued. A film’s B.O. or a show’s Nielsen rating has never been scientifically linked to T-shirts and baseball caps.

Hey — even with the waffle irons, “The Ladykillers” took in only $40 million domestically. (The promo wasn’t stingy, by the way: Cost of a waffle iron at cooking.com: $79.95.)

There’s so much more:

New Line fed everyone with frozen hamburgers to promote “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.”

The Lion clogged arteries nationwide for its “Sleepover” promo: tongs, cooking oil and Twinkies.

And merci Mouse House, for sending over a balloon the size of the sun — on steroids — to promote the DVD of “Around the World in 80 Days.”

It didn’t even fit in the car.

But hey, it’s all about publicity, so “out of control” can often mean “out of this world” in terms of coverage. After all, an “I, Robot” shirt that had a working TV monitor on it got some love from the “Today” show last summer.

“The entire entertainment world is avalanched with items, so anything innovative can get something noticed early and often,” said Col TriStar’s senior veepee of media relations, Steve Elzer. “When every title is looking for something to distinguish itself, then a keepsake can mean added value.”

Fair enough, but how can anyone defend these unnecessarily costly giveaways:

Touchstone TV decided to wrap a single cassette of “The George Lopez Show” in a huge moving box that could have fit Lopez himself. All to promote the show’s shift to another day.

To promote the DVD for “Garfield: The Movie,” Fox sent out a postcard … in an overnight envelope.

Fox also sent out frozen bananas to promote “Arrested Development.” Tasty, but, um, things melt.

“A lot of this stuff is meaningless,” one exec said. “Good scripts make projects work, not crap.”

Don’t shoot the messenger

And the spending trend doesn’t begin and end with lovely gifts such as “Christmas With the Kranks” Advent calendars and Spike TV miniature water coolers.

The messenger has become a studio exec’s best friend, routinely being called for minor pickups like party invitations or long-lead cassette tapes.

As a favor, it’s most appreciated, but it’s adding to bottom lines everywhere … and anyone who needs a PBS tape of “This Old House” sent to them on a rushed schedule really needs to get out more.

The trend also contradicts what many studios said post-9/11, that the age of overspending was gone, to be replaced by more modest activity from studios and networks’ respective publicity departments.

“It’s back to crazy — and even beyond that level,” said Sue Procko, a publicist who handles all release items for indie DVD company Anchor Bay. “There’s no more discretion.” (Anchor Bay’s most recent swag gimme: official “Silk Stalking” TV series handcuffs. Beautiful.)

Indeed, the best items always get the most discussion, and that’s what everyone is banking on.

So where’s my “Kinsey” bobblehead?

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