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They're really attached to their jobs

Accountants Andy Sale and John Nendick tote up Emmy results and escort them onstage.

July 29, 2007|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer

Andy Sale may be the only accountant who brags about wearing handcuffs.

If you don't count John Nendick.

Sale is in charge of the Ernst & Young team that totes up the Emmy ballots every year in a windowless, secure room in the accounting firm's downtown Los Angeles office.

He and colleague Nendick arrive at the award show every year with a flourish, in tuxedos and with silver briefcases cuffed to their wrists. They rub elbows with television personalities and sometimes serve as the butt of their jokes. Last year they shared the stage with basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The process leading up to the ceremony isn't quite as glamorous. Sale and Nendick start in June, tallying up nearly 9,000 Scantron ballots -- a computer reads them first and then they are examined by live accountants -- to determine the nominees in more than 90 categories. They do it all over again in August to establish the winners. They call their handpicked crew the A-Team.

A computer alone couldn't do the job. The A-Team has to interpret the intentions of voters whose ballots are covered with coffee stains and disfigured by chew marks. Some arrive nearly mutilated. This year someone sent in last year's ballot, fully filled out. Every year a voter Sale will identify only as a "longtime television personality" arrives at the Ernst & Young office right before the deadline to personally hand in her ballot.

For all that, Sale, the head of Ernst & Young's Pacific Southwest media and entertainment team, says that what the A-Team does isn't so different from what other accountants at the firm do.

"Our job is to make sure the right information is confidential and secure," he says. "It's the same skill set as what we always do."

But he and Nendick can't resist adding some James Bond-like mystique to the experience.

They've introduced an oath of secrecy that ballot counters must sign, pledging not to reveal the results beyond the inner circle. Results are stored in a location that Sale says "may be in the building and may not be."

Sale and Nendick are driven to the ceremony in two cars, but the way the ballots arrive is top secret. They may not, Sale says, even be in the briefcases.

"What you should assume," he says, straight-faced, "is that even if we were to disappear and not arrive, the ballots would still make their way to the show."

The security steps may seem a bit excessive.

"Its not like we're carrying gold to Fort Knox," says Alan Perris, chief operating officer of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which puts on the awards. "If they sold the results on the corner, my guess is that nobody would line up."

But it's all part of the show, says John Leverence, senior vice president of the academy.

"It is kind of show-biz silliness," he says. "They do it to give a visual emphasis to the fact they're carrying precious cargo."

The academy has always used an accounting firm to ensure accuracy and avoid accusations that anyone has internally tampered with the results, Leverence says. It has been working with Ernst & Young since 1988.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers since 1935. Oscar ballot counting is done by hand in an undisclosed location, says PWC Vice Chairman Brad Oltmanns, and the accountants are escorted to the ceremony by an off-duty police officer who stays with them for the entire show.

This cloak-and-dagger job of plotting the counting and transporting of ballots is one for which Sale is especially well suited. He's the son of a L.A. police sergeant and says he grew up with an appreciation of law and order.

This led him to accounting, which he studied at Santa Clara University. The 44-year-old says he'd never dreamed that he'd end up onstage at the Emmys.

Sometimes, backstage, he runs into his father's former police colleagues who work as personal security consultants to the stars. It's one of his favorite parts of the job. Another favorite? When Ellen DeGeneres made a crack on national television that he was a good kisser.

Appearing on major award shows lends some allure to a profession often described as boring. But Nendick, the head of Ernst & Young's global media and entertainment practice, protests that accounting isn't dull at all. A lot of his time is spent analyzing media trends for clients.

"Business changes so quickly," Nendick says. "You have to know what the changes will be."

Ernst & Young audits 44% of the Fortune Global 500 media and entertainment companies and 40% of U.S. Fortune 500 media and entertainment companies, including News Corp., Google Inc. and DreamWorks SKG. The halls of the firm's downtown offices are filled with framed movie posters of clients' work.

For Nendick, 50, who is originally from England, working with companies on the cutting edge of media and entertainment would have been tough to do at home. He arrived in L.A. in 1982, planning to bask in the sun for a few years. More than two decades later, his tanned face indicates he's still basking.

Despite his declaration that accounting isn't boring, Nendick says he really enjoys the Emmy account.

"I'm not aware of any other work we do that involves handcuffs," he says.

alana.semuels@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

On accounting's show-biz side

Who: Andy Sale

Age: 44

Years on the "A-Team" of ballot counters: Seven

Education: Degree in accounting, Santa Clara University

Family: Wife Dina, two children

Favorite TV show as a kid: "Emergency!"

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Who: John Nendick

Age: 50

Years on the "A-Team" of ballot counters: Three

Education: Degree in economics, Durham University, England

Family: Wife Janine, three children

Favorite TV show as a kid: "The Saint," with Roger Moore

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