The way movie stars usually strike back at TV tabloids zooming in on their personal lives is literally to strike back- planting a knuckle sandwich on the kisser of a cameraman.

Stars like Alec Baldwin, Tony Danza, Woody Harrelson and Robert De Niro have all taken swings at so-called videorazzi, the freelance vidcam operators who stake out the stars at favorite watering holes, outside their homes and at parties. More often than not, those outbursts end up on tabloid TV shows, drawing a willing audience into an impromptu star bout.

But now some stars have found a way to keep the videorazzi at bay. With many tab shows owned by companies that also produce major movies, a few savvy stars have a more sophisticated way to keep the video posse at bay: Boycotting the parent company’s movie studio. The latest media mergers increase the potential for conflicts, as well as the methods for stars to get even. Instead of using their fists, they can lead with their box office clout.

Some marquee names have gotten wise to this and are taking a page from the playbook of veteran star Paul Newman. Some years ago, the actor vowed never to be associated with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. media empire – in part because of a series of negative articles about Newman that ran in Murdoch’s tabloid newspapers. Newman will not appear in a 20th Century Fox film because of his beef with Murdoch.

News Corp. and Time Warner are the only studio owners that are also in the print journalism business. But virtually every studio produces a TV show featuring some form of infotainment; still others own stations that broadcast those shows. As a result, more opportunities now exist for stars to exact revenge.

Implied threat

Case in point: Instead of striking back with clenched fists, sources say Kevin Costner’s reps recently hit Paramount with the implied threat that the actor’s relationship with the studio could be affected because Paramount’s “Hard Copy” aired a segment about a supposed fight on the set of Costner’s “Tin Cup.” Using footage of a scripted fight between Costner and Don Johnson, “Hard Copy” implied the stars were bickering over women’s phone numbers. Insiders say Costner now has no problem with the studio, but the situation with “Hard Copy” has not been resolved.

A spokesman for “Hard Copy,” which traffics in more of this material than the other tabmags, declined to comment.

Meanwhile, no star imbroglio has impeded Paramount Domestic Syndication in its plans to launch “Real TV,” a show that, among other things, will air Hollywood screen tests. In a sales tape, the show used footage of Sandra Bullock reading for the role played by Laura Dern in “Jurassic Park.”

Veteran publicist Stan Rosenfield says the tabloid situation has gone too far; he welcomes stars using their clout to bring the videorazzi under control. De Niro, a Rosenfield client, recently was charged with assault on videorazzi Joseph Ligier, who then was caught in a De Niro-orchestrated video sting when he tried to extract $300,000 from the actor to drop the charges against him.

Another Rosenfield client, Will Smith, had a similar confrontation with what he calls the “stalkarazzi, ” which ended up on “Hard Copy.”

“The most effective ways for stars to fight back is through the common denominator: money,” Rosenfield says. “These stalkarazzi are going to screw up, and somebody is going to sue, and it will have a chilling effect on all these guys.”

Rosenfield is probably being a bit too optimistic. The videorazzi know all too well that provoking a star into taking a punch can turn a $1,000 payday into a $20,000 tape.

Another advantage for the videorazzi: Stars don’t necessarily make the connection between the proprietors of sleazy mag shows and major studios. “The fact of the matter is that most actors don’t know it’s Paramount that is responsible for ‘ Hard Copy, ‘ or that ‘ A Current Affair’ is owned by the same guy who runs 20th Century Fox, ” says a veteran agent who reps several A-list clients.

“Most of these guys don’t think about saying, ‘ I won’t do that show for your network or studio because the stations you own put these shows that have trashed me on the air,’ ” the agent says. “It will be interesting to see if anybody makes that connection when Disney’s acquisition of ABC goes through. The ABC station group has a lot of clout when it comes to what kind of shows it’s going to buy.”

Maybe stars would be wise to bone up on who owns what. Veterans of such shows as “Hard Copy” and “A Current Affair,” which have made the sensational sagas of superstars their raison d’etre, say those shows do have their sacred cows when covering a star who has a relationship with their parent studios.

“If you’re at ‘ Hard Copy,’ you’re not going to go out of your way to make Eddie Murphy look bad if he has a Paramount movie that’s just about to be released, ” says a veteran producer who has done time at “Hard Copy,” “Affair” and “Inside Edition.” “And if there’s hot tape about a star who’s affiliated with the studio that’s running the show, it’s a lot easier to be second with it than first.”

‘Copy’s’ cats

Not too long ago, “Hard Copy” was told by Par brass to stay away from stories about Don Johnson’s substance abuse problems because the star had a relationship with the studio, according to Paramount insiders. The show was never warned off stories about “Frasier” star Kelsey Grammer’s personal problems, but studio brass always got a heads-up when a story about him was going to run.

“Current Affair” exec producer Bob Young says his show will go after “any legitimate story” without fear or favor for those attached to the Fox family. “Look, we covered the whole Hugh Grant story,” says Young. “And he had a big film (Fox’s ‘ Nine Months’) that was about to be released.”

But a lot of industry insiders say the much-ballyhooed move away from sleaze at “Affair” was done in part because the show had made business difficult for the studio at times. Indeed, veterans of the show say the first attempt to clean up “Affair” was when then-Fox studio chief Barry Diller killed stories that would make his pals in the Hollywood elite look bad.

Diller says he never killed legitimate news stories but he did stop the show’s practice of ambushing such marquee titans as Steven Spielberg when he was trying to enjoy private time with family and friends.

Always another buyer

For their part, the videorazzi say they don’t feel threatened by tabloid shows’ corporate ties to studios. If one show has its hands tied, they say, the competition will buy the story with glee.

And although a tape with a violent outburst is almost always worth big bucks, the cameramen claim they never provoke stars. “What you’re dealing with is the V.A. S. – the violently anti-social stars,” says veteran videorazzi E.L. Woody. “These guys are egomaniacs living in a make-believe world. We’re not the provocateurs, these guys are – and they’ve got the police backing up their violent behavior. The tape doesn’t lie.”

Another veteran videorazzi, Phil Ramey, was on the scene outside Alec Baldwin’s house when the actor allegedly attacked videorazzi Alan Zanger as the star and his wife, Kim Basinger, were bringing their newborn daughter home from the hospital.

“Here’s (Baldwin) in his driveway with his wife and new baby, and instead of paying attention to them, he’s worried about us,” says Ramey. “I mean, you’ve got these guys who use their kids to hide behind and explain away their violent behavior.”

But those who represent stars have a decidedly different view of the situation.

“If there was video in the days of Dickens, ” says Rosenfield, “instead of sending kids out to steal, Fagin would be sending out kids with video cameras and telling them to do everything they could possibly do to provoke stars. These stalkarazzi and the shows that do business with them claim First Amendment, the right to free speech. But this is about the Fourth Amendment and some modicum right to privacy.”

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