Howard K. Stern Plays Hardball With Larry Birkhead

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Anna Nicole: Stern Pressures Larry to Sign Deal

Anna Nicole Smith's two baby daddies (I don't know what else to call them) continue to be in a tug-of-war this morning, even as their beloved cash cow is readied for burial.

Overnight, attorney Howard K. Stern — whose hold on the situation is starting to slip — has been strong-arming photographer Larry Birkhead to do a couple of things: keep Birkhead's legal reps out of Smith's Bahamas funeral, sign a contract deal with "Entertainment Tonight" and acquiesce even further regarding the future of baby Dannielynn.

Stern, as I told you the other day, has already had one secret meeting with Birkhead in which he cut out the photographer's lawyers.

I'm told that Stern has kept up the pressure on Birkhead, actually presenting him with contracts, sources say, in which Birkhead would join Stern for more exclusive interviews on "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider."

"Howard wanted Larry to sign so that it looked like everyone was in agreement, and that it wasn't just Howard benefiting from these deals," my source said. "Larry said the baby's guardian should sign the papers for him and the baby, but he wouldn't. So then Larry wouldn't."

At the same time, Stern is trying to negotiate separately with Birkhead, away from his attorneys, to sign a deal by which Stern would continue to be in baby Dannielynn's life and oversee her finances.

Stern, my sources say, is working as quickly as he can to effect these agreements before he has to turn over the baby to Birkhead, her biological father.

Sources say that Birkhead's representatives are considering taking legal action against Stern to prevent further communication between the two sides as soon as today.

The problem, sources also say, is that Birkhead — a novice at these games — continues to be intimidated by Stern.

"Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider," both owned by CBS Paramount Television, have denied paying for interviews. But I'm told their method — it's semantics — is to "license" footage either directly from Stern or through a third party.

Recently, "ET" used Solana Productions of Southern California in such a deal. Neither Solana nor anyone from CBS Paramount answered calls yesterday.

Anna Nicole: Dead, and For Sale

Today, Anna Nicole Smith — a ridiculous person who accomplished just about nothing in her life — will be buried in the Bahamas.

There are several wars taking place all over the world, not to mention famines. Artists are hard at work, movies are opening, buildings are going up, diseases are being investigated. But, hey: Anna Nicole is being buried, and "Entertainment Tonight" will be there for every cheesy second of it.

That's because "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider," two half-hour shows syndicated by CBS's Paramount TV, have paid a high price for this honor.

Real insiders (not the kind you have to pay for info) tell me that Paramount TV cut the deal with Howard K. Stern — Anna Nicole's lawyer and Svengali — right after her son Daniel died of a lethal combination of drugs in her Bahamian hospital room last September.

Paramount TV has denied this, somewhat passively, so far. But my sources say that Paramount paid Stern around $3 million initially, and that this was renegotiated right after Anna Nicole herself died on Feb. 8 of this year.

Of course, we could believe that Stern — who in court told clueless Florida probate judge Larry Seidlin that he was living off his parents — just loves "ET." Anything's possible.

But the reality is that Anna Nicole's death has proven to be a ratings-sweep godsend.

Linda Bell Blue, the show's executive producer, previously helmed Paramount's ugly tabloid show, "Hard Copy." For years, she's had to sit through Mary Hart's tedious, publicist-arranged interviews with low-level TV stars, just waiting for this moment: a huge celebrity death, in a sweeps month, and already contracted for!

As recently as last night, "ET" correspondent Mark Steines was reporting "from inside" Anna Nicole's Bahamas mansion — no mention of the fact that it apparently didn't belong to her, and that the landlord is kicking everyone out.

Steines had "the inside scoop" about the B-list country singer who would serenade Anna Nicole into the next life, the color of her burial gown ("pink!") and what would be inside the coffin (with any luck, Anna Nicole).

Steines performs these interviews — as he has since last Nov. 1, when he had his first "exclusive" after Smith's son, Daniel, died — with a reasonably straight face.

He either knows he's skating on very thin ice and doesn't care, or doesn't get it and is happy to accept the money. In either case, he loses.

As far back as last November, the show's viewers were writing into "ET" forums on the Web asking how much the show had paid for the interviews, and begging that they stop.

On the forum for the show, a woman named Lana from Andrews, Texas, wrote on Nov. 6: "ET needs to rename their show The Anna Nichole (sic) Show. Every night it is about her. I wonder if there are any viewers that care to hear about her."

On Nov. 6, Dianne from Madison, Wis., wrote: "I think they might have finally driven me away from the show with all this Anna Nicole crap. How much is she paying them?"

The viewers were smarter than the show thought. That didn't stop Blue, Steines and friends.

Nancy from Richardson, Texas, posted this before Smith died on Feb. 8: "Get over her ... I am tired of all of the interviews they are doing with her. She sounds like she is either drunk or high. I have no respect for her and am getting tired of seeing her and all the interviews. She can't even talk without sounding like she is a drunken sl—t!"

Steines, of course, has a blog on the "ET" Web site. It's a hoot.

On Feb. 9, the day after Smith died, he posted: "When the news broke of Anna's death ... I immediately boarded a plane to Florida along with Khristine Eroshevich, Anna's close confidant …"

Steines acts like Eroshevich is just a pal, maybe another Playboy model. In fact, she was the model's psychiatrist, and someone who has yet to be heard from in any detail.

Eroshevich's few comments — including one about how she oversaw an ice bath for a dying Smith — have been limited to ... Steines, who despite his "inside" sources has not been able to secure Eroshevich for a real interview about these people and their drug use.

I doubt that will happen until Stern's usefulness has passed and his agreements with "ET" have expired.

Steines must feel a long way away from the two Emmys he received years ago in local news at KCAL-TV in Los Angeles.

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