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Picketing Jay

January 2, 2008 |  6:59 pm

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Visitors from across the country -- and the world -- stood in front of NBC Studios in Burbank Wednesday afternoon to witness a moment of television history as guests of "The Tonight Show" when late-night giant Jay Leno returned to the air after a two-month hiatus triggered by the Hollywood writers' strike.

Leno, a member of the striking Writers Guild of America, would not be drawing from the inspiration of his scribes, but would be loading up instead on guest appearances.

On deck to appear was Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who was targeteHuck300_ju1qe9ncd by protesters at NBC for crossing the picket line.

One picket sign read: "What the Huck?" Other signs played off Huckabee's role as a former Baptist preacher, like one that read: "Huckabee you can't deny this cross."

Striking writer Jonathan Abrahams, who was protesting at NBC with his actress wife and their four-week-old baby, called Huckabee's appearance hypocritical.

"I think it's interesting that he claims to support unions but he's crossing this line," said Abraham, 40. "He's going to alienate a lot of people."

Earlier in the day, Huckabee denied he would be crossing a picket line and referred to a special agreement reached by the union for late-night writers. However, that deal does not apply to Leno's show but rather to David Letterman's talk show and Craig Ferguson's "Late Late Show." Both of those CBS programs are owned by Letterman's production company, while "The Tonight Show" is owned by NBC Universal.

People standing in line for Leno's show didn't seem to care that Leno would not have the help of his writers or that 70-some strikers were protesting, many bellowing to them from megaphones.

One striker shouted: "If you go back home and see nothing but reruns on TV, it's because they [the studios and networks] simply will not talk to us."

Said Shary Wentz, 66, visiting from Tuscon with her husband: "It's a little possible concern that there are a lot of people affected by this, but I'm here to have a good time." Wentz said she was excited to be at the "historical" first taping of Leno's show in two months. "It's got a little flare to it," she said.

Evelyn Hacker, 31, who watches the show three times a week from her home in Vienna, said she was a little disappointed it would be missing some segments, but didn't think it would matter much. "Leno is a very talented man and ... let's see what happens instead," said Hacker, a waitress.

Bob Grecco, 52, who was on the stand-by list but hoping to get a seat, said he wondered how Leno would sustain the show over more than a few days without his writers.

"He's a clever man so I think he'll do O.K., but for how long I don't know," said Grecco, who was visiting from Chicago with his family.

Sitcom writer Alan Dybner said he wasn't angry at the people standing in line to attend Leno's taping.

"They're fans and they love TV. It's not their fight," he said.

-- Victoria Kim

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