The Candidates and The Late-Night Returns

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, January 3, 2008

After an unscheduled, writers' strike-induced two-month hiatus, CBS's David Letterman returned last night with Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and his writers. NBC's Jay Leno, on the other hand, returned with no writers but lots of picketers -- and Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee, who does not appear to be able to distinguish between Leno and Letterman and yet is running for president of the United States.

Letterman's show is the one that last week struck an interim deal with the Writers Guild of America in order to return to the air with his writers. And yet, most industry navel gazers expected Leno's much-ballyhooed return to the airwaves -- without a deal with the union -- would cop a larger audience, at least initially, because it's probably news to most viewers that these shows have writers. Besides, some reasoned, late-night shows are actually better when they're flying blind.

Clinton did a cold open on Letterman's "Late Show" -- maybe the show's coldest cold opening ever:

"Dave has been off the air for eight long weeks. Because of the writers' strike. Tonight, he's back. Oh, well. All good things come to an end."

See what we mean?

Meanwhile, Huckabee entertained Leno's crowd. "The Tonight Show" has no deal with writers and therefore is a "struck" show, as are Conan O'Brien's and Jimmy Kimmel's.

So why was Huckabee so fired up to cross the picket line and appear on Leno's show on the eve of the Iowa caucus? Well, to tell Leno's millions of viewers that, like Bill Clinton, he is from Hope, Ark., although Clinton moved away when he was "like 7 years old and went to Hot Springs, [but] when he ran for president somehow it just didn't sound right to say, 'I believe in a place called Hot Springs.' " And to let them know that he, like Clinton, plays an instrument. In Huckabee's case, it's a bass guitar. He told Leno's audience that his parents got him a guitar from a JCPenney catalogue for Christmas of '66. "It was a big sacrifice for them, but I played that guitar until my fingers nearly bled," he said.

The day before Leno's return to the air, Huckabee was prattling on merrily to the news media about what an "incredible opportunity" it would be to appear on Leno's show, "particularly the very first night he's back."

"Besides, if all else fails and this whole process doesn't work out, maybe he needs a sidekick and I'll be auditioning tomorrow," Huckabee joked.

But yesterday, while traveling from Fort Dodge to Mason City, Iowa, Huckabee was asked about the whole "scab" thing.

The candidate explained to reporters traveling with him, including one from the Associated Press, that he did not think he would have to cross a picket line to appear on Leno's show because the writers had made a deal to allow late-night shows back on the air.

"My understanding is that there was a special arrangement made for the late-night shows," he said, according to the AP.

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