Lynette Rice
January 03, 2008 AT 06:08 AM EST

As hundreds of would-be audience members stood quietly in line and watched, scores of out-of-work writers picketed in front of The Tonight Show studios in Burbank, Ca. today to protest the ongoing labor dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Jay Leno, like David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson and Conan O’Brien, was scheduled to return this evening with new episodes, but only The Tonight Show was targeted for picketing in Los Angeles.

The striking writers took great care not to vilify Leno during the march. (The late night host was, after all, among the first celebs to join the writers on the picket line, Nov. 5.) “We are protesting the production companies, not the individual hosts,” insisted John Bowman, the WGA’s negotiating committee chairman. “These hosts work for production companies that won’t strike deals with us. Jay has been very supportive of writers. He has 20 of them. His show will be worse because he doesn’t have those 20 writers working for him.” He also won’t have the most glamorous guest for his first show back: Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

While picketers waved placards that read “Huckabee: The Scab Prez?” and “Huckabee: What Would Jesus Do?” others, like Mad TV’s Guy Stevenson, tried to educate the Leno audience members waiting in line about the strike through use of a megaphone. But few, if any, paid attention to his brief, non-confrontational message. “We don’t expect anyone [from the audience] to leave the line,” Stevenson admitted to EW. “But a lot of people outside the industry think all writers are millionaires. I’m a working class guy. At least this way, they’ll get our side of the story.”

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