LOS ANGELES – Unless you were a late night comic, Mike Huckabee was in no mood to speak with you. At least not in Hollywood tonight.
That's the lesson CBS News producer Robert Kozberg took away tonight. As Huckabee's limo was pulling away from the production lot of Jay Leno's Tonight Show, CBS Early Show Correspondent Hattie Kauffman tapped on the limo's window for a comment. Rolling down the window, his press secretary said they were on their way to the airport and the car rolled away from television city. Huckabee will be a guest on the Early Show in the morning.
Huckabee managed to slip past Writers Guild picketers with signs bearing slogans such as "What the Huck?" and "Huckabee's a Scab" to be a guest on Jay Leno's Tonight Show. He later stayed for an unannounced taping with the Craig Ferguson show. Craig Ferguson's show has an agreement with WGA, but not the Tonight Show.
"The Governor would only agree to join Jay, an active member of the Writers Guild, for the taping after he was assured that no replacement writers were being used in the show's production," the Huckabee campaign sent out in a press release. "Governor Huckabee believes that the writers deserve to be fairly compensated for the sale of their work. Governor Huckabee is glad that Jay Leno was able to put his 160 employees back to work and he strongly encourages both sides of the current labor dispute to work diligently toward an equitable solution for all parties involved."
For two months now, Jay Leno has been personally paying the salaries of 160 production people associated with the Tonight Show. That staff of 160 is back on NBC's payroll; the writers are not. No writers or replacement writers are being used for the resumption of the show. Depending which way you look at it, Huckabee may have crossed a picket line today.
Earlier in the day, while campaigning in Iowa, Huckabee told reporters during a media availability that he "absolutely, unequivocally" supported the writers and thought that there had been a "special arrangement…and the writers have made this agreement to let the late night shows come back on so I don't anticipate that it's a crossing of a picket line"
"I support the writers by the way…They are dead right on this one," Huckabee said. "They ought to get royalties off of the residuals and long-term contracts. I've written a few books myself. For someone to take your work and they make money off of it – lots of money – and you get nothing…I don't think anybody supports the producers on this one…I think everybody in the business and even the general public support the writers and they should."
When a reporter said no agreement had been reached, Huckabee insisted he understood there was a "dispensation" given to the late night shows. Told that wasn't true, Huckabee nodded and said, "Oh." He looked in the opposite direction for a different question.
Earlier on the bus, Huckabee explained to reporters he had agreed to go on the show because he believed Leno was a "class act." Huckabee retold a story of how Leno phoned him the day after a guest appearance, chatting for fifteen minutes to make sure he had a "good time" and "everything was fair."
WGA President Patric Verrone told CBS News that Huckabee had made a "very provocative and supportive statement today on behalf of writers" and hoped that he wouldn't cross the picket line.
"In the past, presidential candidates like Ronald Reagan, president of the Screen Actors Guild, wouldn't have crossed that line," he said.
WGA confirmed the Huckabee campaign's statement that they had not been contacted by the union prior to stating his misunderstanding of the WGA-Leno situation on the bus.
Tonight on Jay Leno's show, the host noted that Huckabee that he had "come from nowhere with hardly any money."
"I'm just trying to keep from going back to nowhere as fast as I can," Huckabee responded with a laugh.
CBS News Deputy Bureau Chief Bruce Rheins contributed to this report.