Leno took a more serious tone and seemed apologetic in his explanation of why he went back on the air without the blessing of the WGA, who said it is monitoring shows still affected by the strike and discouraging stars from appearing on them.
"The strike has cost this town $500 million," he said. "We had to come back because we had 19 people putting 160 people out of work."
Leno noted that while he has been crafting jokes before air, which may violate the rules of the WGA, he's been doing so in his bedroom, with his wife.
"I write jokes and I wake my wife up in the middle of the night," he explained. "So if this monologue doesn't work, it's my wife's fault."
After shifting from the strike to other news, Leno, like Letterman, killed time by fielding audience questions. The highlight of the show came later, when Huckabee picked up an electric guitar to jam with Kevin Eubanks and the "Tonight Show" band.
Guests: Andy Dick, Helio Castroneves, Kid Rock
Unlike the rest of the comics who voiced solid support for the writers strike, on Wednesday, Kimmel seemed to say that enough is enough.
Mentioning that he saw guild members picketing outside the studios for "The Tonight Show" despite the fact that Leno paid his out-of-work staffers out-of-pocket during the show's hiatus, Kimmel said, "I don't want to depart from the party line but I think it's ridiculous … I just think at a certain point, you back off a little bit."
He added, "I'm pissed off, I'll be honest with you."
But after blowing off steam, Kimmel departed for sunnier topics -- Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy; his holiday visit to the Playboy mansion. He filled monologue time by chatting with cast members Uncle Frank and Guillermo Díaz and re-running an old sketch from the show, which he said would help get his writers some much-needed residuals.
Guests: Bob Saget, Dwayne Perkins, Robert Gordon/Chris Spedding
Like Letterman, O'Brien jumped back on the air with a full beard, saying he "grew it out of solidarity for my writers and to prove that I have some testosterone," while seductively stroking his face for a close up.
The former "Simpsons" and "Saturday Night Live" writer stopped laughing to hammer home his support for the WGA's cause, though his show of solidarity was preceded with, "With all the late night shows off the air, Americans have been forced to read books and occasionally even speak to one another, which has been horrifying."
O'Brien joked about not knowing how to fill his hour on air without his writers, but his physical and improv comedy -- shaking his tailfeather atop his desk, gleefully praising the taste of the NBC water and getting guest Bob Saget to play along with the bit -- helped his show run more smoothly than Kimmel or Leno's.
"Late Night" compensated for a shorter than usual monologue with a video of a bored and restless O'Brien meddling with his staff at the office during the strike, and a test to see how long he could spin his "$5" wedding ring on his desk (36 seconds).
With or without writers, as his show opened, Ferguson seemed overjoyed to be back on the air at all. Like Letterman and O'Brien, he also wore a beard, though it was a fake one he donned to play a Scottish shepherd.