DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Tonight we'll be saying goodbye to a guy who will be leaving his job at the top of his game. Again.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, 'TONIGHT SHOW')
GREENE: That's Jay Leno making a joke about the president and himself. Leno is hosting his last "Tonight Show" tonight. A younger, hipper guy is going to take over and here to talk about this move, NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, good morning.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So this all seems a little familiar.
DEGGANS: It surely does. We saw this happen again - once again in 2009, 2010 when NBC gave "The Tonight Show" to Conan O'Brien. They were trying to keep him at the network. And to hold onto Leno as well they gave him a show at 10:00 p.m. across weeknights. And the ratings for both those shows did so badly that when the dust cleared, Leno was back at "The Tonight Show" and it hurt his image a little bit.
GREENE: It's amazing to think of everything he's been through. I mean, he went through that sort of shuffle, came back, is on "The Tonight Show" for this run. Now he's leaving it. I mean he's been hosting it longer than anyone else except Johnny Carson. And a lot of people remember - I mean Carson had this huge emotional goodbye with a lot of big guests. Leno, it seems like he's almost quietly walking off the stage. Why is it different?
DEGGANS: Jay Leno is kind of like the Rodney Dangerfield of late night hosts in a way. He's been successful for really long but I think people don't give him credit in part because critics like me say that he's pandered to a middle America audience. He's not considered hip by people on the coasts. And also, there was all this conflict and controversy over how he got "The Tonight Show" back from Conan O'Brien and I think NBC just wants to avoid all of that. And in this transition you see Jay Leno trying to be the good soldier.
He's really trying to say all the right things. And in fact, when we saw him do an interview on "60 Minutes," one of the few interviews he's done, you really get that sense, he's trying to be the good soldier. Let's listen to a clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")
GREENE: Yeah. He's handling it so gracefully, it sounds like, but critics like you, you say, I mean you treat him - I mean it is Rodney Dangerfield. He just doesn't get respect.
DEGGANS: Exactly. And Jay Leno was always considered a comic's comic, a guy who even Jerry Seinfeld, who's considered one of the best standup comics, said that Jay Leno was his comedy mentor. But I think there's also a sense that this guy kind of tamped down his more dangerous spirit, his more edgy comedy sense in order to be successful. He was always very concerned about having the working class guy, the average guy, really enjoy his comedy, but it also took some of the danger out of it.
GREENE: Jimmy Fallon is taking over and he strikes me as a guy who is not going to tone things down and might be a little edgier than we've seen from Jay Leno.
DEGGANS: Well, but Jimmy Fallon also has that likeable quality. He's everybody's best friend and he's also a guy who has captured the millennial spirit in his comedy. So it's going to be great to see him bring a rap band to late night. It's going to be great to see him show how viral videos play and all of his great impressions. So it'll be a different "Tonight Show" but it also will be, I think, a very welcoming one.
GREENE: Well, assuming we don't see what happened before - Leno actually coming back once again. Do we know what Jay Leno's going to do next?
DEGGANS: Nope. CNN may be interested. The History Channel may be interested. Certainly he has a lot of options.
GREENE: All right. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks for talk to us, as always.
DEGGANS: Thanks a lot for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.