After a 22-year run as host of NBC's "The Tonight Show," Jay Leno will bid farewell on Thursday amid very little fanfare.

Does that surprise anyone?

You would think it might. Like his predecessor Johnny Carson, Leno goes out atop the ratings throne and ranks among television's most recognizable personalities.

On the other hand, as he passes the torch to Jimmy Fallon, Leno leaves behind a much more crowded late-night scene and a much more fragmented medium.

It's also kind of difficult to generate a lot of excitement for a been-there-done-that kind of event (recall the great Jay-Conan transition debacle of 2009). Moreover, in a TV week crammed with the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics, our attention spans can stretch only so far.

FILE - This Jan. 13, 2013 file photo shows Jay Leno, host of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," left, and Jimmy Fallon, host of "Late Night
FILE - This Jan. 13, 2013 file photo shows Jay Leno, host of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," left, and Jimmy Fallon, host of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" backstage at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. As Jay Leno lobs potshots at ratings-challenged NBC in his "Tonight Show" monologues, speculation is swirling the network is taking steps to replace the host with Jimmy Fallon next year and move the show from Burbank to New York. NBC confirmed Wednesday, March 20, it's creating a new studio for Fallon in New York, where he hosts "Late Night." But the network did not comment on a report that the digs at its Rockefeller Plaza headquarters may become home to a transplanted, Fallon-hosted "Tonight Show." (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, file) ( Jordan Strauss )

But all that aside, Leno just doesn't inspire the kind of intense loyalty or nostalgic attachment that Carson did. And he's never been a big favorite among the critics (including this one), or his fellow comedians, who regard his brand of humor as too broad and soft and unadventurous.

I would suspect that even many longtime Leno fans view him with something closer to warm affection than passionate adoration. Especially now, at the age of 64, he's just not a life-of-the-party kind of guy. Little pop. No sizzle.

Or, to put it in sports terms, Leno is the steady, consistent and reliable player who still gets the job done -- not the flashy superstar who can make heads turn and/or do something to truly surprise you.


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Yes, ratings success and longevity in this business are to be admired, and I have no doubt that, when Leno welcomes Billy Crystal as his final guest on Thursday, some tears will be shed. But, I also know that plenty of shoulders will be shrugged.

WHAT ABOUT BOB: Speaking of famous NBC personalities, are you prepared to have Bob Costas as a house guest?

Yes, the Olympics are kicking off, which means many of us will see more of Costas over the next couple of weeks than our own family members. I know he'll be spending so much time under my roof that I might ask him to help out with the cable bill.

As usual, Costas, who is doing his 10th stint as NBC's prime-time Olympics host, will tell us a lot of things about Russia and winter sports that we never knew or even cared to know. Our advice? Just nod your head and humor him, like you do with Grandpa during the holidays.

And here's a reminder: In an unusual move, NBC will air some Olympics fare one day (Thursday, 8 p.m.) before the Opening Ceremony. Coverage includes two brand-new sports, team figure skating and slopestyle snowboarding.

FILE - In this May 10, 2009 file photo, comedian Jay Leno performs during the Jay Leno Comedy Stimulus Plan show at the Roberts Centre in Wilmington, Ohio.
FILE - In this May 10, 2009 file photo, comedian Jay Leno performs during the Jay Leno Comedy Stimulus Plan show at the Roberts Centre in Wilmington, Ohio. Late night talk show host Leno made an appearance Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, in Sarah Palin's hometown. The host of "The Tonight Show" was in Alaska for a "Tour of the Troops" show at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/David Kohl, File) ( David Kohl )

I have no idea what those events entail, but I'm sure Bob will fill me in.

THE LIVING 'DEAD': Viewers who would rather watch lurching zombies than Olympic curling (both move at about the same pace), will be stoked to know that "The Walking Dead" returns this weekend (9 p.m. Sunday, AMC), a couple of months after its gut-wrenching midseason bloodbath.

Fans might be shocked to see what kind of condition Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is in following his brutally violent clash with the Governor. Good lord, the guy can barely walk or even speak.

Unfortunately, that leaves much of the focus on Rick's son, Carl (Chandler Riggs), who is giving Dana Brody of "Homeland" stiff competition for the title of TV's most petulant teen.

It will be intriguing to see where the show goes, now that its primary villain and central conflict have been laid to rest. We'll have to wait at least another week, because this cryptic first episode holds few clues.

FOCUS ON BLACK HISTORY: As usual, TV is celebrating Black History Month with some special programs. Among the early highlights are an "American Masters" profile of author-activist Alice Walker (9 p.m. Friday, PBS) and an "Independent Lens" documentary on the "Spies of Mississippi" (10 p.m. Feb. 10, PBS).

Walker wrote the seminal novel "The Color Purple" and was the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The "Independent Lens" program tells the story of a secret spy agency formed during the 1950s and '60s by the state of Mississippi to preserve segregation and maintain white supremacy.

Also on tap: A "Nick News with Linda Ellerbee" special, "Black, White, and Brown v. Board of Education: A Return to Segregated Schools?" (8 p.m. Feb. 11, Nickelodeon). It revisits the landmark decision to abolish a system of segregation in public schools and also delves into current issues of inequality within the nation's public school system.

Contact Chuck Barney at cbarney@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney and Facebook.com/bayareanewsgroup.chuckbarney.