The Sacramento Bee reported today that roving reporter Huell Howser — the host and soul of such much-beloved, sometimes-mocked public-television series as "California's Gold," "California's Green," "Downtown," "Road Trip" and "Visiting" — is retiring. The newspaper quoted an email from Ryan Morris, who works for Howser's production company, in which Morris stated, "Huell is retiring from making new shows but does not want to make any formal announcements about it."
With his happy public face, his amazing sense of amazement and his wide Tennessee drawl, Howser is easy enough to lampoon. You quite possibly have a Huell Howser imitation up your own sleeve, or wherever it is that imitations are kept. But I am an unabashed fan of his work — his unpretentious attention to small things and ordinary people, his celebration of his adopted city and state, the local nature of his reports. He's been part of what makes L.A. L.A.
But I like his aesthetic too. (I am quite prepared to call him an artist.) There is a deceptive subtlety to his wide-angle, long-take style, and more intention than you might imagine. In 2009, for a Times profile, we sat down for breakfast in his mid-Wilshire neighborhood and discussed his method.