Who isn't amused but ultimately charmed by Huell Howser's unusual brand of folksy TV? His no-frills exploration of California via shows like "California's Gold" has made him a bit of a pop culture icon -- and along the way, he's highlighted some great, underappreciated locations and people of our great state. But now it looks like Huell is hanging up his microphone. The public TV fixture hasn't made an official announcement, but media reports yesterday suggested that he's winding things down. From the L.A. Times:
Howser, the white-maned public TV host with the Southern accent who's famed for blurting out "That's amazing!" during interviews, has retired from making original episodes of his program "California's Gold," which travels around the state tracking down interesting people and places. The shows air on numerous statewide public TV stations, including KCET-TV Channel 28.
Speculation that the 67-year-old Howser is seriously ill has been circulating among local TV industry veterans in recent weeks, and insiders reported that he has not been seen for months at his Los Angeles office. On Tuesday the Sacramento Bee reported that Howser was retiring but added that he doesn't wish to make an official announcement.
"Huell is retiring from filming new shows or making appearances (or interviews) but the show will continue to air in reruns for awhile," Ryan Morris, Howser's assistant, wrote in an email to The Times. "We have been gradually winding down all year but Huell has decided to stop, come December 31st."
As for the talk about Howser's ill health, Morris added: "I have heard the rumors and while Huell does not always tell me everything, he seems to be doing fine. He is just trying to get away from television and enjoy some free time."
Howser arrived at his unique local celebrity through fate and his own industriousness. A Tennessee native, he worked as a features reporter for the station now known as KCBS-Channel 2. During the 1980s he switched to making documentaries and interview programs about California, punctuated by his homespun enthusiasms ("Oh my gosh!" is one frequently heard interjection).
Huell has been heard on the radio recently in commercials for the Ford Edge and has been parodied by the likes of "The Simpsons." Here's Homer congratulating Huell on his 25th anniversary at KCET:
Here's just one example of Huell's work: A visit inside the world of In-N-Out Burger:
By the way, I nominate either Chris Nichols or Charles Phoenix to carry the Huell legacy on. (But hey, if they're not available, you know how to find me!)