Technically, Vibiana is the patron saint of Los Angeles, but you could make a solid case for Huell Howser. The guy had more outright love for the city—and the state as a whole—than practically anyone, and for nearly two decades, he made a business of sharing that love via his popular TV programs. This Sunday, August 5, beginning at 10 a.m., KCET will kick off a ten-hour marathon of his Visiting…with Huell Howser series to honor the show’s 25th anniversary.
If this particular era of rage is spurring a renaissance of much-needed nicecore media, the reinfusion of Howser’s philosophy to broadcast TV, if just for a day, could hardly feel more timely. In all his ebullience, Howser was “so old-fashioned as to have become absolutely singular and therefore practically avant-garde,” as L.A. Times TV critic Robert Lloyd put it in a 2009 profile, and he extended that bordering-on-quaint sense of neighborliness to every corner of the state. The Tennessee transplant and former Marine devoted episodes to meeting with lowrider aficionados, oil workers, Special Olympics athletes, and participants in the Persian Chaharshanbe Suri festival. He was the embodiment of inquisitive openness.
Howser’s stated purpose was to spur locals to explore their hometowns, to get out and encounter the diversity of their world. And like the late Jonathan Gold, the places he often found worth visiting tended to be a little off the beaten path, eschewing the opulent in favor of the folksy and accessible, the overlooked hidden gems of California. In his genuine enthusiasm for, say, water reclamation, he brought an element of wonder to subjects that, for all practical purposes, were totally mundane. And though he died in 2013, his influence still feels outsized.
The KCET marathon will include Howser’s tour of the Vernon Light and Power Plant, a day riding the Metrolink, an exploration of the Biltmore Hotel, a trek out to Twentynine Palms, and 16 other episodes, many of which have not been aired for over a decade.
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