KCET -- A Proud History of News, Part One

Jeffrey Kaye and Clete Roberts | KCET Newsbeat

This is another in a series of posts in which Cathy Bower, KCET's broadcast operations coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Read more entries here.

KCET has had a proud news history of reporting news. My personal knowledge goes back only to "28 Tonight," but this tradition went all the way back to the start. KCET has always taken news very seriously and continues to do so under our current president, Al Jerome. As a matter of fact, our new season of "SoCal Connected" is gearing up as I write this post, so I thought I'd take a look back at a few of those shows, many of which have featured Val Zavala, KCET's Vice President of News & Public Affairs as well as the longtime anchor of "SoCal Connected," in integral roles.

"28 Tonight"
In the late 70s, KCET had "28 Tonight," which lasted from around 1976 until 1981. I think they may have shot the remote pieces on film, until we finally got some video remote cameras in the late 70s. Because I wasn't working at the station at that point, it is hard for me to pinpoint when we did the switch over to tape. What I do know is I saw reels and reels of news footage in our vaults when I arrived. As with most news shows that we do, "28 Tonight" was usually a hybrid between a live in-studio segment and the remote taped pieces. Clete Roberts was a part of that studio team for "28 Tonight," as I mentioned in my post on The Flying Wing story.

"KCET Newsbeat with Clete Roberts"
1981 brought along a huge increase in production funding, and so "KCET Newsbeat with Clete Roberts" was created. It lasted until June 1982, when it was canceled due to the financial disaster and a lack of funds. It was live five days a week and then on Fridays, we also shot a show called "L.A. Week in Review" that caught viewers up on the news of the week. Reporter Jeffrey Kaye was one of the studio reporters and he went on to do other shows for us and eventually to join the "MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour" as their L.A. reporter.

Huell Howser's Videologs

At a get-together we had after the death of Huell Howser, former KCET station manager Stephen Kulczycki said he came to Los Angeles to begin rebuilding our news presence after the financial disaster. He arrived in 1983 and began to look for things he could do with a small budget. One of the first things he did was hire Huell Howser, who had wanted to move on from KNXT, where he was shooting little "Happy News" pieces. He brought his idea to KCET and Stephen hired him in 1985, to make the now-famous Videolog fillers. These aired throughout our schedule, to give us an inexpensive local presence. (Read more about the Videologs here.)

Stephen created a quarterly news show called "KCET Journal" that did one-hour, in-depth documentaries about subjects of interest. During the mid-80s we produced "Turning Points," in which we followed someone at a critical point in their life. One installment profiled a young mother deciding whether to keep her baby or give it up for adoption. It was a novel concept. Jon Wilkman, the producer of "Turning Points," also worked on a three-year history series called "The Los Angeles History Project." William Mulholland, Central Avenue and Harris Newmark's Los Angeles were among the subjects covered. KCET produced a total of 12 episodes.

"California Stories" and "7:30" came along in 1988. "California Stories" was a half-hour show that dealt with a wide range of subjects, including arts and science stories. Roger Bingham, Teya Ryan, Peter Graumann, were some of the producer/reporters who worked on shows. "7:30," meanwhile, gave us back a five-minute nightly news presence at 7:30 p.m. each evening.

In July of 1989 "California Stories" ended and morphed into little daily pieces called "Take Five." There were Take Five Arts" and "Take Five Science," and Huell Howser's shorts became "Take Five Videolog." This addition gave Videolog a set time to air, which helped Huell get more regular viewership and ratings for the first time. I am sure it helped him get traction with his idea for a show that he pitched to the other California stations later on that year. That show would be "California's Gold".

"By the Year 2000"
The late 80s brought about a novel idea for a news show. "By the Year 2000" was news, but it was news that was designed to show things that would be issues in the new millennium: for example, population growth, housing prices, demographic changes, air quality. All the things that Southern California would be facing, over the next decade. Val Zavala and Eric Burns were the hosts of the show. Shortly thereafter, Eric Burns left and Joseph Benti came on board and what a great addition to the team, he was. Joseph Benti was a wonderful person, and I remember him with great fondness.

As I am going back through the years, it's the people who I have worked with and the ones I work with now who are the reason why I come here every day. I have personally had the pleasure of working with some of the absolute best in the business and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I'll cover the rest of KCET's news history in a follow-up to this piece. I hope you stick around, as I bring you our longest-running news program, "Life & Times," and more!

That's Amazing! Chapman University Opens Permanent Huell Howser Exhibit

Huell Howser | Photo: Bohdan Zachary

This is another in a series of posts where Cathy Bower, KCET's Broadcast Operations Coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Read more entries here.

Shortly before Huell Howser died in 2013, he gave his entire life's work to Chapman University. He wanted his show "California's Gold" to have a life after he retired from producing it. And now Chapman has posted the episodes online, for anyone in the world to view. The school celebrated this achievement on Thursday, March 27, with the official opening of the Huell Howser Archive and Exhibit.

The Auto Club of Southern California commissioned "A Golden State of Mind: The Storytelling Genius of Huell Howser," a behind-the-scenes video that celebrated the life of Huell and that was screened at the event. It provided an amazing look at the person who held the microphone all those years. Huell Hower had a unique style of interviewing his subjects, and this movie showed him in action: how he would make people open up to him and where he found the subjects he profiled. (Many times, Huell would simply pass something of interest as he was driving and then just stop in.) Other subjects came from tips they would receive in the mail, or something found in the newspapers or books Huell and his team would be reading. He never knew where his next show was coming from, but he had extreme confidence that something would turn up. He was never wrong. Case in point: he had several shows ready to go when he became too ill to continue to work.

President James L. Doti of Chapman University at Huell Hoswer screening | Photo: Cathy Bower
The Chapman University President James L. Doti led us through the evening's events.
He showed us videos of events that took place earlier in the day, like the ribbon-cutting at the exhibit and the unveiling of Chapman's Dodge College Star for Huell Howser. (Think of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and put it at Chapman.) I had forgotten that Huell was given a posthumous honorary doctorate degree from Chapman in 2013, which made him eligible for this honor.

Doti then introduced Bob Bouttier, president of the Auto Club of Southern California, a long-time partner with Huell Howser, especially with his series "Road Trip," which was about day trips close to the Los Angeles area. Huell had also written articles that turned up in Westways, the Auto Club magazine.The club not only funded the movie and the reception, but it also created a wonderful map of the many places that Huell Howser visited while making his almost 2,000 episodes. People who are attending the Saturday screenings of the film (which are all sold out) may receive a copy of the map.

There were around 200 people invited to this reception. On the production end were several former Huell Howser employees, most of whom turned up in the film. There was Ryan Morris, Huell's assistant; Phil Noyes, his producer; Michael Garber, his editor; and of course, Luis "Louie" Fuerte, his cameraman. It was wonderful to see people I had worked with for years, and in some cases for decades. (Huell's Cameraman in the later years, Cameron Tucker, appears in the film but did not attend last night's event.)

Huell Howser Exhibit at Chapman University | Photo: Cathy Bower

When we finally were finished with the screening, we were invited down to the exhibit and archives. We saw his office, memorabilia from many of the subjects of his shows, a very interesting timeline of his life and the shows he produced. The map you see on the floor in the photo, has every location in which Huell produced an episode. The funniest thing (at least, to me) was that they have on display,the shirt that Huell wore in the iconic "poppy field" photo.

It is definitely worth the visit. The exhibit is permanent and you can come see it. Check the hours on the Chapman Website, before you head down. In all, it was a great event and a worthy tribute to a man whose death was a major loss to the people of California. There are so many stories still to be told and maybe through this archive, the adventure will continue for a new generation. That was Huell's hope, and it's mine too.

There is a place in this world for "happy news," as Huell proved over and over again.

Huell Howser's Videolog Reunion 1988

 Videolog Reunion | Photo by Cathy Bower 1988

This is another in a series of posts where Cathy Bower, KCET's Broadcast Operations Coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Read more entries here.

I don't go to many events, but once in a while something strikes me as important enough to try to change that. Huell Howser's Videolog Reunion felt like one of those occasions. He spent the better part of the '80s documenting interesting people and subjects on short fillers called Videologs. The shorts varied from around three minutes long to almost eight (for the Elephant Man's story). Just before he launched his new series "California's Gold," Huell decided in late 1988 to bring all these people together at the Bullock's Tea Room and to have a party to celebrate those Videologs that we all knew so well.

The Bullock's Tea room was the top floor of the Bullock's Wilshire Building located in the mid-Wilshire District of Los Angeles, which is now owned by the Southwestern Law School. It was the perfect place to have this event, with the Tea Room itself harking back to an older, kinder and gentler Los Angeles.

They were all there, or so it seemed. The Elephant Man, The Yogurt Man, The L.A. Times String Lady, The Cobbler Man, with lots of cobbler for us to eat. The Del Rubio Triplets (guitars in hand) were there to sing for us, too. I was in heaven.

Huell brought Louie his cameraman along that day. You can read more about Luis, here.

Videolog Reunion | Photo by Cathy Bower 1988

From this event, Huell made a 30-minute show that only aired (I believe) one time, on December 29, 1988. I know that if it had aired more times, I probably would have watched it again and again. There was no way you could see everyone and make the connection between them and what their Videolog show was about. There are things that are burned in my memory though.

The Yogurt Man, who made yogurt every day in his oven at home, was over 100 years old and had a handshake that felt like iron! I couldn't believe it and neither could my husband. We shook hands out back, in the parking lot of the building. He seemed like a very kind man.

The parking lot was also where we got to see the Del Rubio Triplets, who were three identical triplets who sang for a living. I saw them drive off in their old blue car. I had heard that they performed at nursing homes, for just gas money and seeing them in that old car confirmed that. I should have taken a photo.

The Cobbler Man's cobbler was the most wonderful thing. William Gore Sr. used honey in his recipe, instead of sugar and that definitely made a difference. It was so good, that it turned up at a couple of KCET parties over the months that followed. Here is the old Cobbler Man Videolog to check out.

I also remember the fake food guys from Iwasaki Images of America. They were giving out fake food and mine ended up being a very realistic strawberry, which I had on my desk at work for years after. I can attest to the fact that they make first-rate fake foods.

I have a memory that The Elephant Man, Charlie Franks, was there. It is a hazy one, but I believe he was so old by then, that he just sat at a table and held court. His story about him and Nita the elephant is probably the most well-known of the Videlogs. He died less than a year later, in August of 1989. Check out this poignant Elephant Man Videolog.

It was a wonderful afternoon, Huell as you can see, was at his best, enjoying a gathering that only he could have put together. There were balloons made by one of his videolog subjects and I still have mine... but I don't dare even try to blow the thing up. Maybe it's just better seeing it in photos.

This Week on 'Visiting With Huell Howser' -- Yamashiro and Pink's Hot Dogs

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Find out what classic episodes of "Visiting" are airing on KCET this week! Read more about KCET's Huell-centric programming here and share your memories of Huell with other fans here.

Monday @ 7:30PM -- "Yamashiro"

Yamashiro was created in 1911 as a private residence and is a replica of a magnificent palace located near Kyoto, Japan. During the golden age of Hollywood, Yamashiro was a club for the ultra-exclusive, but now it's now a restaurant.

Watch a preview:

Tuesday @ 7:30PM -- "Harley Girls"

Put on your leather jacket and strap on your helmet for a two-wheeled adventure that's sure to get your heart racing. Huell goes for a weekend ride with the Harley Girls and their Harley Davidson motorcycles. Huell and the ladies take a spin and then stop for lunch, where Huell meets some other interesting weekend rebels.

Hollywood Televsion Theater's 'Steambath'

This is another in a series of posts where Cathy Bower, KCET's broadcast operations coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Read more entries here.

KCET started its life in the middle of Hollywood, at 1313 Vine Street. From that first, humble location, the station began making television. One of the bigger national series that they began shooting over at the Vine Street location was "Hollywood Television Theater." Engineers who worked on those many productions tell the story that at times they had three plays in production on different sound stages. One stage would have the set going up or tearing down and two sets actively shooting. It was non-stop action. When we moved over to our Sunset Boulevard location in the early 70s, one of the first "Hollywood Television Theater" productions that was on the slate to be shot was "Steambath."

The production starred Bill Bixby, who played the character of Tandy. He was well known at that time for his roles in several television shows including, "My Favorite Martian" and "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." Years later, he went on to play Bruce Banner on "The Incredible Hulk." As the leading female actress, Valerie Perrine played the character of Meredith. Valerie is best known for playing Lex Luthor's girlfriend in the first two "Superman: movies. She started her career as a Vegas showgirl. José Peréz , a prolific actor, who was basically unknown at that time, was cast as the Puerto Rican steambath attendant, who happens to also be God.

I was not employed at KCET at the time this production was shot, but there was no lack of conversation about it when I did arrive almost seven years later.

My favorite story was the fact that they finally had to duct tape that towel onto Valerie Perrine to keep it in place. Every time I would pass one of the production photos in our administration building on Sunset Blvd, I would think about that fact.

The production holds the record as the first show on television to show brief full nudity and if it hadn't been airing on PBS, this would have never happened. Back in those days, the big three network censors were very strict about such things. I think we got the pass, due to the fact that we were an educational station.

On KCET in 1985: 'Penn & Teller Go Public'

This is another in a series of posts where Cathy Bower, KCET's Broadcast Operations Coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Read more entries here.

Penn & Teller, circa 1985"We are just a couple of very eccentric guys who have learned how to do a few cool things."

It was January 1985 when Penn and Teller came to KCET to shoot a show called, "Penn & Teller Go Public." They were basically two unknown magicians whom our station manager, Stephen Kulczycki, happened to see perform in L.A. the previous fall. That is how fast the deal went together. I asked Stephen recently about what he remembered about seeing them and this is what I learned.

[In] late summer/early fall of 1984 my wife and I saw Penn & Teller in a club in Westwood called Dillon's. I went up on stage as the witness to see a close-up performance. Teller ate 100 needles and then swallowed an entire apple. He then swallowed some thread and promptly pulled those 100 sewing needles, now all attached to the thread, out of his mouth. All this occurred 12 inches from my face. It blew my mind. I approached them that night about a simple TV special.

This Week on 'Visiting With Huell Howser' -- Pita Bread and Lint Art

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Find out what classic episodes of "Visiting" are airing on KCET this week! Read more about KCET's Huell-centric programming here and share your memories of Huell with other fans here.

Monday @ 7:30PM -- "Pita Bread"

It all started at Huell's dry cleaner and a sandwich made with pita. He wanted to learn more about this wonderful flatbread, so he visited a pita factory to learn all about the art of making this ancient food. And yes, this delicious adventure ends with a pita-based feast.

Tuesday @ 7:30PM -- "Lucky Baldwin Cottage"

Lucky Baldwin was one of the great characters of Southern California history during the late 19th century and early 20th century. He was a pioneer and real estate tycoon who owned the land that would become Arcadia, Monrovia and Baldwin Hills. Huell visits the Queen Anne Cottage at the Los Angeles Arboretum, which was built on his former property in 1885, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more on Lucky Baldwin, check out KCET Departures' profile on him here and a feature on his labor force here.

Remembering Clete Roberts

KCET Newsbeat Photo from More Things That Aren't Here Anymore

This is another in a series of posts where Cathy Bower, KCET's Broadcast Operations Coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Read more entries here.

If you watch KCET often, you may have seen a pair of nostalgia programs we did back in the '90s -- "Things That Aren't Here Anymore" and the follow up "More Things That Aren't Here Anymore". When we air them, we usually air them back to back, and about two hours and 40 minutes into the block comes a segment about Clete Roberts, a man who I mentioned in an earlier post about an experimental aircraft.

In my far-flung past, I worked as a production assistant on "KCET Newsbeat with Clete Roberts," on which Clete, in his last broadcast job, led a team of reporters who went out and taped stories and interviewed people about the issues of the day. We sometimes shot more than one show, and between tapings Clete would sit in the chair by my desk and tell all sorts of stories about a career that I hardly knew anything about. Well, the nostalgia show goes into his career quite a bit and fills in some of those blanks, especially via photos, from Clete's many eras.

He not only worked for us, he worked for KNXT and KTLA with many of the journalists from what I would call the Golden Age of news reporting in Los Angeles. If you have missed this segment, I would highly recommend checking it out when "More Things That Aren't Here Anymore" airs again (check listings here).

This Week on 'Visiting With Huell Howser' -- Persian Festival and Hot Peppers

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Find out what classic episodes of "Visiting" are airing on KCET this week! Read more about KCET's Huell-centric programming here and share your memories of Huell with other fans here.

Monday @ 7:30PM -- "Fosselman's"

Huell indulges in a summer treat at Fosselman's Ice Cream in Alhambra, a family-owned business that's more than 80 years old and where the founder's grandsons still use the family recipe.

Tuesday @ 7:30PM -- "Vincent Price Art Museum"

Huell visits the Vincent Price Art Museum in East Los Angeles. Price and his wife, Mary Grant Price, donated a total of 9,000 pieces of art from their collection to create this museum featuring Mesoamerican, African, Native American, and European works.

Watch a preview:

The Flying Wing: What Happened to It?

Flying Wing at Udvar-Hazy Center | Photo by Cathy Bower

This is another in a series of posts in which Cathy Bower, KCET's Broadcast Operations Coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Read more posts here.

I worked as a production assistant for a news show back in 1982. It was called "KCET Newsbeat with Clete Roberts," and the show would end up being Clete's last one before his death. The man was an "old school" journalist, and he was fascinating to work with. If you are a fan of the show "M*A*S*H," you may remember an episode called "The Interview" in which Clete played the reporter who comes to the 4077 and interviews the different cast members about what their life in Korea was like. In that show he basically played himself, and his career as a war journalist was not a fake.

I would be sitting at my desk at work and he would be sitting in the chair in front of it, waiting for a call from the sound stage that they were ready to tape the next show. He would tell us about his days as a war correspondent during WWII. It was fascinating stuff.

One of the things he did in the late 70's was interview Jack Northrup, shortly before Northrup's death. The show was called "The Flying Wing: What Happened To It?" Back in 1949, Northrup built a plane that was wing-shaped and could fly undetected by radar. But instead of commissioning the plane, the government made the thing "disappear." Northrup had never understood why his plane was not allowed to be produced, and in this show, his final interview, he and Clete discussed this. Watching the show, you could tell that Clete, an airplane enthusiast, was equally baffled about how the Northrup's plane had been relegated to obscurity.

Jack and Clete both passed away within a few years of the taping of this show, and the mystery remained... that is until the B2 Stealth Bomber showed up in the United States' military arsenal. It was wing shaped, could not be seen by radar, and it was a totally new idea.

... Well, not quite.