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October 1983 - Huell Howser's 'Videolog' Debuts

Huell Howser
Huell Howser in the 1980s, whose program 'Videolog' kicked off his three decade-long career at KCET. | Photo: Mitzi Trumbo

In October 1983, "Videolog," a collection of short human-interest and historical segments centered on people and places in Southern California that aired in between various programs, made its debut, kicking off the three decade-long career of Huell Howser as a host and producer on KCET.

Having hailed from the town of Gallatin, Tennessee, on the outskirts of Nashville, Huell Burnely Howser began his television career as a news feature and documentary reporter at WSM-TV in that city. He also hosted several segments on shows like "Happy Features" and "The Happy World of Huell Howser" for the station, which featured local events, human interest stories, and celebrity interviews. After being suspended in 1979 for editorializing his thoughts on the demolition of the historic governor's mansion, he accepted a job in New York City hosting a half-hour show on WCBS-TV called "Real Life," with a similar format to his previous show. Following the show's cancellation in 1980, Howser moved to CNN as a news reporter, eventually relocating to the Los Angeles bureau the next year. He later worked for KNXT-TV (now KCBS) as a feature reporter, and worked a parallel stint reporting for the television program, "Entertainment Tonight" from 1982 to 1983.

Later that year, Howser was hired by KCET to host and produce brief human-interest segments running less than 10 minutes each, that aired in between the station's shorter programs to fill up air time. The segments were called "Videolog."

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Howser soon found the diverse multitude of people, cultures, and lifestyles in Southern California not only fascinating, but the primary purpose of his segments. Some of his shows also provided an educational and historical perspective that was missing on KCET since "Citywatchers" last aired in the mid-1970s.

Among the most popular "Videolog" segments was the reunion between animal trainer Charley Franks and Nita, a retired circus elephant that the elderly Franks once trained years ago. "Videolog" eventually became one of the more popular programs on KCET, and in 1990, the show was expanded to half hour-long episodes, thanks to a $150,000 grant from the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation. "Videolog" eventually evolved into "Visiting...with Huell Howser," continuing the host's admiration of Southern California.

In 1991, after spending his vacation personally driving across the Golden State and visiting with all 13 PBS stations in California, "California's Gold" premiered in April of that year, the first episode of which spotlighted the Chinese American community of Locke in Sacramento County.

From San Diego to Lake Tahoe, from the coastal Redwoods to the mud volcanoes of the Salton Sea, Howser led viewers on an amazing journey covering the history, diversity, natural beauty, and amazing people of the Golden State.

Howser also became KCET's go-to host for human interest programs and one of the public faces of the station. Following the L.A. Riots in 1992, Howser hosted a special version of "Videolog" called "Videolog Cares," interviewing people directly affected by the civil unrest and airing their hopes for positive change in their communities. In August 1992, he hosted "The Bench," a 10-part series featuring people from various neighborhoods in Southern and Central California. In May 1993, Howser joined the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra during their concert tour of Switzerland and taped segments spotlighting the people and places of the European country.

By 2000, Howser's programs not only aired in California, but across The West, as well as his native Tennessee, and overseas on Armed Forces Television. Starting in 2001, he also hosted and produced spin-off programs such as "Road Trip with Huell Howser," "California's Golden Parks," "California's Missions," "California's Golden Coast," "California's Golden Fairs," "California's Communities," and the environmentally-themed "California's Green" and "California's Water."

Howser even ventured outside California for several travel specials, visiting such locales as Alaska, Hawaii, Australia, Russia, Fiji, and the Cook Islands.

Howser retired in November, 2012 due to health reasons, capping off a career that spanned nearly 30 years and over 1,200 programs. He died in January, 2013 at the age of 67.

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