Monday, November 12, 2018

Huell's Gold podcast interview

I recently became a huge fan of the Huell's Gold podcast. Chris and Allan discuss one classic Huell Howser TV episode every week, dissecting every location, wardrobe, and guest with humor, fondness, and nostalgia. The duo was kind enough to answer questions from this Huell Howser superfan.

Huell's Gold podcast link.
Twitter link.
Instagram link.

1. How would you describe Huell Howser to someone who had never heard of him before?

Huell, first and foremost, is an historical booster. California had many types and styles of boosterism throughout its history. People and organizations that aided in cementing the legacy of culture and history, embellished or otherwise, even before California was a state. Huell was the last great California booster, with his show, as seen through the eyes of a Tennessee transplant, California was shown less for its glitz and beaches, and more for its people. Huell was the last television booster but the first California people booster, because that's what his show was really about. The people. 

2. What prompted you to start a podcast about his shows?

It all started after a visit to the Chapman University Huell Howser Exhibit. My wife, her family and I (this is Chris talking) had went on a Disneyland trip in 2016. It was a pilgrimage of sorts, as I had had a dream that many fans of California's Gold had...running into Huell and Louie out on the streets, or on a trail, or on a mountain, filming a segment of the show. After Huell's death, that obviously wasn't possible, so the Exhibit became the closest I could ever come to that. It did not disappoint. 

After returning home, and binging Huell for hours, I started to think about how KCET and PBS could continue the work Huell had started. I knew a reboot or replacement could and should never be attempted. Then in a flash, it hit me...I had been recently listening to the Seincast podcast. A retrospective on all 9 seasons of Seinfeld, one episode a week. I thought, someone should do that for California's Gold.....Why don't I do it! Within a matter of seconds I was on the phone with Allan, whom I've been friends with for years and always had long historical, economical, philosophical, musical, even gastronomical debates and discussions with. It took only a matter of minutes for him to agree and off we were planning for our January 2018 debut. 

3. What is the goal of your podcast?

Goal....I don't think we really set out with a specific goal. At first, it was to see if we could even make a podcast. Neither of us had done anything like it, but thought, "hey, if it sucks, we'll delete and tell no one." After a few weeks of doing the show, we realized that, as small of a piece of the Huell puzzle as we are, we had now entered into the "Huelliverse" as we call it. Which is simply anything or anyone who felt compelled to do something Huellish, travel, talk to interesting strangers, find out interesting California historical tidbits, or even analyzing the work Huell left behind. 

4. What is your favorite episode and why?

Wow, that's like asking to pick a favorite kid, or pet. Now, not to say that every episode is 100% gold. Despite our bias as heavy Huellheads, we know that not all episodes are created equal. However, we are pretty partial to any episodes shot in our back yard of Bakersfield/Kern County. Huell seemed to really have a soft spot in his heart for this area and he always shown it in the brightest of lights. Our area of California gets a lot fo flack, and we know it's not perfect, but the perceived notion that Bakersfield is the "armpit" of California is laughable to us. 

5. What has been Huell's impact on California and Californians?

Hmmm, his most lasting impact has got to be the way he went about his show, and just life in general...See this big place we live in, see it for yourself, and find the beauty and positivity in all of it. No episode of California's Gold ever was based on the premise of tearing down a place, a person, or a thing. All shows began with, and ended with an excitement that to most, is infectious. Now, we know some people are Huell Haters, and that's fine...but just know, it says something about you if you hate something so pure and joyous as California's Gold and Huell Howser. 

6. How many hours a day do you think Huell worked out?

In the early days, every day. We have been in touch with old friends of Huell's from his early days at KCET, and a number of them mention having met Huell at the gym. To have made so many friends at the gym, you must go A LOT!!

7. Was Huell's on-screen persona the same off-screen? Did he have a dark side in real life?

From everything we have heard from Luis Fuerte, former employees of Huell Howser Productions, and even people interviewed on the show, one things holds true...The person you saw on camera was the real deal. Luis Fuerte did pull the curtain back on some Huell idiosyncrasies, but no dark side...With that being said, we have watched a lot of Huell Howser television, and when you peel back the persona slightly, and really try and analyze Huell the man, as opposed to Huell the host, small things start to seep through. 

One episode in particular gave us this impression. It was episode 11012 "Neptune Pool" and on the surface it is a great, fun episode. It features Huell getting to live a lifelong dream of swimming in the famous Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle. Once Huell does get in the water and is swimming with the family that allowed him to join (they had won a contest to get to swim in the pool) It began to dawn on us, Huell seemed lonely. His interactions with the family shown a small glimpse into a life that was dedicated to his craft and his work. When reading Louie's book, or watching "A Golden State of Mind" the PBS documentary on Huell, talk of friends and family are slim, and one can only believe that Huell considered everyone to be his friend. And I guess, when looking at it that way, maybe he was never lonely at all. 

8. Most of Huell's programs are archived by Chapman University. He also left his estate to the school. What was his connection to Chapman?

From what we can tell, he went to Orange to do a story on the school and really loved the campus and the faculty, and stayed in touch with them for a number of years. Toward the end of his life he was given an Honorary Doctorate from Chapman and was even the key note speaker at that year's graduation. I think Huell wanted to entrust his legacy to a place that would continue to cherish California and Chapman seemed like the place to do that. 

9. Huell had always been apolitical. What would he make of the current environment we live in?

You know, that has been a subject we have tried to study when rewatching shows. Very few glimpses of Huell's political leanings are ever visible. But, the episodes of Visiting he did after the 9/11 attacks really opened Huell up to his audience as far as his patriotism is concerned. Huell always had a smile and a positive attitude and I think shifts in politics or culture really didn't phase him. Huell was Huell, and the world could change around him, but it couldn't change him too much, 

10. Why do you love Huell Howser and his programs so much?

That really is one of those intangible type of things. Huell either grabs you, or he doesn't. It seems like his infectious attitude and excitement for everything California grabbed a lot of peoples attention over the years. When you think about the fact that he was a semi-regional public television host, with thousands of shows that all looked and felt nearly identical, that were all very low-tech, about things as minuscule as a woman's lawn, or an old cabin, or even yes, an avocado eating dog, it really is AMAZING that he made the impact he did. Huell really seemed to quantify and simplify the art and science of television down to a simply quote he said for years "TV ain't rocket surgery." But it wasn't TV that made Huell the person he was, it was just...him. Good ol' Huell. 


Ed Kim said...

WOW. As a lifelong Huell fan, I'm so stoked you got to interview these people. He truly was California Gold. I continue to miss him dearly today. In a completely different way from the far edgier Anthony Bourdain, he also made the viewer want to get out and commune with communities.

By the way, the Winnie the Pooh movie has a Huell cameo at the very end after the credits.

Burt said...

Huell Lives on thru guys like you.thanks for the living memories. I guess the fans were his family