Huell Howser is a name that brings back memories for so many people. In a career that covered New York, California, and his native state of Tennessee, Howser delighted in bringing to the world the stories that normally get overlooked in the every day hustle and bustle of life. His path was not the mainstream of news that so many in television pursue. His beat was the simpler things of life, what was called human interest.
In the years since 1981 when he moved to California, Howser’s reports on the various shows he either hosted or appeared on introduced folks to the parts of their state that would likely have never seen or heard otherwise. If not for a gentle soul like his to introduce people to them, they would have gone unnoticed. His was the the world way off the beaten path, the little things one would drive by or walk by that would escape a first glance, let alone a second one.
However, before “California’s Gold” and “Visiting with Huell Howser,” there was a fellow traveling over the hills of Tennessee, finding the stories like the ones I’ve described above for what was then called WSM-TV, Channel 4 in Nashville, TN. Equipped with a motor home, a camera, a microphone, and his endless curiosity, he traveled his native state bringing those stories that would bring out his well known, “That’s amazing” time and time again.
Some called this type of reporting “human features.” Howser preferred what the station would call them when it gave him his own show, “The Happy World with Huell Howser.” From the banks of the Mississippi River, to the mountain tops of the Smokey Mountains, if he thought there was a story for his viewers, he’d be there.
His outlook about television was as homespun as the man himself. When he appeared on the 50th anniversary of what is now WSMV, he explained this way. “I think good, old-fashioned, straight-forward television, where you turn on the camera and listen to a person’s story, is the best. Television ain’t brain surgery. We try to make it more complicated than it has to be. I get suspicious when I see a program with fancy editing and all that, because it seems to me there’s not all that much of a story there.”
Today, WSMV, and Tennesseans far and wide are remembering Howser with laughter and sadness when the news came that he had died Sunday night at the age of 67. Below is an item from the WSMV news that aired the next day. Here you will see where Howser got his style of storytelling and how, years after he left for New York, and ultimately California, he is still beloved.
I got to meet Howser when he was covering a story in my hometown. Expecting to just say hi and maybe get to shake his hand, I found us chatting together for a few minutes, him asking about me and what I did, and myself asking him about his work, his favorites moments, and the ones he’d like to forget. He had a sense of humor and a laugh that was absolutely contagious. He constantly amazed folks by his friendliness and outgoing personality. From my brief encounter with him and watching him with others, he appeared to me to have never met a stranger.