Tamar Brott profiled Huell Howser for Los Angeles magazine in 2003 and found him to be defensive about his enthusiasm and his affection for finding the positive, or denying the negative, in any situation. A sample from the piece:
It is hard to know what to make of Huell Howser, and that's the way he likes it. One of the more peculiar aspects of his television personality is that everyone who watches his shows sees in him a different man. I have heard him called "brilliant" and "profound" and "a friend to us all.” I have also heard him called "insipid and condescending," "fish bait," "an ugly American," and "a big Forrest Gump." Technically speaking, Howser is a big 57-year-old reporter with enormous biceps, a large, pink rectangular head, a white crew cut, and a childlike sense of wonder the causes him to cry "Oh my God!" and "This is amazing!" over and over in a loud and honking Tennessee twang....
Such reportage may seem trivial, but it would be wrong to dismiss Howser as inconsequential. His programs, whose episodes now number in the thousands, have made him one of the wealthiest and most successful people in public television, with a six-show empire that includes Visiting ... with Huell Howser, California's Gold, California's Golden Parks, California's Golden Coast, Our Neighborhoods, and Road Trip with Huell Howser and specials such as Hot Summer Nights and A Week in Palm Springs. This body of work has established him as California's biggest booster and the antidote to nearly all other reporters who cover the state. While Howser's colleagues have run willy-nilly after O.J. Simpson and pedophile priests and movie stars, Howser has had the audacity to rhapsodize about state parks and women with collections of tiny violins and family-owned businesses such as the mattress factory where one man's job is to jump up and down on mattresses to compress their fluff. That is because Howser only likes things that are positive. "I understand there are mean people, ugly people, bigoted people out there killing each other and raping each other and doing great emotional and physical harm to one another," he once told me. "But that's not what Huell Howser's all about."
Howser is always guarded about his private life, and sometimes the things he says or does seem designed to confound. One day he will call you screaming, "I'm trying to be positive!” and tell you he doesn't want to be interviewed, that his sex life and religion and politics are nobody's business, even though you never asked about those subjects. The next day he will call you at home on a Friday night and tell you he has hardly any friends and no one with whom to watch the Super Bowl. Howser doesn't mind your pointing out these contradictions. Once he told me he was 57, and another time he said he was 55, and when I asked him about it he threw back his head and barked out a single laugh and said, "What's the matter? Can't a man feel young?" He said it with such exuberance that I, too, began to laugh. Most of all, Howser comes across as a man who is awfully fond of himself and wishes to make sure that you go away fond of him, too.
Howser knows that he will have to retire some day, and he fears it. "I'm not sure I could enjoy a sunset as much if I knew I couldn't share it," he says soberly. The thought of walking down the street and seeing something amazing, or meeting some amazing person with an amazing story and not being able to broadcast it, disturbs him. "Seriously" he says, "what I want to do is to be saying 'Good night' and fall over dead in a sand dune and have the credits with the sand blowing over my body and the people at home just going, 'Well, I guess that's Huell's last show.' That is the way I would like to die."
Previously on LA Observed:
Huell Howser to retire