If the homespun head of Huell Howser Productions was going to donate his vast catalog of past and future shows--California's Gold, Visiting ... with Huell Howser, Road Trip with Huell Howser and other Golden State-centric television programs--to anyone in Orange County, you'd assume it would be Costa Mesa-based PBS SoCal, whose previous incarnation ran Huell Howser on the local tele for decades. Instead, after a touching letter from Chapman University president James Doti, the native Tennessean with the unmistakable accent is giving all that video and 250 to 300 boxes of papers, ephemera and memorabilia to the Orange institution.
"I'm so proud to have a permanent home for my life's work at a university the caliber of Chapman, and I hope it will be used by students and the public to learn about and understand California even better," Howser says in a university statement.
His programs currently air on KCET/Channel 28, which had been Southern California's premiere PBS station from its inception in 1970 through the next 40 years. But the Hollywood-based station ended its affiliation with PBS in December 2010, passing the mantle to what was then KOCE/Channel 50 at Golden West College in Huntington Beach. Earlier this year, the station named itself PBS SoCal and moved its operations to the South Coast Metro area of Costa Mesa.
Doti heard Howser had been in Orange and wrote to say he was sorry he missed him, inviting the local television personality to tour the campus whenever he wanted to.
"That really impressed me--in this hectic world, to get a personal letter signed by the university president!" Howser says in the university statement. "That's the kind of personal contact that resonates with me."
Doti is nothing if not media savvy, hosting his own public television program and once having Chapman bid to buy KOCE.
But even the university president could not have realized his letter would get Howser to think about, as he put it, "the legacy of my work and how I wanted it to become available to a wider audience."
"After visiting the university several times, Chapman just felt like a very comfortable place for me and my work--there's nothing but positivity there, and there's a great energy about learning and lots of plans for the future," he said. "Everyone seems excited to be there. It just felt like exactly where this collection should go."
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Chapman will digitize all the Huell Howser Productions programming, put it all up on the web and make it available to audiences worldwide for free. It's a massive job, so the university is not yet announcing when it will be available.
Besides the video and hundreds of boxes directly related to the series, 1,800 books about California will be housed in the university's Leatherby Libraries. That opens to the public on Thursday, Oct. 13, the day of Howser is scheduled to speak on "In Search of California's Gold" at Chapman's Memorial Hall. Admission is free to the 7 p.m. event that will include the affable host talking about his experiences making his programs and taking audience questions. (Call 714.744.7677 or visit www.chapman.edu/huellhowser for more details.)
A Howser exhibition will be up at the library through the end of the month, and the university notes that Leatherby remains open until midnight daily. Meanwhile, Howser plans to return to Chapman in the coming years to speak with history students, film majors, Town & Gown support groups and anyone else who likes to talk story, with his first in-class visit scheduled for this Thursday, Oct. 6.
Free access to him and his work is what most delights Howser: "The idea of getting all the shows posted on the web so that everyone--not just students--can always access them for free is very appealing to me."