For a guy who found the perfect career for his ever-curious and kinda-quirky personality, Brendan Henehan is the first to admit it all started with luck.

Henehan and his wife moved to Minnesota from Kalamazoo, Mich., unemployed and looking for a fresh start. He answered an ad and took a six-month gig in public television that turned into 40 years producing "Almanac," a weekly live show on Twin Cities Public Television that blends public affairs with entertainment and audience engagement.

Henehan is retiring this month, so Eye On St. Paul stopped by his office to talk about the show he helped start and the energy of live TV. This interview was edited for length.

Q: Why Minnesota?

A: A lot of folks in the early '80s were moving to Texas, following jobs. I wanted to stay in the north. Never been to Minnesota. Seemed like an interesting place. Did a little research. Their baseball team was in the American League, and that sounded good.

Q: That's almost like throwing a dart at a board.

A: Pretty much.

Q: Was your education in journalism?

A: Not at all. I'm still waiting to take my first journalism course. I was a sociology major. Walked into TV.

Q: How did that start?

A: I was watching TV one night. Dave Moore, WCCO-TV, says that because of the high unemployment rate, the McKnight Foundation was going to start a series of six-month jobs for Twin Citians who had been out of work. There were 10,000 applicants for like 500 jobs. And then my name was drawn out of a hat. These were people who were going to be planting trees for, like, the DNR.

There were public agencies and nonprofits. They said, "Here's a book of the places, go and look."

In Michigan, I'd worked for a local historical society after I got out of college. ... So I looked under Minnesota Historical Society. They didn't have any place in this big book. But there was something under Minnesota Public Television, which is not the name of this organization. They were doing a new TV show.

Q: I think I've read you've done more than 1,700 episodes of "Almanac."

A: I don't even know the exact number.

Q: What was the idea behind going live on Friday nights?

A: My boss is a guy named Bill Hanley. Bill's a good friend and he and I worked together for 25 years. A lot of PBS stations were doing four journalists sitting around a table talking. He wanted something more active and more interesting and faster paced. Have a little fun. Do an essay. Do an interactive feature with the audience.

And we knew for energy's sake, you wanted to do it live.

Q: Why do you think it's had that staying power?

A: It's been blessed with strong hosts. Joe Summers, Jan Smaby in the early days. Cathy Wurzer, Eric Eskola since. Minnesota and the Twin Cities in particular is a great market for news. People care. We vote. The show has always been responsive to community. Politics is kind of its bread and butter.

Q: Are there subjects you won't touch?

A: No, although I do think there are subjects that are not always terribly fruitful because the positions are so ingrained. You know historically we have never done a lot of abortion debates just because people have made up their minds largely. But you've got to deal with the issues that are going on, and as some of the dynamics have changed with the Supreme Court ruling.

Q: Are there topics that you wish you had tackled but didn't?

A: I don't think so. "Almanac" in its early days didn't do as good a job of reflecting the racial diversity of the audience we served, in part because Minnesota was much less racially diverse in the early '80s. I think for a long time now we have been really consciously working at representing on air the community that we serve. We look at it. We measure it. It's important to us.

Q: Why?

A: It's always important for folks to see themselves reflected in the media. We have a lot of evidence that shows that's true in the classroom. It's just as true in the media. I think you want to reflect visually and literally the audience that you're serving.

Q: Are there shows that you've done that are clearly clunkers?

A: Oh sure. The joy of a live weekly show is that if you have a great show, next week could be a stinker. And, conversely, "Gee, that wasn't the show I really wanted or thought I was going to get." But you know you're going to get another chance next Friday.

Q: What have you learned about yourself?

A: I remember the first time I worked on a live show — it was kind of like when I was in theater in high school. A bunch of people get together, you put on a show and there's a remarkable energy. There's something really fun about working with a team of people to pull something off. And when it works, it's exhilarating.

Q: What now?

A: Yeah. It's funny because … it's popular these days to talk about work/life balance. That wasn't what I wanted when I started out. I wanted a job I could jump into. I didn't want just a paycheck. I wanted a career. Have a mission that lined up with mine, that I believed in, and throw myself into it.

I've got a million hobbies. I love to write. I love to research. Actually, I've always loved research at historical societies. But my life is going to fundamentally change. I'm ready for it.