The glow of Minnesota televisions is a little less warm this week with the announcement that long-running cable access favorite Viva and Jerry's Country Music Videos would be coming to an end. Starting in the early '90s, Viva and Jerry have been giving Minnesotans thumbs-up and tender moments for over two musical decades. Along with bringing genuine Minnesota Nice to some of country's biggest stars, they've captured the interest and hearts of a nationwide audience thanks to appearances with everyone from Jon Stewart to Maury Povich.
We spoke to Viva about how she met Jerry, some of her favorite memories of the show, and how much public access has changed over the past 23 years.
Congratulations on 23 years of what's become an iconic Minnesota music show. Many of us have memories of watching the show with our families going back to the '90s.
Thank you. That's why this is so hard. We have people who watched us since they were five, and now they're like in their 20s and still watch us. It's like, "God bless you," you know? People genuinely love watching our show, and I keep telling our audience, if you're getting cable and you're wasting time with me and Jerry, thank you! [laughs] In this day when you have all these channels to choose from, and you're watching Viva and Jerry for an hour or half-hour, God bless you, thank you very much!
It's been hard to not do the shows anymore, but it's a choice. It's either poor shows or just leaving it and to go from there. I don't want to put out shabby shows because I really, really put a lot of work in them.
It shows, especially with how your show's also caught national attention for so long. This year marks 20 years since you flew to New York to appear on The Jon Stewart Show in 1995.
We showed that on our 1,000th show! We had a really good time because that was before he went on The Daily Show. They flew us over there and I handed out the huge glasses, and we sat and talked. It was a good interview.
And we did The Daily Show a year later. They flew to us to do the story. And in 1995, Greg Kinnear kept showing our clips. We were on The Maury Povich Show, before he went in a different direction. Most of the stuff I have on DVDs, but I don't know where they are. Twenty-three years is a long time.
I'm just so proud -- in high school I never said any book reports or anything because I had an accent because I was born in Estonia. So, when I went to my 20th reunion and I stood there and said the Top Ten lists, and everybody watched our show! There's hope for everybody.
You're from Estonia originally. When did you move to Minnesota?
I was four when we escaped [from Estonia] to Germany because the war was going on. My mom, my brother, and me lived [in Germany] for 10 years and we came over in 1952. The best sight you could ever see when you come to the United States is the Statue of Liberty. We were on a war ship, and it took us 11 days. The first thing you see is the Statue of Liberty. We took a train from New York to Minnesota, and they put us in a hotel because we were D.P.s [displaced peoples].
Upon coming to Minnesota, did country music soon enter your life?
Oh God, no. I was into Cher and the Beatles and had all their records. I was working all my life, so I never had time. Then, I met Jerry. I met him in 1986, and it was the first time I ever fell in love with anybody. That's a true story.
How did you first meet?
We met at the Cargo Bar. He walked in and I was like, "Who's the short guy that's waddling around?" He was a butcher. He said, "You wanna play pool?" and I said, "Why not?" He planted a kiss on me and I totally fell apart. He gave me goosebumps. The only man who ever gave me goosebumps. We got married in 1989 and he's the love of my life.We never thought we were going to do a show or anything. He liked country and we decided to show country videos because they had a video show, and we decided we should bring country to Minnesota. So, we started on cable access. Then the spoofs came because we had to fill time. If you've ever seen the first spoofs, I used egg cartons for snow mufflers. Just stupid, goofy stuff. Now, I have a whole basement full of bins of spoofs and stuff. [page]
The show originally started as "Two Bucks, Two Bucks!"
Yup, and then Cliff was born. This little gal brought this little helmet in and Jerry put it on his thumb. Now, when people meet us, they give us the thumbs up, and that's their sign that they watch the show. And then we show a tender moment, and something that happens in Minnesota, and then the spoofs start. But Jerry and Cliff are the stars of the show. I just put it together and work hard. [laughs]
At what point when making the show did you realize you started to have a following?
You know, it's kind of funny because we've met so many stars. It took a while. The Southwest Journal wrote us up in 1992. Star Tribute wrote us up two or three times. When we first started with country music, I remember we met Junior Brown. We were trying to do an interview with him, and he wound up being a really good friend. When he was at the State Fair, we did an interview on his bus.
We got to meet stars like Willie Nelson, Roy Clark, George Jones, Marty Stuart, Merle Haggard. Kenny Chesney was our first interview ever. Cletus T. Judd actually came to our old studio at St. Anthony Main. It's all been good. Jerry loves country and he's a singer himself. He plays with the Pistons every Friday, they do rock 'n' roll now.
Has public access changed quite a bit over the past 23 years?
As far as the funding goes, it was taken away from us. Public access has changed only because the equipment is 23 years old and they've taken the funding away so it can't be replaced. The people that work there don't really get a big paycheck or anything. They were laying people off. Since we started, half the people who work at MCN are no longer there.
It was a handful of people, and then the big move from St. Anthony Main to the new building was an empty warehouse, so we had to start from scratch one. We couldn't even open up, except for the green wall, because nothing worked. I had beautiful moving backgrounds, like Minnehaha Falls, that we couldn't use because the chroma key doesn't bring it in. I don't want to do shabby shows. People know us for good shows, and that's the way I want to keep it.
That consistency shows through how long fans have stuck by you.
Yeah, and that's going to tear me apart. We love our fans so much. It's time because I want to take care of Jerry, get healthy, go to the doctor, enjoy the summer and go from there. I think it's really time. Last Tuesday, we were driving through downtown. I had this horrible feeling something was going to go wrong. When the show was done, I had five minutes of black and I just went, "I can't do this every week."
It's nice to know that there's so many people who did love us and want to get a hold of us. I want to explain to people we did it because of health reasons. I don't want to panic to go through it, Jerry doesn't need that. We want to stay healthy through the next whatever God gives us.
I'm going to miss it myself a lot. Everywhere I look I think of spoofs. I've been putting it together for 23 years, so it's hard. But, it's going to have to be.
What do you hope people think of when they remember Viva and Jerry's Country Music Videos?
The smiles we brought to people's faces. We really made a lot of people happy, and it made us happy to have an audience. It's still unbelievable to me people, no matter where they are, they click in. There isn't enough of that. People need hugs, people need hellos, people need smiles.
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