Hipsters and country fans cheer on campy duo
For the past 13 years, husband and wife team Jerry and Viva Pearson have been bringing country music to households via their cable access TV show, "Viva and Jerry's Country Music Videos," filmed at Minneapolis Telecommunications Network studios at St. Anthony Main, 125 SE Main St.
While many people tune in to the show for the country videos -- after all, there are no other exclusively country programs on the tube anymore -- even more tune in to watch Viva and Jerry. For in between Randy Travis and Shania Twain videos is a variety show of handpuppets, toy monkey fashion shows, chest toupee auctions and bizarre on-site reporting recorded via camcorder on local streets, all presented by the bubbly and vivacious Viva and Jerry, the king of the catch phrase. The show has also brought on the air several local bands, including the Carpetbaggers and boyish heartbreakers Accident Clearinghouse.
It's the sort of show one rarely sees outside of cable access, loaded with hometown personality and barely scripted or rehearsed. Viva performs impromptu interviews with unsuspecting strangers on her camcorder walks; last spring, she caught folks mid-pet blessing on the Blessing of the Animals Day at the Basilica of St. Mary, 88 N. 17th St.
There is no real demographic audience for the show. Smart alecky, ironic hipsters gather round the TV to catch Viva and Jerry to accompany a night of fancy liquor drinks, as do older, more conservative viewers who sincerely enjoy country and beer that comes in a can. People who don't drink watch the show, too, as do children.
"I think it's because we're just normal people, and we're not putting on airs," says Viva of the seemingly universal appeal of the show. "And, of course, everybody loves Jerry. The young people, they just love him. He's just a down-to-earth character, and he's so funny, and he's a star. He is the star -- I can take the chicken mask to the show, but it doesn't mean anything unless I put it on Jerry."
Script, what script?
Perhaps this is another factor in the appeal of the show, the chemistry between the 64-year-old Viva and the 62-year-old Jerry. Viva claims that Jerry was the only man to ever give her goosebumps "and he still is." It's instantly obvious from watching the show that this is a married couple still blissfully in love -- they behave onscreen the way most people wish their parents would.
When talking to Viva it's more than obvious that she's Jerry's biggest fan. And from the way Jerry hangs on Viva's every word, you can just tell that he's just as enamoured of her. It's a clean, family show, and watching the two of them makes you feel like you're part of their family, too.
The overall spontaneous feel of the show isn't faked, either. Viva confesses that, even though she always means to start work on each show the weekend before they go into the studio, she tends to put things off until the very last minute. "Tuesday morning, I get up at 5:30 a.m., I have my coffee, and I sit there, and I put the show together within a couple of hours," she said.
"My mind just clicks on Tuesday mornings. It is so scary. I mean, I could think all week and I have some ideas, you know, but nothing really comes together until the morning before we tape. I'm not worried about it, though, because we really can't be scripted -- in fact, sometimes I do try to have us follow a script, but then Jerry'll pick something up and, well, there goes the script. And I'll let him go because that's what makes the show. And we never hardly stop for anything. If the mic falls off, we go after it. We don't retape anything."
Since the show first aired on May 26, 1991, "Viva and Jerry's Country Videos" has won numerous awards, including two "Best Variety Show" City Pages awards and "Best Minnesota-Produced Audio Video Show" from the Minnesota Music Association. There have been some other perks, too: Jerry and Viva have appeared on daytime talk show "Maury" as well as "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."
Surprisingly, despite all the local and national attention, the show is still confined to cable access TV. "'Dimension' did a story on us way back, and all the newscasters watch us -- even Don Shelby watches us!" laughs Viva. "We need a manager, or an agent, maybe, because if we were on a regular channel, like 9 or 11 or something, they would have good ratings.
"But for now, it's like, as long as people keep tuning in, it's cool," she finishes. "I just thank everybody, you know -- if you have all these cable choices and you choose to watch us, that's just great."
Aside from the gags and gimicks that Viva brings to the show to share with viewers, Viva and Jerry plan to begin reading fan letters they receive during the broadcast -- a blatant attempt to get more snail mail from viewers, as Viva and Jerry don't have e-mail access.
"People don't write anymore!" Viva said. "It's so nice to get mail. I answer every single letter. Every single request, I answer. We've gotten really nice letters over the years, too. Nobody's every written in and say, 'You suck!' which happens to some people, I've heard. I told Jerry that one of these days, somebody's going to come up and say, 'You guys really suck!' and I'm going to be in tears."
You can pick up Viva and Jerry's Country Videos on cable access channel 6 in Minneapolis each Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 11 p.m., or write them at P.O. Box 8293, Minneapolis 55408.