Senior cable show has dispensed knowledge, fun for 17 years
Libertyville resident Vita Verden is preparing for a new season, but it has nothing to do with cooler temperatures or falling leaves.
The 84-year-old creator and host of "Senior Issues Etc." is eager to get back in the Comcast production studio in Waukegan when taping for Season 17 begins Monday.
A range of topics, such as health, finances, insurance matters, scam alerts and safety issues, will likely be explored as Verden and her crew work to provide a half-hour of fresh and relevant information twice a month.
"I have people emailing me. We meet people in the grocery store. Different connections -- people will constantly call me about what's new and changing," Verden said of the ongoing effort to keep the show fresh and looking for way to expand its reach in the future.
She and her best friend, Gloria Shapiro, 86, have been with the local cable access show since it first aired in Libertyville, Mundelein and Grayslake. The commercial-free half-hour airs in 83 communities, Verden said, and is available to seniors across the country via its website, www.seniorissesetc.org.
"At first I had to beg for people (to be a guest) -- we didn't have any body of work to show them. Now, I've got people lined up," she said.
The first show will include crew introductions -- one camera operator is 92, the graphics guy will be 90 and the producer is 86 -- and a segment with a Salvation Army official, as the organization is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Lake County Clerk Carla Wyckoff will explain the voting process.
But it's not all serious.
"We'll just throw in a fun show -- one of the seniors is a jazz piano player," Verden said. "We want to appeal to the whole person. We've become role models of a new breed of seniors."
One upcoming show will feature a quiltmaker of Russian heritage. In Russia, the quiltmakers are artists who create pictures in their craft, according to Verden.
"Her granddaughter is going to be the translator. That's going to be interesting."
For those who don't have cable, episodes are shown on a big screen every second Tuesday at the Libertyville senior center.
CDs of the show are available to borrow.
"The subjects are informative to all-aged people, not just seniors," said Carol Lopez, senior center director. "Just all kinds of topics."
For example, Lopez's daughter, who survived a head-on collision, was a guest on a show involving lessons of gratitude, she said.
"I think she has a God-given gift and innate ability to bring out the best in people," Lopez said of Verden.
Recently, "Senior Issues Etc." was discovered online by the Words of Wisdom Project, and Verden and the crew were contacted and profiled. Words of Wisdom was founded more than a year ago as a venue for seniors to share their life stories, life lessons, hopes and fears, according to co-founder Dave Voitik. More than 60 interviews have been posted.
During their 16-year run, Verden and Shapiro have learned the ins and outs of television production, from operating all the equipment, developing ideas and booking guests, to business aspects such as creating and operating as a not-for-profit corporation and applying for grants to finance about $4,000 in annual expenses.
"We're having other communities call us now to do workshops," Verden said.
On air, she steadfastly has stuck with a "tell it like it is" approach mixed with a fun delivery and natural sassiness.
Keeping topics relevant is one of the goals.
"We're living longer. We have to know all these things," Shapiro explained. "You have to keep on top of what current issues in society seniors need to know."
Next, Verden said, she wants to connect with a younger audience. She is working on a partnership with Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein in which students would participate in a social media critique of the show.
Links to their observations would be included on the website.
"We have the senior market," Verden said. "What we're looking to do is expand."