Feature

4 shows from Norway's crazy, successful slow TV experiment

Norwegians embrace television that challenges them to take it all in, including a 4-hour discussion about firewood

You may have heard of the slow food movement, a philosophy of cooking and eating slowly, with full attention and enjoyment, that serves as a counterpoint to a hurried fast food culture. The slow concept has worked its way into all kinds of practices. Slow gardening, slow parenting, and slow travel, all offer alternatives to the hustle and distraction of modern life. The slow philosophy works well for any experience that can be improved by conscious savoring and appreciating. That's why for the past several years Norway has been applying the slow concept to... television? Yes, and with surprising success. Here are four things Norway turned into slow shows.

1. A train rideIn 2009, for the 100th anniversary of Norway's Bergen Railway, the national public broadcasting company decided to film and air the complete 7 hour 16 minute journey from Bergen to Oslo, a line considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Four cameras, two rigged to the front of the train and two to the back, captured an "orgy of beautiful nature." No plot, no gimmicks, just rolling scenery with some on-board interviews mixed in. While the train went through tunnels, archival photographs of the railway's history were shown. Bergensbanen: Minutt for minutt was a smash hit, getting over 1.2 million viewers in a country of about 5 million, with 172,000 watching the entire trip from start to finish.

2. A sea cruiseThey followed up in 2011 with Hurtigruten: Minutt for minutt, a whopping 134-hour sea cruise through the fjords from Bergen to Kirkenes. Passionate fans around the world watched it streaming online.

3. A fireAt least voyages go somewhere. The limits of slow TV were tested to the extreme this February with Nasjonal Vedkveld (National Wood Fire Night), a 4-hour discussion about firewood, followed by eight hours of a crackling fireplace. This time, the station did get some viewer complaints, but not objecting to the slow nature of the program. The complaints had to do with differing opinions on whether bark-up or bark-down was the proper orientation for stacked firewood. Norwegians are serious about firewood.

4. A single interviewWhat heights of slowness can Norwegian broadcasting attain from here? This May the world record for longest interview was claimed by Norwegians when reporter Mads Andersen interviewed writer/historian/politician/chess player Hans Olav Lahlum for 30 straight hours on VGTV. In an age when people can't seem to keep their eyes on a single screen for more than a few minutes, how does slow TV attract viewers? Commenters on TV websites and social media marvel at their own interest in these shows, expressing surprise at the way they get drawn in. The shows induce both calm and excitement, turning tiny moments into revelations by their contrast with monotonous repetition. Or, as the project manager of the Hurtigruen cruise show explained to Reuters, "It is the opposite to everything else on TV — that's why it stands out and why, apparently, people want to watch."

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