Slow TV. It is what it says it is. Slow. But this concept, made famous in the Nordic countries by Norway’s NRK, is also the new wave of reality TV, one without housewives, judges, or sex boxes. And it’s about to become appointment viewing in the US and UK.
Many in the US have probably seen at least a few minutes of the annual, hours-long holiday program featuring nothing but a yule log burning in a fireplace. (It’s been around since the mid-’60s, but if you haven’t seen it, there are plenty of similar videos on YouTube. I like this one from the producers of the hit drama series, Outlander.)
While some in the UK and Germany did their versions of Slow TV, too, it wasn’t until NRK, the Norwegian public broadcaster, aired the 7-hours-long Bergensbanen minute by minute on 29 November 2009 that Slow TV and “marathon viewing” (distinct from binge watching) became a bona fide hit and a game-changer in television programming and viewing. A sample of it is below, and the entire 7:14:13 video is here.
The 2010 follow-up, Flåmsbana minute by minute, featured another train journey, albeit one that lasted a mere 58 minutes.
Then in 2011, NRK debuted Hurtigruten minute by minute — the mother of all Slow TV programs. Unlike the previous two shows, this one of “the world’s most beautiful sea voyage” was broadcast live — from 16-22 June — and then landed in the Guinness World Records as the longest live documentary broadcast with its 134:42:45 runtime.
That’s 134 HOURS (!) or 5.5 DAYS (!) of continuous live coverage of the trip from Bergen to Kirkenes on Hurtigruten’s MS NordNorge ship, filled with scenes of spectacular fjords, the midnight sun, and thousands of flag-waving Norwegians getting in on the Slow TV fun. (And no, that is not an oxymoron.) Here it is, fast-TV style, thanks to time-lapsed video. (To watch or download the entire 5 1/2 days worth, visit NRK’s Hurtigruten webpage.)
More of these Norwegian Slow TV events followed, including, but not limited to, live broadcasts of the opening day of Norway’s salmon-fishing season (18 hours), National Wood Night (12 hours), and National Knitting Night (12 hours). (Seriously.)
Unlike, say, Goodnight, Darling, Mammon, or Unni Lindell, Slow TV isn’t filled with heart-pounding action and drama. Many call it boring. The thing is, it’s intriguing. And the scenery, at least in the travel shows, can be quite dramatic. Slow TV can also be funny at times (I both laughed and got teary-eyed watching parts of the Hurtigruten show), and in its own slow way be an entertaining, enjoyable, and dare I say meditative method of escape from the hustle, bustle, and stress of life and even a lot of television entertainment.
It certainly proved to be some of that for the 1.2 million Norwegian viewers who tuned in to parts (or all) of Bergensbanen minute by minute when it premiered on NRK2, as well as for the hundreds of thousands more from around the world who watched it online. Ditto for the 3.2 million Norwegians (64% of the country’s 5 million in population) who did the same with Hurtigruten minute by minute.
One person driving the Slow TV movement is the award-winning documentarian, Thomas Hellum, a television producer at NRK Hordaland. According to him, Slow TV takes “viewers on a journey that happens right now, in real time, and the viewer gets the feeling of actually being there. Actually being on the train, on the boat, and knitting together with others.” Hear more about what Hellum has to say about Slow TV in the hilarious TED Talk he gave at TEDx Arendal in Norway.
Other Nordic countries have jumped on the Slow TV bandwagon, and MHz Worldview in the States has shown a one-hour version of the Hurtigruten program. Soon the Travel Channel in the US and BBC Four in the UK will be homes of Slow TV, too.
The Travel Channel will take on Black Friday retailers and hordes of bargain-hunting shoppers by screening Slow Road Live on Friday, 27 November 2015, at 9 AM. While other cable channels will begin the holiday season with Christmas movie marathons, the Travel Channel will cater to viewers who’d rather soak up the stunning scenery of a live, 12-hour caravan road trip, than do battle in parking lots and shops on the day after Thanksgiving, the most frenetic (and often violent) shopping day of the year.
BBC Four is taking a slightly different approach. According to TBI, instead of bringing a one-off, marathon-viewing Slow TV program to telly, it will screen three Slow TV series (dates TBA). One is the three-part, half-hour series, Make, which follows “traditional craftsmen as they make objects including wooden chairs and steel knives.” Another is The Canal, “a televised two-hour real-time trip down an iconic British waterway.” And lastly is National Gallery, a three-hour program that takes viewers “behind the scenes at the UK art gallery.” All will be free of voice-overs, National Gallery will also be devoid of music and sound effects, and The Canal “will have ‘guidebook facts’ embedded using captions.”