Watching television has become an increasingly urgent hobby. The faster you power through the just-released season of “House of Cards,” the sooner you can get to “Bosch,” which you’ve heard is pretty good for a police procedural, and besides, it’s only 10 episodes, so you can finish it by Wednesday, giving you just enough time to catch up on “Game of Thrones” before the Season 5 premiere April 12.
Following the latest best series was once a leisurely activity. Not lazy, mind you, just slower. That word has its detractors (“I couldn’t get into it. It was so slow.”), but not in Norway, where Slow TV has become a cultural phenomenon.
Norwegians have reclaimed television as relaxation. They’ll watch unedited footage of a train chugging for hours from Bergen to Oslo or a 5½-day program chronicling the MS Nordnorge’s voyage along the coast. Even “12 hours of nonstop knitting” is a selling point. There may not be much to rehash around the water cooler but the viewing experience is less harried.
Maybe it’s time to add attention spans to the list of things Norwegians have that Americans don’t. Or maybe not. Can Slow TV exist outside of Scandinavia? Do other cultures have the endurance to find pleasure in the monotony of handicrafts and burning logs?
“I don’t think we are particularly stupid or weird in Norway to like this sort of thing,” said Thomas Hellum, a Slow TV pioneer and production manager at Norway’s public broadcaster, NRK. “I think really it could work in other countries.”
Networks in England and the United States are aiming to find out. First up, BBC Four Goes Slow is testing England’s patience this spring. Then the American LMNO Productions has plans to launch Slow TV shows here, although in the midst of signing contracts, the company president isn’t ready to divulge details. (For those in a hurry to check it out, Slow TV is also available on the Pluto TV website and app, and the Norwegian shows can be found on YouTube.)
They might pick up some tips from NRK, which spurred the unexpected trend in 2007 thanks mainly to happenstance. The idea came up during lunch one day among producers of a documentary about a railway in Norway, the Bergen Line. It would be a shame to waste the extra footage, they reasoned, so why not air the whole journey, free of editing?
Hellum floated the idea to his editors, and, as he recalls, there was confusion at first, quickly followed by laughter – “in a good way,” he insists – and then contemplation. “They turned the question into: ‘What will NRK risk by not doing this?’” Hellum said. “Because we want to be innovative, we want to surprise people and make new things.”