Big in Norway: Slow TV

Why an entire nation enjoys footage of logs burning and salmon swimming upstream
More
Rubberball/Mike Kemp/Getty, Comstock/Getty

It all started in 2009, with a seven-hour train trip from Oslo to Bergen. Bergensbanen, a live broadcast of the voyage by NRK, Norway’s public broadcasting company, followed the train as it chugged through dark tunnels, snow-covered mountains, and misty valleys. More than 1 million Norwegians, a good 20 percent of the country’s population, tuned in to watch.

Since then, “slow TV” has become a staple of Norwegian public broadcasting. In 2011, more than half the country watched a cruise ship’s 134-hour journey up Norway’s west coast. Earlier this year, NRK broadcast 18 hours of salmon swimming upstream. Two new epics aired this fall, one showing 100 hours of chess played by the Norwegian grand master Magnus Carlsen, and another offering a “sheep to sweater” view of knitting: four hours of discussion followed by eight and a half hours of sheep-shearing, thread-spinning, and needle-clacking.

Rather than complaining about the programs’ long running times, Norwegians seem to relish them. “They allow you to go far deeper, to enjoy more details,” a viewer named Finn Lunde told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

The hosts of National Firewood Night, a 12-hour broadcast of logs being cut and then burned, invited viewers to submit advice via Facebook on how to position the wood. “I couldn’t go to bed because I was so excited,” one commenter wrote on the Web site of Dagbladet, a Norwegian newspaper. “When will they add new logs?”

Slow TV reflects the patience required to survive a long Norwegian winter, but also a hint of cultural rebellion. “All other TV is just speeding up, and we want to break with that,” Lise-May Spissøy, who produced the knitting project, told Deutsche Welle. “We want to allow people to finish their sentences.”

Jump to comments
Presented by

Olga Khazan is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In