Big in Norway: Slow TV

Why an entire nation enjoys footage of logs burning and salmon swimming upstream
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.”

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Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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