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

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

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


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

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In