Kick Things Down a Notch: The Peculiar Success of Slow Television
Last week, a Norwegian television station aired what they called ‘National Knitting Evening.’ The evening was an 8.5 hour unbroken broadcast of a sheep being shorn, a team of knitters knitting, and the production of an adult-sized sweater as the final result. Yes, the station aired 8.5 hours of knitting… and over 1.3 million people tuned in to watch. Is it a joke? Is it lunacy? Perhaps--but it’s all part of the growing movement known as Slow TV.
“I’d rather watch paint dry” used to be an insult, used to denigrate whatever you’re electing not to watch. Now, it may actually become a viable preference. Originating in Norway, there is a new fad gripping Scandinavia and other parts of Europe: Slow Television. This movement is dedicated to providing viewers with a programming that moves at a snail’s pace, offering a comforting alternative to the fast-paced, story-driven programming we’ve come to expect.
What kind of programming has been spawned by Slow TV? How about a nine-hour train trip across Norway, with the camera peering out the window all the while? Not to mention the entire night of wood-burning--12 straight hours’ worth--from a fixed perspective, trained on the fireplace. But far from a novelty act, this brand of Slow TV is developing quite a growing audience and its own style of programming coverage of the events entailed.
These examples above were both products of NRK2, a sister station to the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. Back in 2009, NRK2 had a great idea: how about celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National railway by broadcasting the entire trip across their beautiful homeland? With the program entitled ‘Bergensbanen -- Minutt for Minutt,’ the broadcast followed a train ride from Bergen to Oslo, through all 182 tunnels that the route traverses. Four cameras were used to produce the documentary, showing both exterior and interior views, along with interviews with both crew, train conductors, historians/past workers and passengers. It was supposed to be a one-time celebration of the train and the beauty of Norway… and then 1,246,000 Norwegian viewers tuned in at some point throughout the broadcast. To put that into perspective, that’s over a fifth of the population of the entire country.
Check out a small portion of the initial broadcast here; it becomes quite soothing and hypnotic.
NRK2’s attention was piqued, as was their ratings, so they decided to do it again. In 2011, NRK2 aired ‘Hurtigruten -- Minutt for Minutt,’ which showcased eleven documentary cameras mounted around the Norwegian Coastal Express. Footage from a 134 hour voyage (that’s over five full days) was shown uncut on the network, garnering over 2,542,000 viewers tuning it at some point throughout the broadcast. Yes, a five-and-a-half-day-long documentary, which set a new Guinness World Record and officially sparked a craze; Slow TV had arrived.
So how can you follow up the mammoth success of a five-day long boat ride? How about 12 straight hours of footage and commentary about a wood-burning fireplace? ‘National Firewood Night’ aired on NRK2 back in February, earning a huge rating and a mention on ‘The Colbert Report,’ on this side of the pond. By 2013, Slow TV had begun taking on a life of its own, with the documentary footage being overlain with discussion about what is being shown, as well as interviews with experts in the field to add to the viewing experience. Yes, you read that correctly: interviews with wood-burning experts on the joys and pleasures of burning wood.
All of this leads us up to this week, where NRK2 broadcast ‘National Knitting Evening.’ 1.3 million people tuned in to the knitting broadcast, which featured four hours of knitting analysis and discussion, followed by eight and a half hours of footage of knitting and spinning wool. These are competitive knitters (yes, that is a thing) working as a team to try to break the world speed record for knitting a sweater, from sheep to finished produce. ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ couldn’t help but poke fun at the strange program this week, with the following clip:
While these examples all stem from NRK2, these Slow TV events are garnering attention outside of Norway and, as of ‘National Knitting Evening,’ they’re gaining attention in the UK, USA and Canada. This is only the beginning of a brand new style of programming, which could very well win over converts who are sick and tired of the same-old-thing on television every week. As critical theorist Walter Benjamin famously proclaimed in the early 20th Century, if the space of exhibition becomes infinite, so too does the space of criticism; now that we have endless channels and websites competing for our attentions, the only barometer of quality is “will people watch this?”
It seems that, when it comes to Slow TV, the answer is a resounding yes.
So what sort of Slow TV programming would you like to see next? There are regions of the USA where eight hours of lawn-mowing would certainly gain attention. Or how about a baking marathon for the Food Network, where you actually get to watch a cake rise? The possibilities are seemingly endless.
And hey--at least it isn’t as annoying as the Reality craze.
I think you missed my point. Up until this point I had thought reality TV was the bottom of the barrel. But now, people have become too stupid for even reality TV and have found something even LESS intelligent and MORE vapid to watch.........it's amazing......
Message Posted On Nov 10th, 2013, 2:59 am
"Apparently modern humans have become so brain-dead and ignorant that they can no longer even understand REALITY TV..."
Sorry, but Reality TV is one of the reasons people are being dumbed-down!
And what is it we can't understand about Reality TV?
That while mostly unscripted, they shoot 40 to 50 TIMES the video needed to produce the show? That the video is edited to create tension and conflict, taking almost everything out of context?
That they "encourage" participants to create conflict where there is none?
That participants' contracts include the clause that they have no editorial power over the final content?
That the shows and participants are so stupid and uninteresting, that no one with half a brain would watch them?
That the only reason they're so ubiquitous is they, (compared to episodic, scripted shows) can be produced for a fraction of the cost, thus creating massive amounts of profits?
That they create shows that actually follow criminals around and film them engaging in illegal, dangerous, even deadly activities? Any decent person would be working with law enforcement to stop these people?
The viewers of THESE shows are the brain-dead humans you mention.
I'm proud to state I never have and never will, watch an entire episode of a Reality TV show. Ever.
Thanks for listening!
Level 1 (55%) Since: 13/Nov/10
Message Posted On Nov 9th, 2013, 4:08 pm
Apparently modern humans have become so brain-dead and ignorant that they can no longer even understand REALITY TV, thus resorting to this nonsense for entertainment. Soon, we'll be seeing posts in the forum for "National Paint Drying Day" remarking that the episode was hard to follow.............
If I was interested in knitting I would use my free time constructively and learn to do it, not waste an entire day watching someone else.........
Message Posted On Nov 8th, 2013, 2:01 pm
I'd watch this over reality TV anytime.
msd85 (Global Editor)
Level 39 (91%) Points: 17879.2 Since: 07/Jul/10
Message Posted On Nov 8th, 2013, 4:05 am
Excellent feature. I find this phenomenon quite fascinating.