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 tomorrow, giving you just enough time to catch up on "Game of Thrones" before the next season starts.
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 a promise of "12 hours of nonstop knitting" is drawing viewers. There may not be much to rehash around the water cooler, and the clips won't go viral, but the viewing experience is less harried. And nobody worries about spoilers.
Which raises a question. (OK, lots of questions — knitting? — but one main question.) Can Slow TV exist outside of Scandinavia?
"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. LMNO Productions has plans to launch Slow TV shows in the U.S., too, although the company president isn't ready to divulge details. For those in a hurry to check it out, Slow TV also is available on the Pluto TV website and app, and the Norwegian shows can be found on YouTube.
NRK 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 insisted — 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."
The show certainly has a novel feel. A camera is positioned on the front of the train as it glides along a ribbon of track through tunnels and under bridges, over a landscape that changes from snowy to grassy. A lake might materialize on occasion or the voice of the conductor announcing the next station, but largely the scenes are just simple, repetitive and, ultimately, meditative.
Hellum didn't have high expectations. Maybe a couple thousand railway enthusiasts would tune in, he thought. Instead, 1.6 million Norwegians watched part of the broadcast. That's even more impressive when you consider that the entire population of Norway is just 5 million, meaning that nearly a third of the country was on board for the broadcast.
Viewers flooded social media to discuss the show. One man even claimed that at the end of the line, he stood up to collect his baggage only to realize he was in his living room.
Hellum then got the go-ahead to shoot "Hurtigruten Minute by Minute," a boat voyage that clocks in at 134 hours and 42 minutes. This time, the broadcast aired live, turning it into a national event. Coastal residents greeted the ship as it sailed by and tried to grab their five seconds of fame. People waved flags and held signs with messages to loved ones. And viewership soared with 3.2 million — well over half the population — tuning in to watch.