Slow TV: Netflix’s Chill, Mesmerizing Antidote to the Madness of 2016
If you’ve ever wanted to see seven hours of unedited footage from a camera mounted to the front of a train—and who hasn’t?—your ship has come in. In August, Netflix began airing the Norwegian Broadcasting Company’s “Slow TV,” a genre which offers such viewing experiences as the four-hour National Knitting Evening, the six-hour National Firewood Night and the aforementioned Train Ride: Bergen to Oslo.
If you’re wondering what happens on these shows, the answer is simple—nothing. Nothing happens on any of these shows at all, unless you consider the two-minute firewood-stacking explainer preceding the six hours of crackling log action to be “something.”
Indeed, Slow TV is truly the type of show about nothing, Seinfeld be damned.
Needless to say, this programming is not for everybody. When it comes to streaming service binge sessions, edge-of-your-seat fare like Game of Thrones and The Night Of will always have a large and loyal following. But for those who get enough stress in life and find standard TV fare demoralizing or anxiety-provoking, watching grinning Scandinavians knit sweaters for four hours could be just the thing.
Molly Maloney, a 47-year-old attorney from Seattle, is a fan, and she has watched much of the Slow TV on offer from Netflix. She said that she mostly puts it on when engaged in mundane but necessary household tasks that require only a small portion of her interest.
“I've been putting it on when I'm doing other things, like painting, going through bills, folding laundry,” Maloney said. “Slow TV is good for making the room feel more alive, while at the same time not competing for my attention.”
Thomas Hellum, who is employed by the Norwegian Broadcasting Company, NRK, is Slow TV’s producer and project manager. He told The Daily Beast that the show evolved from a brainstorming session with other station employees. The centennial of the Bergen Railway was fast approaching, and he and his team wanted to mark the occasion by filming the entire train journey from one coast of Norway to the other in its seven-hour entirety. To his surprise, NRK said yes.
“The idea was too wild to turn down,” he said.
Train Ride: Bergen to Oslo was first broadcast in 2009 on NRK, and it can be seen today on Netflix, in all its unedited, real-time glory. This includes the first five minutes, the majority of which takes place in a tunnel with no visibility. It’s like you’re actually there!
Hellum’s most optimistic forecast was that the show might attract 1,000 viewers. Instead, it attracted 450,000 viewers upon its debut, and went on to be seen by 1.2 million people, quite a feat in a country with a population of 5 million. He interpreted this as a license to create more programming in this vein, all with three things in common—they’re long, they’re uninterrupted, and they show a process in its entirety. All of the shows have met with similar success.
“More or less all of our slow projects have gained double or triple of the market share for the channel that night,” he said.
Of course, in the United States, the culture that gave us Fuller House and World’s Dumbest Partiers, audiences are not the same as in Norway. Subsequently, Slow TV has a long way to go before getting the same audience engagement as it received in its homeland.
Representatives from Netflix could not be reached for comment, but the data analytics firm ListenFirst Media said that Slow TV was the subject of only 2,588 tweets in August, while the original series Stranger Things generated well over 2 million. Since Slow TV is likely to rely heavily on word of mouth to expand its audience, these numbers are daunting.
Still, it’s only been a month, and since Netflix is getting competition from Amazon Prime’s The Window Channel, this type of programming may be gaining in popularity.
Like Slow TV, The Window Channel specializes in single, unedited shots of such calming sights as Hawaiian beaches, cherry blossom trees and aquariums, all ready to anaesthetize any viewer with a La-Z-Boy recliner. But Hellum believes Slow TV has the edge, thanks to the variety of ways in which viewers can experience it.
“Some are really sitting on the edge of their seats,” he said. “Some are fully reclined and only want to be entertained. Some have it more like a pretty picture on the wall that they can peek in on occasionally. The secret lies in an uninterrupted line, where there is no producer who has decided what is exciting and what is not. Everything is there, and the viewer himself must find out what is interesting and what is boring.”
Hellum said that the next Slow TV project will follow a Laplander family as they guide thousands of reindeer through their migration from winter to summer pastures. This annual process takes five or six days, and Hellum has vowed to broadcast the whole thing. For Americans stressed out by the 24-hour news cycle, the social media outrage du jour and the looming specter of a President Donald Trump, unedited footage of reindeer prancing across snowy Scandinavian fjords might be just the antidote they’re looking for.