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I Want My Slow TV: The Strange World of Norwegian Television

July 30, 2014

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) might be responsible for the weirdest TV shows in the world. What’s even weirder: people are watching. Lots of people. Here are some shows that have aired on Norwegian television.

The hottest thing on NRK, Norway’s state TV broadcaster, is a format called “slow TV”: glacially-paced depictions of mundane events as they happen in real time. The first example: Bergensbanen, which aired in November 2009. That translates to “Bergen Line” and that’s exactly what it was. A camera followed a train as it took the seven-hour Bergen Line, a journey from Oslo, Norway, to Bergen, Norway. This aired in primetime, and an estimated 1.2 million viewers tuned in—about a quarter of the country’s population.

It was so successful, that of course a sequel followed. Hurtigruten began airing on June 16, 2011. Over the course of a whopping 134 uninterrupted hours (both on TV and online), a large ship called the MS Nordhorge took the Norwegian coastal express route, sailing from Bergen to Kirkenes. Total viewers who checked it out for at least a few minutes: 2.5 million, or half of all of Norway.

In November 2013, National Knitting Eve debuted. The show featured a group of people trying to set the record for making a sweater in the least amount of time. They were attempting to break the record of four hours, 51 minutes, and 14 seconds, and some parts were more exciting—shearing the sheep, for example—than others—knitting the wool.

Then there was National Firewood Night. With the host promising to “get to the core of the Norwegian firewood culture,” the show offered documentary clips about the history and significance of firewood in Norway, a traditionally cold country. Then the action shifted, for hours on end, of a fire burning, live in a Bergen farmhouse. The network reported that it got numerous calls of complaint, split right down the middle from viewers complaining that the fire was being burned with the bark turned out, and the rest complaining that the fire was being burned with the bark turned inward.

In June 2013, NRK aired an 18-hour broadcast of salmon swimming upstream to spawning grounds. The company didn’t release viewership statistics, but it was a controversial broadcast. NRK reportedly received numerous complaints that the show was too…short.

In March 2014, NKR’s website hosted Piip Show (“Peep Show”). It was live streaming footage of the comings and goings of an espresso bar. Although it wasn’t a real espresso bar—it was the inside of a bird feeder, made up to look like a coffee bar in highly detailed miniature (there was a bar, stools, even a shiny metal coffee machine, grinders, and a menu). Blue tits, bullfinches, and nuthatches were the main visitors until the show took a surprise twist a few days in: a squirrel showed up. He appeared onscreen for almost an hour, eating up the bar’s stocks of seeds and bird food. Piip Show ran for three months and attracted as many as 30,000 visitors every day.

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