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Sunday 25 February 2018
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Why a TV programme where nothing much happened gripped a nation!

thomas hellum slow tv

Norwegian television producer Thomas Hellum and his team began to broadcast long, boring events, often live — and found a rapt audience.

Shows include a 7 hour train journey, an 18 hour fishing expedition and a 5.5 day ferry voyage along the coast of Norway, eight hours of knitting and 14 hours of bird watching. Future shows plan all sorts of fascinating situations where nothing much happens…. But the shows are beautiful and captivating.

They have given rise to a whole new TV movement that they are rather affectionately calling slow TV. A bit like the slow food movement, which began in reaction to fast food and relishes good food produced locally and in keeping with local traditions, slow TV is exactly what it says – slow! It doesn’t break the time line and events are often very local happenings or non happenings, depending on how you look at it.

In the talk below, Thomas Hellum shares how he and his team run these programmes. Audience ratings soar during the shows and in TV terms they have been an outstanding success sometimes attracting 3 million viewers. In a population of 5 million that’s pretty impressive.

Listen to Thomas

Why does this work?

The question is why do they work? If you’ve listened to the clip above then you will have a fair idea. Having looked at what the team are doing, I believe that it’s ultimately because they feed a few human needs that are vital and which are often eroded by modern living.

The need for connection – from the people taking part, waving to the cameras and being seen “on TV” by friends and family, to the comfort of being there with the group of knitters in real time gives the viewer a sense of connection. It is the same reason the reality shows like Big Brother become popular but as they have staged elements, contestants that are usually not just regular people and often a lot of friction, there are less appealing. The joy of slow TV is that the knitters for example might not speak at all for hours or for the live salmon fishing show, it was three hours before anyone caught a fish so up to then it was just peace and quiet in a lovely river setting.

The creative imagination – we are ultimately people of the story and Hellum has really grasped that. In his example of the cow, we see it in action. Where a fast camera pan just gives an image, lingering on the scene where the cow is just walking along ultimately triggers our own creative imagination and desire for story. Hellum says: “We begin to ask where is that cow going? Is the farmer at home? … “You start making the stories in your own head – that’s slow TV.”

The joy of observation – just observing, watching the birds or watching woodcutters and watching the flames in a log fire is a part of our nature. In evolutionary terms we are not long removed from tribal culture where evenings are often spent around the fire, sharing stories, spending quiet time and just relaxing in the quiet knowledge that we survived another day.

It is refreshing to see something happen that actually touches something deep in the human heart and a great change from fast paced TV that like a lot of fast paced life does nothing except aggravate our adrenaline response.

But most of all, as Hallum says: “Life is best when it is a bit strange!”

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