BROOKE GLADSTONE: And now for something not completely different, reality TV. What’s your pleasure, the competitive excitement of Dancing with The Stars, the histrionics of Real Housewives, the je ne sais quoi of Duck Dynasty? Or maybe what you’d prefer is just a little peace and quiet –
- like 18 hours of Scandinavian salmon fishing. You know, they love it in Norway. The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation specializes in some of the world's most boring and, in Norway, most popular television. Rune Moklebust is head of programming at the network. When I spoke to him last summer, he told me that the slow TV movement started in 2009, with a program that showed a train ride through the Norwegian countryside, from the train’s prospective.
RUNE MOKLEBUST: It was supposed to be seven hours and 4 minutes, but because of a signal trouble –
- in, in one of the tunnels before the end station, it turned out to be seven hours and 14 minutes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And people loved it, right?
RUNE MOKLEBUST: Enormously. We’ve never received so much attention during a program before. It was amazing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Your next slow program was the Ferry Ride Special.
RUNE MOKLEBUST: Yes, because 7 hours is not very long, compared to about 134 hours.
Five and a half days, there’s a ferry ride that goes every day, leaves every day from Bergen, on the western coast of Norway and goes up to the far north, close to the Russian border, a city called Kirkenes. It’s been doing that for over 100 years.
So it’s perfect slow TV, and this time we wanted to do it live.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: A-ha.
RUNE MOKLEBUST: Because the train ride, that was a recording, so doing it live, we thought that people had the opportunity, at least, to wave to the program as it sailed by.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Roughly five days, run live continuously over the secondary public broadcasting channel, therefore, no other programming was on that channel, just this ferry ride.
RUNE MOKLEBUST: One-hundred and thirty-four hours, 42 minutes and 45 seconds.
And it sounds crazy, but people just got completely addicted to it. They started to show up at the harbors, along the route, on the mountains [LAUGHS] and waving with flags. And the Queen showed up at the end in her royal yacht, waving to us.
So it turned out to be a huge national event.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the seven-hour special got a 15 percent market share, which was way more than you’d normally get. This one got a 36 percent market share, right?
RUNE MOKLEBUST: That’s correct, yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That’s incredible, for a five-day show. And so, somewhere along the line, you had something called National Firewood Night?
RUNE MOKLEBUST: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE] First four hours of ordinary but a little bit slow produced television with guests and some poetry and music and wood-chopping competitions and stuff like that, and then around midnight, we just cooled down, went into the stove and just saw the wood burning for about eight hours.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Our own Stephen Colbert actually remarked on your show on his show, The Colbert Report. Let me play you that.
STEPHEN COLBERT: I’ve got my eye on a wildly popular program from Norway called, National Firewood Night –
[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER][MOKLEBUST LAUGHING]
- which consisted of mostly people in parkas chatting and chopping in the woods and then eight hours of a fire burning in a fireplace.
It destroyed the other top Norwegian shows like, So You Think You Can Watch Paint Dry -
- and The Amazing Glacier Race.
RUNE MOKLEBUST: [LAUGHS] That’s a great piece.
I’ve seen it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, how’d you feel, honored?
RUNE MOKLEBUST: Oh, definitely, yes!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Is it possible to make slow TV too slow?
RUNE MOKLEBUST: I would like to explore that to find out.
It's very important to push the limit a little bit.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how are you pushing the limit?
RUNE MOKLEBUST: We would like to do sort of a National Knitting Night. There’s gonna be knitting, knitting, knitting all night.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That is definitely pushing the limit.
RUNE MOKLEBUST: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What’s the wildest idea or one of the weirdest suggestions that anyone has made to you for a slow TV show?
RUNE MOKLEBUST: [LAUGHS] A Day in a Snail’s Life.
[LAUGHS] But there’s one very weird idea that is actually very exciting, and that is watching the watch, the time. Everybody has a feeling of time. You follow the time during the day, but you don’t actually sit down and look at it for more than a couple of seconds, just to see what is. So, if we can get people to relax, that will be very fun.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This kind of television is a different experience from the kind of diversion that we’re used to. Is it intended to be more meditative, like yoga, or is it just another form of entertainment, only slower?
RUNE MOKLEBUST: People like it for different reasons. We’re not doing this because we want to change how people look at television. We just want to tell stories and explore new ways of doing that. A lot of the audience say they love this because it's so meditative. When they were supposed for three minutes, they were sitting for three hours. It’s so exciting, although it’s - nothing is happening. And a lot of the audience say that it’s so different from everything else. It's so relaxing. That's why they watch it, because the other thing is going too fast. And, of course, some people like wood, some people like the ferry, some people are train nerds. People watch it because of that, as well. It's a lot of different reasons why people watch it, and I think there’s also a lot of different reasons why we do it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Rune, it was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much.
RUNE MOKLEBUST: You’re welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Rune Moklebust is head of programming at the Norwegian Broadcasting Company.