Thomas Hellum: Why Would Millions Tune Into 'Slow TV'? Norwegian TV producer Thomas Hellum describes why his programs — which feature hours of train rides, fishing, and knitting — help viewers slow down and return to life in 'real time.'

Why Would Millions Tune Into 'Slow TV'?

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It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So if you've been watching TV in Norway on a Friday night a couple of years ago and you tuned into the country's public broadcasting channel, you would have seen a train.


RAZ: Actually, not a train but the view from the train's windshield. And what you see gliding down some tracks in the Norwegian countryside are these snow-covered hills flowing by, a low yellow sun flickering in and out of the trees, and the tracks stretching on and on right in front of you.

THOMAS HELLUM: We mounted one camera in front, constantly filming what you will see as an engine driver.

RAZ: Thomas Hellum produced this video.

HELLUM: And we had two cameras pointing, one to the left, one to the right, to see the view.

RAZ: Thomas and his team edited those three camera views into a single widescreen shot that's weirdly transfixing to watch and kind of peaceful.

HELLUM: Like you were sitting in a glass bubble in front of the train.

RAZ: If you wanted to, you could've watched this video shot from the front of this train traveling from the city of Bergen, Norway, to the capital, Oslo, for seven hours.

HELLUM: Seven hours and 14 minutes.

RAZ: Wow.

HELLUM: Everything is there.

RAZ: Wow.

HELLUM: The boring part is there and the good part is there.

RAZ: (Laughter) Who watched this? Like, who sat in front of the television and watched this?

HELLUM: This was - 1.2 million Norwegians...

RAZ: What?

HELLUM: ...Watched part of this program.

RAZ: (Laughter) What?

HELLUM: Yes (laughter).

RAZ: So this experiment by a Norwegian public broadcaster, NRK, was the start of what's come to be known as Slow TV. And it's become kind of a thing, which Thomas explained on the TED stage.


HELLUM: How did we get there? We have to go back to 2009 when one of my colleagues got a great idea. Where do you get the ideas? In the lunchroom. So he said, why don't we make a radio program marking the day of the German invasion of Norway in 1940? We tell the story at the exact time during the night. Wow, brilliant idea, except this was just a couple of weeks before the invasion day.

So we sat in our lunchroom and discussed what other stories can you tell as they evolved. What other things takes real long time? So one of us came up with a train. The Bergen Railway had its 100-year anniversary that year, goes from western Norway to eastern Norway, and it uses exactly the same time as it did 40 years ago...


HELLUM: ...Over seven hours. And now we thought, yes, we have a brilliant program for the 2,000 trainspotters in Norway. 1.2 million Norwegians watched part of this program.


RAZ: Isn't that, like, a quarter of the population of Norway?

HELLUM: Yeah, it's - a fifth or a quarter of the population so it's...

RAZ: (Laughter) Oh, my God.

HELLUM: ...Because it's so - so slow, I think it's like when you - if you really stretch the time a bit and go deep into something, it gets more and more interesting the deeper you get into it.

RAZ: And the network Thomas works for - NRK - has gone on to produce more Slow TV, like for "National Firewood Night."

HELLUM: Eight hours of a burning fireplace.

RAZ: A show all about fishing...

HELLUM: Salmon fishing.

RAZ: A big deal in Norway.

HELLUM: That was 18 hours.

RAZ: Just 18 hours of...

HELLUM: Just fishing.

RAZ: ...People fishing?

HELLUM: It took three hours before we got the first fish.

RAZ: Three hours before the first fish was caught (laughter)?

HELLUM: (Laughter).

RAZ: They've done knitting...

HELLUM: For almost nine hours.

RAZ: ...For "National Knitting Night..."

HELLUM: Yes (laughter).

RAZ: ...A cover-to-cover performance of a book of Norwegian hymns...

HELLUM: For 60 hours.

RAZ: ...And most ambitiously, a boat cruise along a famous Norwegian shipping route.

HELLUM: Took five and a half days.

RAZ: So no interruptions? No, like, late-breaking news, nothing?

HELLUM: No, they...

RAZ: ...Five and a half days?

HELLUM: ...Put the news away. They put everything else away and gave us the channel for five and a half.



RAZ: Watching that boat leave the harbor...


RAZ: ...And then sail for hours and hours and hours, it's hard to remember that even though this is called slow TV, you're not watching something slow. You're watching something real, something happening exactly as it did.

HELLUM: And we are living in times when coherent stories and context is somehow exotic. People are longing for some kind of connection or an unbroken story.

RAZ: So today on the show, slowing down, a social scientist who says doing it can give you more original ideas, a story about the lost art of letter writing and even a master procrastinator, all with ideas about why taking it slow is hard but important for all of us.

HELLUM: People ask me about Slow TV. They ask could this be done elsewhere in the world, or are Norwegians particularly crazy? And I don't think we are. I think we have, with the slow TV, we have done something that reacts to a need among people. Trying to tell a story in full length, it can be a window to the world. And if you go on a train journey, if you go on a boat journey, you experience in the same slow way. And that's made me appreciate slowness because it gives the viewer a possibility to take back some of the control.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

RAZ: You can watch all of Thomas Hellum's TED Talk at And in answer to whether slow TV is just for Norwegians - not anymore. Norwegian Slow TV is now available on Netflix. Why not take some time to check it out?

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