Friday, 22 March 2019

An interview for NRK - 10 years of Slow TV

Being filmed during a Slow TV broadcast - courtesy NRK
I am sure we all know someone who can talk for hours and hours about something which enthuses and interests them. I am one of them, guilty as charged.

I was recently contacted by NRK to give some responses about Slow TV owing to the unique position of having made a documentary about Slow TV and, of course, keeping this blog (as a means to continuing my study of the format and developing my own inspired projects). 

Below are the questions I was sent by email and my rather lengthy written responses, a small part of which is put into this article (in Norwegian) which gives a summary of Slow TV so far.

"Could you first tell me how and when you first heard about NRK’s Slow-TV, and what your first thoughts were?"

I first heard about Slow TV during my Masters course in TV Documentary production in late 2013. My first thoughts were there must be something special or very different in this to make such a long broadcast a massive success; approaching from the mindset of reflective academia as well as a media student practitioner, it agreed with my gut feeling that documentary could be done differently  than the usual TV formula.

"Secondly, why do you think these broadcasts have become such a huge success?" 

I think the broadcasts have become successful for two principal reasons. One is down to the audience and the other to the production values.

A sunny day in Oslo filming for my documentary in 2014
I like to think of TV as a party, and the different types of show are like different types of people at a party. Most of it is based on stimulation. Loud, dramatic types. Types that bombard your senses. As engaging as they can be, you have to work hard to keep up with them. To me, Slow TV is the quiet guy in the corner, probably making a fuss of the dog without the need for obvious drama and soap opera stories. At first you might think "oh he must be so boring, not him!", but give Mr Slow TV some time, and he will not only help you calm down, but show you things you've not appreciated before. You'll come away from the party a different person as a result. Perhaps Norwegians are more comfortable about talking with the quiet guy in the corner.

Given that no other broadcaster has had the success with Slow TV that NRK has, there has to be something about the way it is made. To continue with the analogy of thinking about TV shows like people, how you treat people usually determines how the relationship unfolds and grows. If you predetermine someone is cheap, isn't really worth the effort, time, money to be who they are, then they are sidelined and likely don't achieve the potential in a relationship that they could. If you think that they're worth it, that you'll treat them with the same values and respect as others, then it's likely everyone benefits from it. Within the family of  types of TV shows from NRK, Slow TV has been given the same attention as sports, drama, current affairs etc - and Slow TV has been good for NRK and Norway in return. 

With Slow TV producers, Thomas Hellum and Rune M√łklebust
 on Hurtigruten in Bergen
Norway and Norwegian culture have come to occupy a lot of my thoughts. I see a lot of reference to the Laws of Jante. I understand that some feel they keep people feeling down about themselves, possibly even contributing to suicide in some cases; I have asked myself if perhaps the flip side is the laws level the playing field, giving room for more people and the ideas they bring a chance to participate in and benefit aspects of society, perhaps Slow TV has been given more of a chance in Norway as part of this mindset.

Does a participation in a collective identity help drive
Slow TV's success? Courtesy NRK
Seeing the flag waving and love for a perceived identity of being Norwegian, Slow TV also makes me wonder if the Norwegian love and success of Slow TV is informed by Norwegian Romantic Nationalism in the collective psyche. A benevolent patriotism becomes displayed by those who spontaneously turn up in front of the cameras during a Slow TV broadcast, or that love of Norwegian-ness motivates more Norwegians to participate in a televisual celebration of an aspect of Norway. Seeing how enthusiastic Norwegians become for the 17th May, maybe even more so than Americans do for the 4th July, there is a huge love for a collective identity. Maybe the Laws of Jante which discourage a sense of individual achievement drive towards pride in collective achievement and identity. The success of Slow TV in Norway has occupied my thoughts since I first began studying it (in the UK some might call me very 'sad' for such a nerdish preoccupation) and these are some of my reflections.

May I ask you if there’s a slow-tv-production that you’d love to see? 

I’m not short on my own ideas and would really like one or more brought into reality. I have approached production companies in the UK but none are prepared to treat it with the same belief that Norway does. It’ll be a very occasional novelty niche show on a non-principal channel - not a national talking point and televisual celebration. It isn’t understood or conceived properly outside of Norway.

Come on, USA - give us a Slow TV celebratory experience!
Perhaps a major production in the USA would give a massive wake up call that TV can be done differently. My Slow TV Blog gets its single biggest amount of hits from the USA.

So, boats, drones and static perimeter shots along the length of the Colorado River through The Grand Canyon’s 445 kilometres would give a suitably epic Slow TV documentary experience of outstanding natural beauty, and like Norwegians do with Norway’s natural Slow TV productions, this would evoke patriotic sentiment of Americans. 

Slow TV journeys should give as close an experience to the real thing as possible. What proportion of Americans get to experience length of The Grand Canyon? Or people around the world? It would satisfy all the criteria for a truly ground breaking TV event like nothing ever done before.

So, if anyone would like me to be part of a creative team for a broadcaster making Slow TV, give me a job!

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