A rather strange programming phenomenon is sweeping Europe: slow TV, which bypasses quick edits and montages in favor of leisurely paced windows into the world.
The biggest splash has been made in Norway by a documentarian named Thomas Hellum, whose work includes such milestones as a 134-hour documentary on a cruise ship and an 18-hour show about salmon fishing, which (between them) have attracted some 3.2 million viewers. You can make jokes about how there's probably not a lot to do in Norway, but here's the thing: that's actually most of the people in Norway. The country only has 5 million residents.
The idea has escaped Norway and made its way to Britain's BBC4 with Going Slow, a new series of 30-minute programs (lightweights!) that follow such time-consuming activities as the construction of a chair. Each episode will focus on the creation of a single object.
Advertisers have tried this sort of thing with a certain amount of regularity—there was Virgin America's super disturbing six-hour preroll ad, and, of course, last year's 13-hour brisket-smoking Arby's ad.
Non-narrative TV is a tough sell. Dave Hughes, creator of Adult Swim's crazy Off the Air segments, says his pitch to network head Mike Lazzo was "more of a pestering" than a straight pitch. Lazzo, Hughes recalled, said he didn't think the show would work, but he was willing to give it a try. "He liked it and heard from other people that they liked it" after the show aired, Hughes said, and it continues today. It's short—even shorter than Going Slow—but it's not a traditional teleplay.
It's a tough sell, but there's clearly a market for it—Hughes has become something of an underground hero, and David Rees has a show on NatGeo called Going Deep about the minutiae of everyday tasks (in that respect, NatGeo booked the right guy for the gig—Rees wrote a weirdly engaging 200-page manual called How to Sharpen Pencils).
Accordingly, we thought we'd try to help other networks come up with slow TV ideas of their own:
History—A continuous, 24-hour stream from a pawn-shop security camera, this time in the bad part of Las Vegas.
TLC—A montage of nanny-cam footage from addresses listed in more than two family-court documents.
CNBC—Long-lost footage of the New York Stock Exchange on Black Friday.
HBO—Empire, Andy Warhol's 1964 black-and-white silent film. Maybe a triple feature.
VH1 Classics—Ghosts, the short film by Michael Jackson.
HGTV—Modern Times Forever, the 240-hour-long movie about a single building decaying over the next several thousand years.
Food—Footage of a pot on a burner. Go on, watch it. It won't boil. It never boils.
TNT—A camera pointed at a TV showing Law & Order reruns on USA.
USA—A camera pointed at a TV showing Law & Order reruns on TNT.
Discovery—Sharks. Just sharks. All the time. Nothing but sharks. Sharks without number or reason; sharks eating, swimming, sleeping, playing, raising baby sharks—just sharks. Sharks until the word, the image, the idea "shark" loses its very meaning.
Syfy—Also sharks, but flying, and with fire.
C-SPAN—A groundbreaking prime-time slate with a new workplace comedy set on Mars written by Dan Harmon, a family sitcom from Michael Schur, a police procedural from Shonda Rhimes, and an hour-long supernatural drama executive-produced by Christopher Nolan.