Migrating Reindeer Prove Too Sluggish for Norway's Slow TV Craze

What animal can bring Norwegian slow TV to a total standstill? Try migrating reindeer. . (Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) can’t take full credit for birthing slow TV. Norway’s publicly funded radio and television company can, however, claim bragging rights in popularizing and perfecting languorously paced, marathon-style programming capable of straining even the most robust attention spans.

Whether you personally find viewing nonstop knitting sessions or 18 hours straight of live salmon fishing torturously torpid or completely enthralling, Norwegian TV viewers, it would seem, are hooked on slow TV (sakte-tv) with millions tuning in to watch incredibly mundane — yet oh-so-mesmerizing — activities unfold in real-time.

Case in point: In 2013, an estimated 20 percent of the country’s population viewed either parts or the entirety of “Nasjonal Vedkveld” (“National Wood Fire Night”), a 12-hour-long program that consisted of four hours (!) of discussion about proper firewood chopping, drying and stacking technique followed by eight hours of live footage of a crackling fire. For Norway, home to roughly 5.2 million preternaturally blissful residents, this was a live television event on par with the Super Bowl.

Produced as part of the wildly popular "Minutt for Minutt" (“Minute by Minute”) series that's best known for broadcasting very long history lectures and even longer scenic train rides, NRK’s latest slow TV masterwork is, get this, generating headlines for unintentionally being too uneventful.

In fact, the production came to a total standstill late last week when its subjects, a herd of 1,000-some migratory reindeer making the epic journey from the frigid extreme north of the country to their summer pastures on the mountainous island of Kvaløya, made an extended — and unexpected — pit stop.

With an estimated run time of 168 hours, the show, “Reinflytting: Minutt for Minutt" ("Reindeer Migration: Minute by Minute") was supposed to wrap up on April 28 with a dramatic finale: an en masse reindeer swim across the Kvalsundet Strait from the mainland to the animal's island-bound grazing ground. When the herd proved to be too lead-footed during the home stretch, NRK suspended the live broadcast with plans to pick up again once the reindeer showed signs of movement.

On May 2, NRK announced that it anticipated filming would resume today, May 3, although it's not entirely clear if the reindeer received the memo.

The temporary suspension of the program — and so close to the finish line! — has been unbearable for some spellbound viewers both in Norway and further afield. (Slow TV fans outside of Norway can view the reindeer's progress here.) But, hey, that’s live TV for you. You never know what might happen ... be it wardrobe malfunction, erroneous "Best Picture" announcement or 1,000 migrating reindeer not keeping to schedule.

When the 'impossible project' grinds to a halt

One part real-time nature documentary, one part stunning travelogue, “Reinflytting: Minutt for Minutt” isn’t just NRK’s slowest slow TV offering. It’s also the most ambitious with its use of drones, antler-cams and specially outfitted snowmobiles capturing the reindeer's annual springtime trek across northern Norway’s most remote and unforgiving landscapes — the true land of the midnight sun.

In an interview with The Guardian, series editor Ole Rune Hætta hints that the show’s creators figured all along that something might go amiss during the technically and logistically challenging filming process, although they probably didn’t expect a full-on reindeer stoppage right before the big conclusion.

‘It was conceived over a cup of coffee somewhere at an NRK district office some three years ago,’ Hætta says, adding that nobody wants to take responsibility for it right now, as there are so many things that can go wrong.

It's safe to assume that the animal stars of NRK's cheeky faux reality show filmed inside of a coffee shop-styled bird feeder didn't cause this much of a disruption.

Speaking to Norwegian daily newspaper Afternposten, Hætta goes on to explain that impatient viewers should keep the 31 person-strong production crew in mind during the unanticipated downtime.

In normal circumstances, a reality TV crew working on location might not mind a sudden gap in filming all that much. But “Reinflytting: Minutt for Minutt” (reportedly dubbed “the impossible project” by its crew) is being broadcast in extreme conditions from a far-flung locale and its crew, it would seem, is anxious to get the job done and decamp to more hospitable climes. While most slow TV unfolds in an unhurried nature, time is of the essence for this particular production.

“It is first and foremost a matter of time. We have stretched the elastic as much as we can with regards to our staff. We cannot get a replacement team so far out in to the wild,” says Hætta.

Aside from showcasing top-notch technology and awe-inspiring Arctic scenery, the ultimate aim of “Reinflytting: Minutt for Minutt” is to provide Norwegians in the south of the super-stretched-out country — far from reindeer migration routes — with an intimate glimpse into a regular occurrence that those living in the far north, particularly the indigenous Sami people or Laplanders, are accustomed to.

And then, of course, there are the soothing benefits of ultra-chill slow TV. For many, the phenomenon is more meditative than entertaining although, in the case of NRK’s latest venture, there's a super-protracted element of suspense — what will happen next?! — that's kept viewers glued to their televisions and computer screens throughout the herd's 100-kilometer (62-mile) journey across Norway’s frozen northernmost counties. Aside from the unexpected delay, a memorable moment during the trek came when shepherd Aslak Ante Sara managed to round up his grunting charges into a massive heart formation with a giant "R" through the middle — "R" standing for Rávdná, the shepherd's wife. Naturally, the whole thing was captured by drone.

“I think the idea behind the Slow TV is that in this stressful world we’re living in, it’s so good to just be able to sit down and put on the channel where it happens at a natural speed,” NRK project manger Per Inge Aasen tells Public Radio International. “The other thing that’s exciting is that it’s not people who decide what happens, it’s the reindeer and the weather.”