THE Norwegians are ahead of us in everything but modesty, so it was a surprise to learn that they're slowing down.
I don't mean that their economy is stalling or anything like that. Scandophobes have long predicted that. And predicted it. And predicted it. And still it never comes. Which is good. It's good that nothing happens. But does it make good television?
Apparently so. Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has replaced some of its usual prime-time drama with "slow TV". Endless images of knitting, fishing, log fires, cruises and panoramic landscapes are attracting record audiences in the arguably peculiar northern country.
Rune Moeklebust, head of programmes at NRK, explained the phenomenon thus: "It's literally reality TV: something authentic that's shown in real time without being edited down."
Just fancy: reality TV without the "personalities". Already, I'm won over. It all started in 2009. As you know, that was the centenary of the Bergen railway line, and the seven-hour (plus 16 minutes) train trip to Oslo was broadcast in its entirety. In this country, you would be imprisoned for such behaviour. But, in Norway, 1.2 million viewers, one-quarter of the population, watched at least part of the trip.
Soon afterwards, a five-and-a-half day extravaganza of vistas from a cruise liner touring the Norwegian coast was broadcast. More than three million citizens looked in. Now, thee and me might think no programme complete without a car chase, murder and at least one scene of trouserless biology. But there was none of that nonsense here.
It was just life. Slow life. So slow indeed that it was hypnotic. One 82-year-old man, Knut Grimeland, couldn't take his eyes off the screen for days. He drawled: "I dozed a little on the sofa from time to time, but I didn't make it to bed for five days."
Not all Norwegians are impressed. Trond Blindheim, principal of the Oslo School of Management, said: "I'm literally incapable of saying anything sensible about people who are glued to TV sets watching the bow of a ship and people on a shore waving their arms about."
Arm-waving? How exciting. Other top experts say slow TV is a chance for people to relax and contemplate. Hmm, sounds challenging.
And already Scotland, as you'd expect, has taken up the challenge, with programmes such as Live From Holyrood and Sportscene attracting dozens of viewers.
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