Salmon Swimming Upstream Make Riveting Reality TV — in Norway

Remember the 12-hour fireplace show? Meet its fishy 18-hour sequel.

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Alan Majchrowicz / Getty Images

Spawning salmon trying to move upstream near Solomon Gulch fish hatchery. Prince William Sound. Alaska. USA

Remember the 12-hour primetime broadcast of a crackling fireplace in Norway? The one nearly a million viewers tuned in to watch? The country’s public television station NRK (Norwegian Broadcast Company) apparently one-upped that snooze fest by broadcasting an even longer segment following — wait for it — a bunch of fish swimming upstream.

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Riveting hardly describes this: a live-stream of salmon swimming upriver for 18 hours straight. And even that felt abbreviated, NRK programming exec Rune Moklebust told the Wall Street Journal: “Some asked: It felt a little short, didn’t it?”

It’s not clear how many tuned in to watch the salmon broadcast, but NRK has a solid track record with what’s sometimes called “slow television” — a genre exemplified in NRK’s live, nonstop coverage in 2011 of the passenger ship MS Nordnorge as it voyaged from Bergen to Kirkenes — a journey that took 134 hours. The number of people who tuned in to watch that: over 2.5 million. That’s nothing to sniff at since Norway’s population tallies just under five million, which means that roughly half the Scandinavian country’s populace tuned in for the privilege of watching people on a boat, you know, do stuff… for nearly six days.

How do you follow gently smoldering fireplaces, passenger boats and fish? The Journal reports NRK is considering a live broadcast of expert knitters, umm, knitting, as well as one starring construction workers who have to rearrange wooden planks in real time to physically represent the changing display, minute to minute, of a digital clock. When the time switches between similar numbers, say a 5 to a 6, you only have to add a single plank, but when every spot changes, things get tricky. “That part of the show will actually be really exciting,” said NRK’s Moklebust.

Prior to the boat trip, NRK broadcast an eight-hour train ride that nabbed over one million viewers, proving popular enough to justify repeats. Last month, the nation’s most read newspaper, VG Nett, broke a world record by running a 30-hour nonstop interview with crime author Hans Olav Lahlum — the latter wasn’t an NRK broadcast, but it reinforces the notion that Norwegians have an appetite for the programmatically mundane.

“If it feels a little too strange, then you’re definitely on the right path,” added Moklebust.

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