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12 hours of televised knitting? Must-see TV in Norway

But the most exciting programming starts after midnight, with feverish segments on the shearing of bottle-fed sheep.

This evening, one million Norwegians are expected to huddle around their televisions to watch – please get ready – live knitting! 

The country is known for a number of quirky real-time television programs espousing a sense of romantic nationalism and attendant activities that have captivated Norwegian viewers.

Nearly one million tuned in February to intermittently watch 12 hours of burning wood during National Firewood Evening, aired on the Norwegian state TV broadcaster, NRK. Firewood evening was the precursor to this Friday’s planned spin-off, National Knitting Evening.

This latest endeavor is a 12-hour live marathon on Nov. 1, part of which aims to set a world record for making a sweater, from sheep shearing to final stitch. The Guinness World Record to beat is 4 hours, 51 minutes and 14 seconds, held by the Australians. But it has never before been attempted on live television.

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“When one million tune in to watch wood burn, one million can watch a world record,” says Lise May Spissøy, the project leader for National Knitting Evening.

The shows, created by NRK, are part of a “slow TV” craze that started in 2009 with an eight-hour cross-country train ride filmed from Bergen to Oslo. The concept was such a success that it was recreated in 2011 as a six-day, 134 hour live broadcast of cruise ship Hurtigruten sailing upNorway’s scenic northwest coast. The latter program drew nearly three million viewers in the small Nordic country of just six million – albeit only 188,000 watched the entire show.

“There is an appeal with seeing the coast and every little village by the sea in the spotlight for a few minutes or hours,” says Arnt Maasø, an associate communications professor at the University in Oslo. “Its slowness sets it apart and has some appeal for being different. I was amazed at how hypnotic it was.”

The National Knitting Evening program will start at 7:40 PM on NRK’s popular culture show “Norge Rundt” (Around Norway). For the next several hours, up until midnight, NRK 2 will showcase knitting traditions, and highlight design patterns like the famous “Selbu” snowflake, and, of course, people knitting. During the course of the evening, they will even stitch together a specially designed sweater to fit on a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Programmers are hoping they have tapped a rising trend. Norwegians have turned to knitting to decouple from everyday life and do something with their hands to create something concrete, says Ms. Spissøy. Part of the evidence for this is the popularity of a Norwegian knitting guru and celebrity blogger who has a Facebook page with 30,000 followers. She is one of the guests to be featured on Friday along with Kari Steihaug, a Norwegian artist who has made an exhibit based on unfinished knitting projects and their stories.

The real excitement begins after midnight when a shearer will start feverishly clipping a bottle-fed sheep – a domestic animal known for its tameness – on live television. The wool will be spun and knitted by twenty people into an adult-size flat-patterned wool sweater.

The big question is not just whether the knitters can finish before 6:00 AM, but whether the content really makes for TV riveting enough to generate enthusiasm for more slow TV shows in the future.

“The TV companies are trying to look to something everyone can relate to,” says Maria Konow Lund, associate journalism professor at Oslo and Akershus University College. “But even for reality programs, there will be an end.”