Slow TV: Television dramas whose gradual, deliberate pacing and literary structure – “unrushed, atmospheric narratives,” as Salon’s Matt Zoller Seitz described them – demand patience and engagement on the part of the viewer. Current or recent examples include the Danish series “The Killing”; the BBC’s “The Hour”; and the American shows “Mad Men,” “Game of Thrones,” and “The Wire.”
Critic-turned-opinion-writer Frank Bruni, of the New York Times, observed in early April:
Slow TV pushes back at the instant gratification and empty calories of too many elimination contests, too many reality shows, too many efficient, literal-minded forensic dramas that perhaps keep certain plot threads dangling but tie up the episode’s main mystery by the hour’s end.
The descriptor “Slow TV” began appearing in the U.S. press around 2010. In a June 2010 review of “Memphis Beat,” Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley placed Slow TV in context:
Slow Food, a movement that began in Italy in the 1980s as a protest against agribusiness and fast food, promotes organic farming and regional cooking. That cult of less-is-more parochialism spread to other fields, including tourism (Slow Travel) and investment (Slow Money).
Now there is Slow Television.
In November 2010, the Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman included “Rubicon” and “In Treatment” in the category:
These shows are the ultimate examples of what can best be described as Slow TV. It’s not quite a fad or a revolution — and given the dismal ratings, no one involved should feel comfortable about their futures — but you can’t give HBO and AMC enough credit for making shows like this in the first place.
Earlier citations for “slow television” come from Scandinavia, where the term referred to marathon, non-narrative coverage of an ordinary event. In 2009, for example, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) aired the complete seven-hour train trip from Bergen to Oslo – and then topped that feat with live coverage of a 134-hour voyage by ship from Bergen to Kirkenes. Both programs were popular successes. In February 2013 NRK aired a 12-hour broadcast about firewood, described as “slow but noble television.”
But the earliest citations I found are from Australia. David Dale, writing in February 2005 for the Sydney Morning Herald, presaged the current meaning of “slow TV” in a column about the slow-paced “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and “Desperate Housewives”:
It was reminiscent of the marketing campaign for the new Orient Express train in the 1980s: “In a world where everything is fast and cheap, we are very slow and very expensive.” Then in the ’90s came the slow food movement, which argues that human beings are healthier and happier if they take time to appreciate what they are eating. Perhaps we are about to see a “slow television” movement.
In a November 2011 article for the BBC News Magazine, reporter Jon Kelly looked into the rise of slow TV. The growing popularity of the boxed set, which allows viewers to watch long-running programs on their own schedule, accounts for part of it. In addition:
[T]he pace of slow TV invites viewers to actively engage with the programme, rather than their normal treatment as passive, argues Dr Amy Holdsworth, lecturer in film and television studies at the University of Glasgow and an expert in small-screen history.
“Part of the appeal is working things out for yourself,” Dr Holdsworth adds. “They allow the space for viewers to invest in them and make connections for themselves.
“These days there is definitely more of an appreciation of what you can do with TV as a form - you can have so much more character depth in 80 hours than you can in a two-hour film.”