BASIC BLACK: NOW THAT’S TELEVISION!

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Arthur Black

I don’t know if this is a record, but I haven’t watched TV since 1985.

Regular programming, I mean.  I continue to tune in if the weather looks particularly growly, there’s an election going on or we still have a Canadian team in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Or if I happen to find myself in some part of the country that carries the Log Fire Channel.

Are you familiar with the Log Fire Channel?  I discovered it by accident years ago in Thunder Bay.  Turned on a TV to the local MacLean-Hunter cable channel and there it was – a log fire burning in a fireplace in full, blazing colour.  No voice-over, no commentary.  No annoying used car hustlers, or commercials for detergents, beer or banks; no blow-dried news readers keeping me abreast of the latest body count in the Middle East….just, a fire, burning peacefully in a fireplace.  

I guess from time to time the logs were replenished by an unseen hand, but I can’t say for sure.  I was mesmerized by the simple beauty of a burning fire.  

Norwegians know all about this.  Each year, NRK, the Norwegian public broadcaster, puts on a National Firewood Night -- twelve straight hours of a TV camera trained on a burning fireplace.  Twenty percent of Norwegian TV watchers tune in.  CBC programmers would sacrifice their mothers for numbers like that.

The success of National Firewood Night emboldened NRK to try other broadcasting adventures.  In 2009 viewers got to ride vicariously on the cowcatcher of the Bergensbanen, a train that chugs through tunnels and mountains and valleys and plains between Oslo and Bergen.  More than a million Norwegians went along for the trip – on their TV sets.

This past winter, viewers were treated to eighteen hours of salmon swimming upstream.  Anyone who found that plot too complicated could watch 100 hours of Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen pondering his next chess move.

Other epics on NRK: five straight days on a cruise ship plying the west coast of Norway; or a ‘sheep to sweater’ docudrama that takes you from shearing the sheep through spinning the wool, through knit-one-purl-two-ing the pattern all the way to finished product – a Norwegian sweater, natch.

It’s slow TV – an idea whose time has come.  Lise-May Spissey, the producer of the knitting marathon, encapsulates the concept perfectly.  “All other TV is just speeding up,” she told a German reporter.  “We want to break with that.  We want to allow people to finish their sentences.”

Amen to that.  And amen to the Log Fire Channel, wherever it burns.  Life doesn’t get much more beautiful or satisfying than the contemplation of a log fire burning in a fireplace.  ‘Indian TV’ Joseph Boyden called it in his wonderful book, Through Black Spruce.  All I know is, I prefer it to most of the fare offered by the North American networks.  If you’re fortunate enough to get the Log Fire channel, throw away your channel surfer.  You don’t need it.

Organizations: CBC, North American

Geographic location: Thunder Bay, Middle East, Oslo Norway

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