Ratings soared with popular professor

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Frank Aarebrot, a highly popular professor at the University of Bergen, managed to lure more than 200,000 TV viewers in Norway away from the country’s most-watched Friday night shows on state broadcaster NRK’s main channel last week. The viewers, who included a lot of well-known personalities, were keen to instead watch an unusual program in which Aarebrot went through 200 years of Norwegian history in 200 minutes.

Professor Frank Aarebrot at the University of Bergen scored high ratings with his unusual lecture covering 200 years of Norwegian history in 200 minutes before a live television audience on NRK2 last week. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Professor Frank Aarebrot at the University of Bergen scored high ratings with his unusual lecture covering 200 years of Norwegian history in 200 minutes before a live television audience on NRK2 last week. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

The show, created in connection with the ongoing celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Norway’s constitution, was billed by some as the latest example of NRK’s “slow TV” concept, which is also gaining fame and copy-catting around the world.

In fact, Aarebrot’s show was anything but slow, moving along at a brisk pace as the knowledgable and amiable professor moved from event to event and decade to decade since Norway’s constitution was signed in 1814.

His aim was to show how Norway’s democracy and egalitarian society have evolved since the constitution came to be. His live audience at the venerable student union in Bergen along with his viewers around the country seemed mostly spellbound during the entire 200 minutes, interrupted only briefly when Aarebrot wanted to step outside for a smoke.

Ratings soared
NRK reported this week that the program, shown on its NRK2 channel, generated ratings that were triple NRK2’s average for a Friday night. That’s when hundreds of thousands of Norwegians normally settle down in front of NRK1 to watch a series of comedy and talk shows climaxing with the highly popular Skavlan before NRK1 often shows a crime drama. The TV show Skavlan generally dominates the ratings on Fridays, but lost more than 200,000 viewers to Aarebrot on NRK2 last week.

“The numbers were very strong (for Aarebrot),” said Kristian Tolonen, analysis chief for NRK. The roughy 230,000 viewers turning in to NRK2 last Friday gave the channel a market share of 15 percent of all TV viewing in the country during the 200 minute-program that ended around midnight.

For the 65-year-old Aarebrot, it was a bit of a marathon but he seemed relaxed heading into it, and was likely inspired by long and enthusiastic applause from the audience and the boisterous singing of a student choir that marked the beginning and end of the program, along with its few breaks. Even during them, Aarebrot put up with questions from an NRK commentator in between puffs on his cigarette.

Professor and political commentator
Aarebrot is arguably Norway’s most high-profile professor, whose lectures at the University of Bergen and elsewhere are normally packed. He is also frequently called upon by the media to comment on political news or other state matters, and even was called in by the conservative Progress Party last fall, when it held a press conference to defend itself against its controversial labeling as a far-right party in foreign media.

While Aarebrot seemed to take the show’s popularity in stride, it set off an explosion of social media reaction, with NRK constantly displaying Twitter comments during the broadcast. Some commenters complained that they were so enthralled by the program, despite its length, that it was hard to take bathroom breaks. Those commenting included well-known authors like Anne Holt and politicians like former Justice Minister Knut Storberget, several current government ministers and Members of Parliament. Aarebrot won rave reviews, with many Norwegians calling the show “extraordinary” and “historic,” and proving once again that they are drawn to the most unusual forms of television entertainment.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund