‘Zenimation,’ ‘A World of Calm’ and other programs set out to be ‘boring in a good way,’ lulling watchers with waves of water and soothing voices
Excerpt via WSJ
In an episode about space on the new show “A World of Calm,” nothing much happens. A shot of a nebula in the Milky Way galaxy is notable, but only because it lasts for one minute and 51 seconds, an eternity in TV.
Nothingness is key to the new show, a collaboration between HBO Max and the health-and-wellness app Calm that is successful if it lulls its viewers into a deeply relaxed state, perhaps even sleep. Each episode is narrated by a different celebrity and has a loose story line, covering themes such as ocean life and birds. In one featuring forests, action-movie star Keanu Reeves dials it way down as he coos about the greatness of trees. “A single web of fungi weaves in and out of their roots and runs throughout the entire forest,” he says. “Together, the forest works as one for the good of all.”
The entertainment industry is trying to meet our stressed-out national moment by making television that works like a sedative. Several new shows released during the pandemic and some old ones are pitched as background music for anxious times. In an era of binge-and-burn TV, these shows are the opposite, designed to be watched on repeat without a cliffhanger in sight.
Such shows haven’t soothed all critics. The Hollywood Reporter called “A World of Calm” a “very, very, very expensive screen saver.” The Guardian dubbed the new series “Mindful Escapes,” from BBC Studios and the meditation and mindfulness app Headspace, “a motivational quote that happens to move.”
Hana Banducci, 22, a college student from Anaheim, Calif., likes to play a compilation of short “Zenimation” episodes while she studies. “I could put it on for hours,” said Ms. Banducci, who is especially drawn to the sounds of the crashing waves from “Moana” and the trolley from “The Princess and the Frog.”
This year, wellness brands started making their own content. Over the summer, the Headspace co-production “Mindful Escapes” made its debut on BBC Four in the U.K. It uses nature footage with a narration by former Buddhist monk and app co-founder Andy Puddicombe . One episode shows macaques sitting in a steaming hot spring, occasionally picking at each other’s fur but mostly staring into the snowfall until their eyelids droop. It’s “Planet of the Apes” meets a day at the spa.
“In the recent months, we have seen a dramatic increase in appetite for mindfulness-related content from consumers as well as from networks and streamers,” said Sam Rogoway, chief product and content officer at Headspace Studios, which launched this year to create screen projects and other media. Its “Mindful Escapes” series isn’t yet available as a TV show in the U.S.
The streaming studio Cinedigm recently launched a Bob Ross channel with nearly 400 episodes of the late artist’s “Joy of Painting” TV art class. It has drawn 3.3 million monthly unique viewers since starting in the spring, Cinedigm said. The 1980s and ’90s show made soft-voiced star Bob Ross into a godfather of ASMR—the tingly sensation people have when listening to certain gentle sounds—and, more recently, a hipster role model for his chill message.
“He’s the perfect man for the moment,” Cinedigm chairman Chris McGurk said of Mr. Ross, who died in 1995. The studio went after Mr. Ross’s series after seeing how gamers flocked to his videos on the streaming platform Twitch, some painting with him or listening to his patter to unwind between games.
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