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A history of BBC Three: From linear to online, and back again?

Jodie Comer as Villanelle in the BBC drama Killing Eve (Aimee Spinks/BBC/PA)
Jodie Comer as Villanelle in the BBC drama Killing Eve (Aimee Spinks/BBC/PA)

BBC Three arrived in 2003 with the goal of targeting a younger audience and provided a launchpad for shows including Gavin & Stacey, The Mighty Boosh and Nighty Night.

Its focus on the 16-34 age group made it the perfect home for off-kilter programmes – such as Snog, Marry, Avoid? and Sun, Sex And Suspicious Parents – which may have struggled for a place elsewhere in the BBC stable.

It showcased serious documentaries, including the Bafta-winning Our War featuring stories from troops who had served in Afghanistan, as well as dramas Being Human and Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood.

The Sun Military Awards
John Barrowman starred in Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, which aired between 2006 and 2011 (David Parry/PA)

BBC Three was also home to US comedies Family Guy and American Dad.

Despite its long list of successful shows, the decision was taken to make the channel online-only in February 2016, in a move that saved the BBC tens of millions of pounds.

However, BBC Three now appears to be on the brink of a triumphant return to TV after years of huge success from its digital presence.

Since going online, the channel has been home to a string of hit shows, including Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, which made the jump from stage to screen in 2016.

Its second season aired last year and won almost every major award on both sides of the Atlantic, with critics comparing it to some of the greatest comedies in TV history.

This Country
Charlie Cooper and Daisy May Cooper, the stars of mockumentary This Country (BBC/PA)

Similarly Killing Eve, starring Sandra Oh as an MI5 agent and Jodie Comer as a psychopathic Russian assassin, made its UK debut on BBC Three in 2018 and has been hugely successful.

Mockumentary This Country and Sally Rooney adaptation Normal People are two other triumphs.

Amid a debate over the future funding model of the BBC, the broadcaster has now confirmed it is considering bringing the channel back to TV to sit alongside its digital presence.

Whether or not it is brought back for a linear TV slot, it is set to have its commissioning budget doubled over the next two years.

According to the Telegraph, the budget is set to increase from £40 million to £80 million.

Other new series on BBC Three include the first UK version of RuPaul’s Drag Race and How’s Your Head, Hun?, a new series starring Drag Race judge Michelle Visage, which launches on May 26.

Viewers will see how Visage is coping with life during lockdown and she will be joined virtually by celebrity guests including Little Mix’s Jade Thirlwall and fashion TV presenter Susannah Constantine.

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