This week BBC 3 went online. This is all part of the corporations plan to cut the running cost of the channel from £85m to £30m. When it was announced last year there was much wailing from critics that BBC 3 was at the heart of creativity in the BBC and removing it from traditional broadcast channels would stifle creativity. Others pointed out that Millennials (who the channel is aimed at) consume most of their media online or their phones anyway so they won’t be bothered by it not being available on the family TV. Also, as more people consume TV via catch up and on demand services, the future for broadcast is already unclear, so BBC 3 is merely leading the way (like when Apple introduced the original iMac in 1998 with only USB ports and no printer sockets. Remember that? No? Oh, just me then. Well, the point is that they argued that the old parallel and serial ports would be obsolete soon so why should they put them in their nice, shiny, new, multi-coloured computers. The same argument can be used for moving BBC3 online. Sort of).
Let’s just remember how the channel came into existence. It was launched in February 2003 as a replacement for BBC Choice. At the time the BBC had two digital channels BBC Choice (showing the “choice” picks of the week’s TV i.e. repeats) and BBC Knowledge (showing….errrr…knowledgeable shows?). Anyway, it all needed tidying up and the channels needed a clear proposition and target audience. So, imaginatively, they became BBC 3 and BBC 4 to complete the numerical family of channels. (On that subject I wonder how long Channel 4 and Channel 5 will trade under their names. The BBC and ITV have channels 1-4 but Channels 4 and 5 have just ended up suffixing and prefixing “More” or “E” or “Star” for their family of channels. I reckon in 18 months the 4 and 5 will be gone. But there again I put money on Greg Wallace to win Strictly so don’t listen to a word I say.)
At the heart of the BBC Choice schedule was the EasterEnders repeat at 10:00 pm and up until last week it was still there. However BBC 3 did create some truly original programming. Both BBC’s 3 and 4 had sitcoms that transferred to the major channels (Little Britain, Gavin and Stacey and The Thick of It) as well as dramas, documentaries and quiz shows (but I still cannot fathom how to play Only Connect). So what about now that is has moved online? What will it use to entice us? Well currently, not a lot.
If you go to where BBC 3 used to be broadcast you are greeted with a flashy trailer telling you that BBC 3 has moved online. (Incidentally, does anyone else remember when Radio 1 went onto FM in the late 80’s and every 5 minutes on the AM frequency an announcement came on telling us to retune to FM, which was really annoying if you couldn’t get it on FM? No? Only me again. Ok. Let’s move on.) The Radio Times is now worse than useless for finding BBC 3 programmes (“What, you are still using a paper magazine to plan your viewing? Get with the programme granddad!”).
When you go online, you are met with…well pretty much all that used to be on BBC 3 anyway. On its launch date I could only find 2 new programmes which had been released since it moved online Life and Death Row and the first episode of the third series of Cuckoo. (More have since become available. Presumably in this new digital world they will drip-feed us a new episode a day).
Back in the day the big BBC 3 sitcom was Two Pints of Lager. It epitomised what BBC 3 was all about. It was young, urban (well as urban as you can make Runcorn), irreverent and unfortunately for the most part unfunny. But hey, it bought Sheridan Smith to our screens so it wasn’t all bad. Fast forward a decade or so and we have Cuckoo. I have to admit I didn’t like the first episode back in 2012 so have never bothered revisiting it. But episode 1 of series 3 felt very different. It still has an annoying American character (Dale, Cuckoo’s son played by that bloke out of Twilight, the wolf one, not the vampire one, replacing the bloke from Brooklyn 99) but it is not edgy, or for that matter particularly young. Greg Davies and Helen Baxendale (47 and 45 respectively) play the parents of two twenty something children and the comedy comes from their family antics which are predominately set in Lichfield. It all feels very My Family meets Outnumbered, which is no bad thing. It’s just not very BBC 3. Unsurprisingly previous series of Cuckoo was repeated on BBC 1 and it does feel that this is where it naturally fits. Dare I say it was “an easy watch”? The original controller Stuart Murphy would be spinning in his grave hearing me say that. If he were dead. Which I’m glad to say he isn’t. OK, I think I need to move on from this thought now.
Life and Death Row was another programme that felt like it was in the wrong place. It told the story of Daniel Lopez who on March 11 2009, was pulled over for driving erratically, killing a police officer in a car chase. 27 year old Daniel was given the death penalty, but he resisted all appeals to block his execution. He was literally a dead man walking. The documentary followed the 5 weeks leading up to his execution and the story was told by those involved (parents, partners and widows). The subject was intriguing and the style subtle. No heavily leading commentary; just interviews and the occasional graphic to fill in any gaps (although were a few too many shots of people staring into the middle distance like they were in a clothes catalogue, but I guess they need shots of something to break it up). At the end of the documentary I was unsure what I felt about Daniel. On the one hand he seemed to be doing the honourable thing; on the other, he was still a murderer. I think the bigger question for me was why do prisoners stay so long on death row (sometimes in excess of 25 years)? In that respect the documentary did what it set out to do and started a conversation.
Once again though my gut instinct said that this wasn’t a BBC 3 documentary. Or was it? Perhaps I have misjudged BBC 3 all these years or maybe this is the new style which they are adopting for their online presence in which case, good luck to them. I just hope people can be bothered to make the effort to seek them out.