Why is the BBC making its best comedy so difficult to watch?

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The BBC has graced us with some excellent comedies in recent months - from The Young Offenders, to the return of This Country.

But how do you actually find it?

Increasingly, the BBC's most daring comedies are tucked away, while critically unsavoury shows like Mrs Brown's Boys and recent John Cleese vehicle Hold the Sunset get top billing, both in the schedules and on iPlayer.

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The result is that few new alternative BBC comedies are enjoying the same breakout, pop culture success as something like Channel 4's Derry Girls.

There are a number of reasons for this, and the demise of BBC Three as a channel has played a significant part.

From TV channel to online service

BBC Three had - at one time - just as much prominence as any other channel in your TV line-up.

It rarely gathered the kind of audience share that more mainstream outlets like BBC One or ITV1 received - being a more youth-oriented venture - but it was there all the same, sitting pretty in the schedules.

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It was also where the BBC's more esoteric comedy offerings lay; from Gavin & Stacey to Pulling.

John Cleese's Hold The Sunset is currently performing well in its primetime, Sunday evening BBC One slot, but it's certainly not classic comedy (Photo: BBC)

So when - in February 2016 - BBC Three went from a bona fide channel to an internet-only service, the likelihood of anyone outside of its 16-24 year old remit finding its wares decreased dramatically.

We may be living in an age in which traditional media formats - like TV - are being challenged by internet services, but that still meant that the channel's reach and exposure was drastically cut down.

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The more youthful portions of its audience may have followed it online, but older viewers might not have done; they certainly won't be chancing upon any new comedies as they channel hop these days.

Changing audiences

Those who like their comedies modern, progressive and challenging, are probably more predisposed to seeking it out. The BBC doesn't necessarily need to show it off.

But some viewers might not be as technologically savvy as to search through iPlayer's categories. Or they prefer to surf their TV channels in the traditional manner.

Ireland's Young Offenders is currently one of the BBC's best comedy offerings (Photo: BBC)

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That means what that share of the audience wants, the BBC places front and centre on iPlayer's landing page; those that want something more, will have to seek it out.

To many comedy fans the fact that Mrs Brown's Boys is bringing in viewing figures in the millions is a strange thing indeed. But that's the way it is.

Still, as the streaming of mainstream television content becomes more common (as widespread as it has already become, it's still the 'newer' choice relative to traditionally scheduled TV), expect to see viewing trends change.

Dare to be different

Through all of this, it's worth remembering that the BBC's daring comedy output is still available.

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One current highlight to showcase this is The Archiveologists, Diane Morgan and Joe Wilkinson's brilliant send-up of public information films that plays out like a modern day Look Around You in places.

And at five minutes an episode, it's bite-sized fun that gives viewers a sharp shot of laughs.

Diane Morgan and Joe Wilkinson's Archiveologists plays out like a modern day Look Around You (Photo: BBC)

Although originally broadcast on BBC Two, the project has been made as similarly hard to find as some of its BBC Three counterparts, buried between programmes around 10 o'clock on a Tuesday evening.

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Thanks to iPlayer, it's available for those who want it, and though that number may be small in the grand scheme of things, it looks as though cult comedy and left-field laughs will be around for some time.

If you're willing to search them out, that is.

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