A once popular format in which to present a cartoon show. The half hour, 22 minutes of program time, is used to show three six-minute short cartoons. The remaining time is used for short framing segments or one-minute gags.
Many shows follow an A-B-A form for this format, meaning one series has a short in the first slot and in the last. This "A" series is generally the one that gives the whole show its name. The middle slot is filled by a second "B" series, that may or may not get billing in the Title Sequence. The "B" series is often in the same universe as the "A" series, and the two can often Crossover, with the virtue that everyone who has seen the one will almost inevitably see the other. Hanna-Barbera liked this format for its Cartoon Network original shows, and many of its older productions.
This form has some advantages. The short episodes are easier to produce in parallel, since writing and animation tasks can be farmed out to a bigger staff, resulting in higher productivity. This, and carrying a comedic story for 22 minutes can be tricky. A six-minute short doesn't give the premise of a joke enough time to run out of steam.
This is different from an Animated Anthology, in that a specific two or three series are used, and both are made new for this format. Animated Anthologies have widely variable structures within a given episode, while Three Shorts shows are usually locked into the exact form.
The Three Shorts format became eclipsed by the Two Shorts format around the turn of the century, this being a pair of eleven-minute episodes. Originally very rare, it's now the standard for comedy animation, as it allows for more complex stories to be told while still not having the aforementioned hurdles that come with writing a half-hour story. In addition, some half-hour animated shows will have a few Two Shorts episodes, any half of which can be used as emergency schedule filler around odd-length specials or movies.
Sometimes, in between the shorts are super-short one-joke bits. Garfield and Friends called these "Quickies", and they were often adapted from a single Sunday strip.
Compare Quarter Hour Short, where an eleven-minute short isn't paired with a companion short. Cartoon Network is especially fond of airing new episodes of their shows in this format, later showcasing them in their Two Shorts form during re-runs.
- The Three Stooges: The Movie follows this format, with three half-hour shorts in the spirit of the original series.
- The Nelly the Monster Sitter book series has three stories per book that follow monster species that Nelly meets.
- Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide has two 11-minute shorts per episode, with the second sometimes continuing where the first left off. Unless Nickelodeon only shows one to even out the time slots after running interstitials.
- Season 14 of Barney & Friends has two stories per episode. But really, it's two longer episodes from Seasons 10 and 11 shortened and strung together. A few episodes from a few years back followed this format, too.
- Night Gallery. How many segments per episode varied, but was usually two or three. In series two, the segments were often followed by brief comedic skits. The formula was dropped for series three, where the series took on a more conventional format of each episode consisting of one half-hour story.
- Drunk History tells 3 historical stories an episode, with the exception of the Hamilton episode, which is a single 22-minute segment.
- The Mickey Mouse Club
- The first season followed an ABCD format; A would be a newsreel, a Sooty episode or a Jiminy Cricket short, B would be Mouseketeer skits, C would be a serial, and D would be a cartoon.
- For the second season, the Jiminy Cricket short was replaced by a Mouseketeer hosting a look at world cultures; Jiminy would replace the cartoon once a week.
- When the show was reduced to a half-hour for the third season, the show followed an AB format; A would be Mouseketeer skits, a cartoon or a newsreel, while B would be a serial.
- Odd Squad follows an AB format, both for the first season and the second. In between, there is usually a Training Video from Oscar and Oona (the latter for the second season), or a Welcome to Headquarters video, sometimes followed by one of Ms. O's recruitment commercials. As of Season 2, the We Are Odd Squad shorts become more prevalent as the only short after each episode. In fact, most episodes have the We Are Odd Squad shorts directly after, and are the only shorts featured. The Training Videos, the We Are Odd Squad shorts, and the Welcome to Headquarters shorts also vary in turn, most prevalent in Season 1.
- The Pajanimals was designed as 11-minute stories. However, even when the show is presented in a half-hour block, the ending theme with "La La Lullaby" is still presented at the end of the first short, then the opening credits are used leading into the second short.
- The American version of Tots TV used this because it aired on PBS Kids, a block that doesn't have ads. The segments either involved a storyteller named Noah or an animal expert named Jane playing in between each story.
- Early episodes of The Goon Show (none of which still exist) had three plots separated by musical interludes. Much later the show partly returned to the format with "The Million Pound Penny", in which the mystery set up in act one is solved during the musical break, with acts two and three forming the title story.