Last Friday Amazon Prime Video, the television streaming service of the giant US retailer, launched in almost 200 countries around the world, including New Zealand. The rationale for this great leap forward was simple: Amazon’s The Grand Tour, a new motoring show from the team responsible for the BBC hit Top Gear, had an expectant global audience. If fans couldn’t pay for the show legally, they’d download it illegally.
“It’s a huge effort, but they’re a big company with big ambitions and we’re useful to them,” Richard Hammond points out. Take Australia, we’ve enjoyed a following there for many years, so you can see the sense in it for Amazon. From their side we’re great for opening doors, from our side we can reach the people who’ve always followed us.”
The 46-year-old Hammond is speaking from the London offices of W. Chump & Sons, the production company formed by Hammond and his fellow former Top Gear presenters, Jeremy Clarkson and James May, along with the show’s long-time producer, Andy Wilman. When the dust settled the quartet went back to doing what they’d done together since 2003: mix a serious appreciation of motoring with mocking banter and daft stunts.
“The budget, to be fair, isn’t massively bigger than it was at the BBC,” insists Hammond. “But it’s the same aim it’s always been: making the very best car show we can. There’s no other way to do it. Consciously modelling it on getting a certain demographic or skewering it towards a certain viewer is not how we do things. We don’t do anything based on science, we do it based on it being funny or informative or exciting.”
“Spontaneity is still an absolute must. In the old days we couldn’t go to the BBC and say, ‘Hi, can we have tonnes of money to go off to Africa to see if something happens?’ They would say ‘no, you have to come up with a plan’. Now, we have to do that ourselves,” Hammond says. “At the same time we’d be fools if we weren’t trying new stuff. And as we do we’ll adjust and move on, knowing what works and what we like.”
The weakest episode of the five released to date was the second, which dwelled on a lengthy half-hour scripted segment where the presenters took on a Special Forces training course run by the Jordanian military. Kitted out in camo, toting guns, and having to repeat each level because of multiple mishaps, it was a strange mix of Dad’s Army and the Tom Cruise film The Edge of Tomorrow. Cars appeared to be an afterthought.
“OK, if you felt that then you felt that, but other people loved it,” responds Hammond. “That’s what I mean when I say we’re trying stuff. It’s our duty to do that. It would be wrong of us if we passed up the opportunity to reinvent and move on and create something genuinely new. Sometimes you only know where the line is when you’re looking at it over your shoulder.”
As is the case with Netflix, Amazon has given the makers of The Grand Tour no access to viewing metrics, instead simply indicating that they’re happy so far. Given that the BBC’s relaunch of Top Gear was botched, Hammond, May and Clarkson appear to have had their commitment to each other vindicated.
“We are friends, even though we hate each other,” says Hammond with a laugh. “But it was also pragmatic and sensible for us to do this. We’re all grown up enough to realise that we all work better when we work together. It’s been intense and time-consuming, but there was such anticipation to see what we’d do that it’s a great relief just to have it out there.”