As you’ve probably noticed from the articles currently on the MotoringBox home page, things aren’t looking good for the Series 23 re-launch of Top Gear. Scheduled to air on BBC2 in just 5 months time, the show has been hit with a number of problems during production so far – so many in fact that people are starting to question exactly whether it still has a future. I’m now one of them.
So here are 10 reasons why I think Top Gear is doomed. You don’t even have to click through 10 separate pages to read them all. Isn’t that nice?
1. Existing Top Gear fans are not happy
You knew this was going to be the first point. The blindingly obvious fact is Top Gear fans are not happy with what has happened.
Of course, anyone with half a brain knows that what Jeremy Clarkson did was wrong. You can’t just punch people at work, even if you think they deserve it – but the way in which he was dealt with leaves a lot to be desired. For a man who has given the BBC so much over the past 13 years, they still decided to show him the door, despite the fact that he reported the incident personally.
He owned up and attempted to make-good, but it counted for nothing. Which brings me neatly to my next point…
2. Top Gear isn’t just about cars
I heard a worrying quote from Chris Evans this week, where he said with his version of the show “the car is definitely the star”.
Some might say the car has always been Top Gear’s star, but they’re wrong. Top Gear was about cars just as much as its about Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. People didn’t tune in each week simply to gawk at the latest Ferrari or Aston Martin and hear the specs. Because that’d be Fifth Gear, and we all know how boring that is.
The main reason people tuned in was to see the boys and listen to their opinions, laugh at their shenanigans and gasp their latest controversial comments. Now we’re left with a new guy on the block, attempting to turn the show into something new by himself, because…
3. No-one else wants to be involved
Since Clarkson was sacked in April 2015, many big names have been linked to the Top Gear re-launch – including Zoe Ball, Jodie Kidd and Suzi Perry. All were linked to the show and all have now ruled themselves out. Perhaps they were smart enough to realise that putting their hand up to become the new face of Top Gear would be career suicide…
In more recent times, motoring journalist Chris Harris, German racing driver Sabine Schmitz and ex-F1 star David Coulthard have reportedly been approached to appear alongside Chris Evans – but even Coulthard has now ruled himself out, deciding instead to stick with his F1 commentary role with Channel 4. Smart man.
Harris and Schmitz haven’t officially signed on yet either, with the door still very much open for their escape. With the show going to air in May, the BBC better lock in the hosting line-up pronto…
4. The BBC’s motives for a hasty re-launch
The BBC are forging ahead with a speedy Top Gear re-launch for one reason and one reason only. The green stuff. Money.
At its peak, Top Gear was watched by over 350 million people around the world, earning approximately £40 million per year for the BBC since it launched in 2002. Discontinuing the show would leave a huge black hole in the budget, not to mention the loss of hundreds of jobs. With that in mind, I don’t blame them for rushing in and having a go, but with the time frame they’ve got to work with I don’t think the end result is going to be pretty…
5. There’s a power struggle behind the scenes
To make matters worse, there have been unconfirmed reports that there is a power struggle happening behind the scenes – or a ‘battle of the egos’ of sorts.
On one side we have Chris Evans, a man who is used to working on shows that are ‘completely about him’, and everyone else falling into-line with his wishes. On the other side, we have BBC2 controller Kim Shillinglaw, who has reportedly ‘become a nightmare’ and is central to everything that is happening and all the major decisions. The BBC have added her to the team so they can keep a closer eye on the content, but she has developed a reputation as a meddler.
Shillinglaw has also admitted to being “terrified” at the prospect of Evans taking over the hosting role. One source said, “In the old days Clarkson and (executive producer) Andy Wilman were left to get on with the show and that’s what Chris wants too. But the BBC had their fingers burned that way and want a bigger say. They have too much at stake. Shows like TFI Friday (Evans’ TV talk show) were created by Chris, but Top Gear is an established brand. It should be bigger than any of its presenters.”
6. Chris Evans is great at live shows
Chris Evans’ skills as an entertainer are robust – and he’s absolutely in his element when it comes to the fast-paced world of live programming. But that’s exactly what Top Gear isn’t.
You see, Top Gear segments are planned, written and filmed many months prior to when the episodes actually go to air. Even the studio segments are filmed at least 5 days prior, to give the production team time to edit everything to their liking. Evans isn’t used to working this way and has reportedly been struggling to get his head around it. As a result, there are fresh claims that production is lagging behind schedule. Just what they needed.
7. Top Gear will no longer push boundaries
Top Gear has often been in the headlines over the past decade, mostly due to Jeremy Clarkson’s controversial comments. Whether it be the accusations of homophobia, cultural mockery or racism, Top Gear was always in the news – and this in part helped the show become the behemoth that it is (or was) today. As the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity.
But word has it that the BBC wants the new Evans’ spec Top Gear to be a more ‘toned down’ affair. While choosing to play it safe is an excellent way to ensure no-one is offended, they also run the risk of turning an edgy and entertaining show into a yawn-fest like Fifth Gear, or back to how Top Gear was in the 80’s and 90’s. Beards and fuel economy discussions.
8. Hasn’t this sort of been attempted before?
Let us think for a moment, where else has the Top Gear formula been used with different hosts before?
Well, there was Top Gear Australia. May it rest in peace and never, ever return. Then there’s Top Gear USA – which although still alive, hasn’t really become anything more than a pale imitation of the original, with added ‘high fives’. There’s also Top Gear Korea and Top Gear Russia too – the only thing I’ve seen of the former was that helicopter crash video, and the latter was cancelled due to critically low ratings.
Now one could argue that a re-launched Top Gear UK with Chris Evans won’t suffer the same fate as the regional variants above, simply because it has a brilliant UK production team who know how to keep the show running like a well oiled machine. It should be business as usual then, except for the fact that…
9. The brains behind Top Gear have moved on
Top Gear’s executive producer Andy Wilman abandoned ship not long after Clarkson, Hammond and May. A few months later he was followed by the well-respected executive producer Lisa Clark, who in turn was followed out the door by veteran script editor Tom Ford.
Chris Evans as admitted that it was like “Armageddon” in the office, which has just been rocked by the sacking of Jeremy Clarkson, not to mention the departures of Hammond, May and a raft of other senior staff members. Evans told an audience at a meeting of the Television Critics Association that only one “lone warrior” – producer Alex Renton, who’s worked on the programme since 2004 – remained when he was brought on-board.
Losing almost the entire production team is a huge blow to Top Gear’s future successes (if any), but there’s an even bigger problem…
10. Top Gear has some serious competition
If Top Gear was going up against Fifth Gear in the battle for ratings supremacy, everything would probably be okay. But that’s not the case. What they’re actually up against, are these guys…
That’s right. Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. The boys have built a sizeable following of loyal fans all around the world. Fans who will follow them anywhere – even to their new and upcoming £160 million motoring show on Amazon Prime. It’s the Saturn 5 rocket to the BBC’s bi-plane. The McLaren P1 to their Peel P50. The…. you get the picture.
It’s going to be huge, and in my opinion, they’re absolutely going to blow a Top Gear re-launch out of the water.
In truth, there’s probably half a dozen additional reasons why Top Gear is in trouble – and the BBC might prove us all wrong and smash out a fantastic motoring show for the world to enjoy. But would you actually bet on that?