Well there’s seemingly no shortage of Top Gear staffers willing to spill the beans to the press, with fresh claims emerging that the new version of the show is reportedly in crisis.
Chris Evans was once hailed by some as a hero for “rescuing” the show, following the departure of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. But just six months on things aren’t looking too good. In fact, it’s starting to look more like a 100mph head on accident waiting to happen. Without seatbelts.
According to one insider, the initial fuck ups emerged early on in the revamped show’s development. “When Chris was hired it was like the problem of what to do with Top Gear after Clarkson left had been solved. But the problems keep on coming. The first time Chris went around the Top Gear track he crashed the car. Unfortunately for him, it was a brand new Jag that had been lent to the show.” But it wasn’t long before the floodgates began to open and the turds really started to flow.
Five months in, Top Gear’s well-respected executive producer Lisa Clark left, and was followed by script editor Tom Ford, who I imagine must have thrown himself through the opening just before the door closed. These two high-profile departures came amid reports that the BBC bosses were starting to turn the heat up on Evans (who insisted on being Executive Producer) to get his shit together and deliver, while he “meddled” in editorial decisions. Top Gear insiders have also claimed that BBC2 controller Kim Shillinglaw has “become a nightmare” alongside Evans in the meddling department. She was put in the role last year by former director of television Danny Cohen, not long before he decided to pull the pin on his own job with the BBC.
Understandably, BBC executives have pointed to the damage done to the show after Clarkson was sacked in March and want the focus to again be on content. Insiders have said that “Kim has been central to everything that is happening. Generally, she has a reputation as a meddler. The show has had to become a lot more PC following the Clarkson row. There is less leeway to do out-there stuff and Kim has become a bit of a nightmare.”
Shillinglaw’s relationship with Evans has also come under the spotlight, after she once admitted to being “terrified” at the prospect of him taking over the hosting role. To some, it has become a battle of egos. 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. Everything he’s done before has essentially been about him and everyone else has had to fall in line. 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.”
Speaking of Evans’ other show, TFI Friday also also been a sticking point. BBC executives were reportedly exasperated that he agreed to front the ten-part series alongside Top Gear and his daily breakfast radio show, and forced him to walk away from it. When Evans indicated he wanted to do another series of TFI, the BBC turned him down. “When he was also working on TFI, Chris struggled to get to every Top Gear production meeting but still wanted to be fully across how the format was developing,” one source said. “Whatever was said about the old Top Gear, it ran like a well-oiled machine.”
Evans told how full-on his schedule had become in a magazine column last month. In it he described the “craziest day” of his life, when he worked for 26 hours non-stop. In addition, Evans has reportedly been struggling to get his head around producing pre-recorded video segments, which the vast majority of Top Gear is, because he’s used to working on the fly with live shows. As a result, there are fresh claims that production is lagging behind schedule, with only a couple of segments filmed at Top Gear’s Test Track ad Dunsfold Park thus far. One toe-curling incident recounted by insiders concerned Evans recording a 12-page monologue for the cameras, before BBC bosses decided it was “totally unusable”.
Evans has even taken to making announcements about the show before telling the BBC – another source of angst. They were understandably pissed off last month when he revealed Top Gear would return on May 8, giving rivals a crucial five-month heads-up. He also announced on Radio 2 that viewers would be able to audition to be presenters, which also took executives by surprise. A BBC insider said: “Bosses have been left open-mouthed by some of the announcements Chris has been making. Giving away the exact start date months before is a complete no-no, as it gives rivals the chance to try to damage the show. People at the BBC who should be in the loop have been finding stuff out from Chris on the radio, on Twitter, or when he is a guest on other shows.”
The announcement of Top Gear’s new presenter line-up has also struggled to generate any interest either. There’s the rather boring yet impressively chiselled looking ex-Formula One driver David Coulthard. The impressively qualified yet uncharismatic motoring journalist Chris Harris, plus the sort of famous yet slightly English speaking challenged German racing driver Sabine Schmitz. The appointments came after bigger names, including Zoe Ball, Jodie Kidd and Suzi Perry, were linked to the show before ruling themselves out. But for those who know Evans, the low-profile line-up was no surprise. “Chris is always the boss of the show. He doesn’t want anyone to be bigger than him,” one said.
While Top Gear’s dirty laundry airs out in public, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have been busily preparing their new rival big-budget show for Amazon – and boasting about how little interference they get from their new masters. Aside from the massive budget of £4 million per episode, they have also benefited from a lack of outside pressure and a generous amount of production time before the show launches in September.
Seeing as Evans already informed them of Top Gear’s return date, they’ll now be able to release a teaser trailer of their show in the days leading up to Top Gear’s debut. One Amazon executive said: “We’re not in the business of sabotage but why should we give them a free run?”
With just months to go, we won’t be waiting long to find out…