Firstly, I understand that I’ve probably thrown you offside immediately with the headline I chose to put on this article, but give me a chance here. There’s an awful lot of anti-Top Gear sentiment surging around the internet at the moment, and it is easy to understand why people feel that way. After all, how could Top Gear survive without the three biggest names in motoring – Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May? Well, I’m here to suggest that perhaps we’re looking at the whole Top Gear vs The Grand Tour battle the wrong way.
For a start, why must we view this “battle” as a Game of Thrones style ‘trial by combat’, where only one side can be victorious, and the other has to die? Is there really only enough space at the top for one big-budget motoring show to survive? Journalists from The Sun and The Mirror would have you believe that this is the case, as they’re prepared to publish whatever it takes to increase the hits on their website – often topping it off with a click-bait style headline to help draw in the masses. They’d probably name their articles ‘Chris Evans is a cunt’ if they thought they could get away with it. But here’s why I think you should give the new Top Gear a chance – because if the show dies, it isn’t just Chris Evans or Matt LeBlanc who will be the real losers here – it’ll be you. You and all the other petrol heads and automotive enthusiasts around the world.
There are a few reasons why I hope Top Gear will continue to grace our screens for many years to come, and the first one relates to the matter of competition. Whether you’re talking about television shows, oil suppliers, automotive manufactures or telecommunications companies, having competitors means that more often than not, the consumer wins. More choice, cheaper prices, fresher content, more creativity, and better deals. Competition keeps people and companies on their toes and performing at their best of their abilities, and you can be certain that the respective production teams at Top Gear and The Grand Tour are doing absolutely everything they can to compete with and out-do each other in every regard. They’re spending big on producing segments with high production values, flying their film crews around the world to film cars in the most exotic locations, and continually racking their brains to come up with amazing new ideas for future episodes.
If Top Gear ends up getting cancelled in the near future, the team over at The Grand Tour suddenly don’t have to try as hard to succeed in the future. While this might not be apparent or affect the show immediately, over time stagnation could set in and everybody loses. Most of all, you.
Speaking of competition, there’s another important issue to consider when debating the whole Top Gear vs The Grand Tour battle – and that’s the matter of content. If you’ve been a Top Gear fan for the past 5 years or more, you’ll be very familiar with frustratingly long wait times that exist between each new series. Sometimes you’d be waiting 6 months, other times it’d push out to almost a year. Now I don’t know about you, but looking back, I would have absolutely loved to have a second show of almost equivalent value available which could have helped fill in those gaps. Shows like Fifth Gear or Wheeler Dealers certainly helped me in the past, but to be honest I felt they never quite reached the level of entertainment which Top Gear always offered.
With Series 23 of Top Gear set to kick off on Sunday night, and Season 1 of The Grand Tour arriving in the third-quarter of 2016, all you lucky people out there now have access to two highly polished and refined car shows to entertain yourselves with – and they’ve even been thoughtfully staggered to air at alternate times of the year. This means there will be less down-time between shows, more quality car content for you and also more variety to enjoy. So if the new Top Gear flops, it isn’t just the BBC who loses – it’s you, again.
Speaking of variety, the new Top Gear is going to be a lot different to what we’re all used to. You know that already, but I think we’re looking at that all wrong, too. Change doesn’t have to be bad, and while I adore Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, I was one of the many people who thought their version of Top Gear was starting to get a bit long in the tooth. My favourite episodes always seemed to involve a Cheap Car Challenge or an Epic Road Trip of some description – both of which we’ll continue to receive via The Grand Tour. We’re getting the same great content, just under a different banner – and I’m extremely happy about that. So if anything, I’ll be glad if the new Top Gear isn’t going to be exactly the same as the ones which preceded it – because new presenters means the BBC could and should try to inject some newness into the format.
While I’m sceptical about the amount of different presenters they’ve hired, I’m sure that as the series roll by they’ll refine the formula and possibly eject a few as they go. It’d be far worse if Top Gear stayed the same, and if Evans, LeBlanc & Co tried to imitate Clarkson, Hammond and May’s old styles and catch phrases. That kind of show simply wouldn’t work, and it’d end up on the scrap heap. Once again, we’d all lose.
Speaking of Evans, he’s copped it left, right, and centre from the press since it was announced that he’d be taking over as the new Top Gear front-man. A lot of people directed their anger and dismay at him, lamenting the loss of Clarkson & Co and even hammering Top Gear’s Facebook page in an attempt to have the original trio reinstated. My exposure of Evans to this date remains fairly limited, in-fact I don’t think I’ve seen him appear in any other show except when he was a guest on Top Gear – so I neither like him or hate him – but I think it is important to consider that regardless of what you might think of him, he was the only one who had the balls to stand up and take over the reigns of what is currently the world’s most popular motoring show.
Evans wasn’t responsible for Clarkson punching a producer, nor did he have anything to do with the BBC’s ruling which eventually got Clarkson fired; but he’s the one currently in the cockpit of the metaphorical Top Gear Boeing 747, madly pulling back on the controls as it plummets towards the ground at speed. It’s on a crash trajectory, but it isn’t really up to Evans whether the show survives, or explodes into a fiery mess upon impact – it is the fans who will decide whether they can accept a new version of a motoring show they once held very close to their hearts, or reject it. So if Evans can’t do enough to please the haters, again, we’ll all lose.
Evans aside, I see both pluses and minuses in the presenter line-up chosen by the BBC to head up the new version of Top Gear. Matt LeBlanc is an inspired choice – I believe he’ll come across as being highly charismatic, and judging from the preview trailers released thus far, I also believe he’ll be extremely entertaining to watch. I’ve enjoyed some of Chris Harris’ videos on YouTube, and I believe he could also be a winner when you combine his existing skills and personality with Top Gear’s high production values. The same can be said for Sabine Schmitz – despite her poor English, she’s quite funny and a highly skilled driver. The remaining two (Rory Reid and Eddie Jordan) are more of an unknown – and they could go one way or the other. But even if some of the presenters end up being unpopular with Top Gear fans, they can always be ejected and replaced with someone else – just like when James May replaced Jason Dawe for Series 2 of Top Gear… and look at how well that turned out. They’ll never be Clarkson, Hammond and May. But in a way that’s a good thing. They’re new, and we’ll have to accept this or we all lose.
If you’ve read all the way up to this point, you might be starting to think that I’m attempting to apply some BBC-endorsed spin here on MotoringBox, in an effort to help promote Top Gear or to kowtow to the demands of the BBC – but neither are true. The BBC haven’t been in touch, and I have nothing to gain or lose personally or financially if the new Top Gear is a success or not. But in the current climate, where it is fashionable to slam the BBC, Chris Evans, and the new version of Top Gear, I think it is important that we all take a step back and look at what we really stand to lose if we bitch and moan about the fact that Clarkson, Hammond and May are no longer a part of it. Clarkson fucked up, owned it and unfortunately paid the price. Things will never go back to the way they once were. But they don’t need to. We’ll be seeing them later in the year, and I’m quite excited about that.
But, in a way, I am also excited about Series 23 of Top Gear. Yes, chances are we probably won’t like the first episode which will air on Sunday; and yes, it’ll probably be quite different from the Top Gear we all know and love. But we really owe it to ourselves and each other to at least give it a chance. Because if Top Gear dies, not only will Chris Evans lose, along with Matt LeBlanc, Sabine Schmitz, Chris Harris, Rory Reid, Eddie Jordan, and the man in the white suit. But more importantly, as car enthusiasts, we’ll all lose something.