I haven’t read any of the fallout from last night’s new iteration of Top Gear. If I did they would probably say what a disaster it was and how terrible it is. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t very good. There was no chemistry between Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc. Everything seemed forced and scripted. This is something you could never accuse the Clarkson era of. I am sure it was scripted and rehearsed, but it never came across, the three presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have real chemistry. When they bicker and take the piss out of each other it always seemed real.
In last night’s first episode, Evans seemed delighted by the fact they had won “custody” of The Stig. The Stig was an invention of the Clarkson era, they should have let him go to Clarksons new Amazon show, The Grand Tour, and come up with their own gimmick instead of revelling in what they have won from the “divorce settlement”. There is a scene in the Tina Turner movie What’s Love Got to Do with It where she explains that all she wants out of her divorce from Ike Turner is her Name, she worked for it and it is the most valuable asset she could own. I don’t know how true this was to the singers real life, but given her success in the decades that followed its rings true. The same is true of Top Gears 2002 reboot. They took the name and the currency that it held and did their own thing with it. That is what this new show should have done, they haven’t! The new show has largely stuck to the old formula. This was a big mistake, it makes comparisons easier and less favourable than if they had done their own thing. When the old version of Top Gear was cancelled in 2001, produced John Bentley along with presenters Quentin Willson, Tiff Needell, and Vicki Butler-Henderson moved to channel five to make 5th Gear. They wanted to retain the name Top Gear but BBC retained the rights. The show never lived up to Top Gear, but at least it changed its formula over time making it its own thing and not just a pastiche of the old show.
This is something the BBC have to get right, in a time when they are trying to save a million here and there, Top Gear is one of its biggest cash cows. When you include magazine sales, and licensing agreements as well as direct sales overseas Top Gear is worth around £50 million a year to the BBC. But then the BBC haven’t exactly handled the situation well. Jeremy Clarkson’s indiscretion that caused all the problems was well published at the time. It is often stated that he was sacked by the BBC, this isn’t entirely true. After much deliberation and procrastination, the BBC decided that they would “not be renewing his contract” as stated in press release from Director-General Tony Hall.
But there is hope; When the show was rebooted in 2002, I was a little slow to catch on missing the first few episodes. I have since seen a couple of the early shows, but they are not readily available the way season two onwards are. The reason, they weren’t that great. If you can track one down you will find the familiar faces of Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond, but no James May. Instead the first series featured Jason Dawe who was soon replaced by May. The main reason for the problem was a lack of chemistry and coordination with the presenters, by season two they had found their feet and the rest is history. This is the one glimmer of hope for Evans and LeBlanc, but also the reason I am looking forward to the show The Grand Tour staring Clarkson, Hammond, May, and significantly produced by former Top Gear producer Andy Wilman. And on that bombshell…