Should Top Gear UK Continue Without Jeremy Clarkson?

I can’t believe I’m actually writing this post. Jeremy Clarkson was fired (his contract was not renewed) this week because he punched a producer of the show Top Gear. If you need a refresher on the details, you can read the BBC statement here. I am a longtime fan of Top Gear (since 2004), but I can’t condone Jeremy’s actions. He is brilliant but also quite rubbish in real life. The BBC isn’t like a TV network in the US, they are funded by tax dollars and can’t allow inappropriate things like this to happen while being funded by the government. After Jeremy is let go from the BBC, it is expected that the other hosts James May and Richard Hammond will also leave. Therefore questioning the future of the show that was the most watched factual programme in the world. 

Its a small world after all.

Its a small world after all.

You may already know that Jeremy Clarkson resurrected TopGear in 2002 from a sleepy little car review show and turned it into one of the biggest TV show franchises ever. I discovered TopGear many years before it was broadcast on US TV while on a quest to find all the Eddie Izzard TV appearances. (of whom I was fascinated with at the time) After seeing Eddie’s appearance on a dvd recording of TopGear, I looked up the show online. I spent about half of my day at work the next day watching TopGear clips on YouTube. The first episode I remember was Series 7, episode 3. The one where they take a Ford GT40, a Ferrari and a Pagani (panini) Zonda to Paris and almost get them stuck in a parking garage on their way to shoot some scenic car p#rn on the Millau bridge.

There I was in my cubicle laughing with disbelief when they almost scraped up these 100K+ super cars on the exit ramp from the garage. It was pure un-planned reality TV at that time, and far more entertaining than anything on US network TV. The OMG humor in the garage situation was contrasted with the amazing and majestic panoramic views of the cars on the Millau bridge. TopGear was brilliant because early on they decided to embrace the things that went wrong and have a sense of humor about it. They were also great about balancing the humor in the show with genuine moments of awe. (especially in many of their travel shows). The production quality and editing was also really good for a car show and with that they singlehandedly changed car commercials forever.

Stig is quite proud of this. He might get a producer credit.

Stig is quite proud of this. He might get a producer credit.

At that moment I saw the show in YouTube, I was hooked. I had a family that appreciated cars even though we didn’t have enough money to do anything stupid with them. (Buick!) My brother spent high school and college rebuilding and street racing an IROC camaro (and a bunch of beaters) and my dad was one of those people who could name any make and model of car (1930-present) pretty much on sight. I got the car humor on TopGear immediately and identified with the sort of friendship that the three hosts had on the show.

I’ve posted before about the contrast in the hosts personalities making the show great. The love of cars might be the only thing that they had in common when they started working together. Even if they amplified their personalities to the point of becoming a character on the show, it worked. I saw the same kind of humor and silliness in my brother’s friends all those years that they were taking apart their Camaros and Mustangs in an effort to make them faster, cooler and in some cases, just function. I was fascinated by the TopGear hosts and the fact that they had found a way to make a living messing around with (other people’s) cars. How do you get that gig? And then how do you live up to the expectations of everyone watching you muck about like a teenager? It was really unbelievable. Part teenager’s dream, part improvisational reality TV and part relationship drama. Oh yea, with cars. After seeing TopGear, I never ever wanted to see Motor Week  again. TopGear found a way to bottle that energy that I knew existed within the gearhead/streetracing communities here in the US and sell it to the world. Brilliant.

After initially discovering the show I had to share TopGear with my family, and after a while I was able to get a region free dvd player and some dvds from the UK and we would watch the show together. (later we found other ways of getting the shows on to our US television) My mom even thought it was a funny show even though she didn’t care about cars.

We watched TopGear on most Sundays when I would go home to visit my parents and have Sunday dinner together. TopGear was a fixture in our lives from about 2004 until 2012. Those were really good times spent together. My dad passed away in 2013 at about the same time that I had a baby. I haven’t been able to watch much TopGear since. (we’re about 2 years behind on the dvr) My brother is still a loyal fan, and isn’t 2 years behind on episodes because he doesn’t have a toddler. We have introduced our son to one or two shows of TopGear and he does like cars. (but he would prefer that it was hosted by Elmo) Maybe some day when he is older we will get the old dvds out and show him all the seasons of TopGear and have that kind of family time again. Why do I bother to tell the story about my family watching the show? Because it illustrates the kind of connection that TopGear had with so many people all over the world with this particular formula.

The story doesn’t end there though.

I have told a very long story without answering the initial question in this post.

Should TopGear live on without Jeremy Clarkson, James May & Richard Hammond presenting? 

I think TopGear can live on without them because the BBC owns the rights to the concept, the name, the production. Everything. The BBC has the distribution network and the rights to keep selling a car show to the world. They can hire new hosts, write new content and keep producing. That said, I don’t know if the BBC should continue to produce TopGear without Jeremy, James and Richard. It doesn’t really make sense.

Some logistics for the BBC to consider: New hosts take at least one season to get their bearings set and develop a rapport with eachother. Sometimes you pick the wrong people and it takes longer. The TV watching public expects an amazing amount of humor, production quality and entertainment from TopGear because of its reputation. There is no way to meet the expectations of the public before they abandon a show (maybe 2-3 episodes?). The viewers had a relationship with Jeremy, James and Richard. It developed over years of inviting them into our home every Sunday. Its awkward to have someone new over to replace someone that has been a regular guest for so long. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

camaro n mustang

The IROC in all its glory. Note the burnout patches on the street. Also note the date-stamp.

If the BBC wants to continue the TopGear UK show my suggestion is to do a franchise re-boot and not a continuation of the current show.

1. Start with 3 people that are very well versed in cars but rather unknown personalities. (not all of them have to be men)

2. Make sure they are young, but they appreciate and know a lot about automotive history.

3. Make sure they have very different personalities, yet don’t hate each other.

4. Take them to some improviser workshops. Make sure they’re OK taking direction and comfortable on camera.

5. Introduce them to the Stig. The Stig stays. (Like many Stigs before him.)

6. Possibly rename the show.

7. Possibly add some different segments or twists to the segments.

And what will happen to Jeremy Clarkson, James May & Richard Hammond? I am sure that they will continue to make entertaining shows elsewhere in the world after TopGear. The viewers still have that relationship with them and the hosts take it with them wherever they go. I think a US network/company would be perfectly fine with a host that punches people occasionally, but Jeremy isn’t a fan of the US all that much. So, we will see if he considers working on this side of the pond. James and Richard could follow Jeremy wherever he goes because they are an automotive triumvirate and car companies will still trust them with 250K cars.

It doesn’t mean that things will be easy starting over. Jeremy, James and Richard aren’t getting any younger. I actually thought that the show would end someday because one of them was seriously injured or because they were too old to get insurance for those kind of stunts. (they have taken so many chances with pushing the limits over the years) They have to really think about how they can muck about and have fun in an age appropriate way. Going to the North Pole may not be a safe option anymore. Maybe they need younger sidekicks to mentor or kids to teach about cars. Maybe they broaden the scope of the show beyond cars? Maybe its traveling that they are into now? Maybe its new car innovations? Who knows, I am sure that they will have some ideas and may already be working on something.

Whatever happens, we will survive with or without Top Gear. (We have the archives right?) It was a great time in TV history and we will remember them for their innovations and their humor. We will still have cars as an interest in our day to day lives. After all, I still drive a 300 hp turbocharged Volvo and my husband has a cutting edge electric Chevy Volt. (its faster than you think) My brother drives a V8 Buick Lacrosse Super. My brother in law drives a white hybrid Audi Q3. (I don’t know what’s up with that.) And we will enjoy many more years of interesting cars because of TopGear.

TopGear Weddings and Marketing

Those are three things I seem to be talking about this morning.

1. I am slightly jealous that the TopGear crew already incorporated themselves into someone’s wedding and therefore probably won’t be able to find a way into mine at Cantigny in the suburbs of Chicago. Bummer. Maybe we should rent the corvettes then? As an homage to TopGear and our love of cars? Read the full story here at the Daily Mail from the UK. And the Sun UK. Maybe we can do some kind of challenge in getting from the wedding ceremony to the reception? If any of the TG crew reads this blog thanks for including my ideas if and when that ever has possibly happened.

2. Wedding Planning is arduous and totally consuming of every second of free time you have when you are this close to the final date. I haven’t been updating this blog because there are so many things to manage. Oh and did I mention the I have to move out of my condo in 3 weeks also? It finally sold after 6 months of marketing and price lowering. Maybe moving would be a good TopGear challenge? Just don’t let them plan a wedding, that would be disasterous. No amount of compensation for mucking up would help fix that after the fact.

Between figuring out who will be attending, seating charts, making things like name cards and menu cards, making tiny bows on wedding favors, picking the set lists for the music, meeting with the church minster, and the soloist, seeing a test run of the flowers, getting the gown hemmed, insisting that the groomsmen and fathers to finally go rent their damn tuxes already, and matching the table runners and who knows what the f else, I have no time. It is a bit frustrating already. Now that I think about it, I am about ready to offer to turn it over to the TG folks out of frustration and a lack of sleep. I almost don’t care how it turns out, I just want my life back.

3. It hasn’t helped that I have been swamped with work either during this time, so I haven’t been able to blog about new online marketing trends either which is what I do for a living and should be easy and quick to write about. But I am working 12 hour days for difficult clients right now, so this isn’t happening either.  Anyway, it will be a while until this blog is updated regularly again, but I do plan to be back starting July 12th.

Update; the only TG tie in at my wedding was that we had a TopGear Table and a Nurbergring Nordschlefe Table. We also had a Star Wars table a Les Chats Table and a bunch of others named after our hobbies and interests.

Chicago CTA Rant – Where are the Busses? Commuting Problems

I have been a commuter in Chicago for about 3 years now. I was initially excited to abandon my car in it’s parking space during the week and walk to the EL train and then to work every day. I have saved a bucket-load of cash not paying for gas or parking downtown since I have worked in that area. I was able to get to work in 1 hour from door to door, and it would be faster if I caught the CTA Train right when I got to the station. It was never more than a 10 minute wait for a green line though.

All these things changed recently when I moved in with my Fiance in Warrenville. (I had been living in Oak Park for the last 7 years) Now I am only tied to downtown Chicago by the METRA trains. Which is very frustrating since the BNSF only comes in to Union Station which is all the F way over west of the loop and not walkable to Michigan Avenue. 

This means you have to fill that gap with more public transport since cabs are too expensive to take every day. Your choices are the CTA elevated Trains which aren’t really by Union Station or Michigan Avenue either or the CTA Buses. Everyone said the Buses were the way to go. And for all the ranting about Metra, the CTA Buses have ended up being far more problematic than the Train. (although the train has been so packed the last 2 days that people have been standing in the isles in all the cars)

This morning for example it was a 1/2 hour wait for a 121 bus by Union Station. WTF? They are supposed to run every 12-15 minutes per the CTA Site. Last night was no better. I caught the 151 bus to Union Station for a change (most days I wait a 1/2 hour for that at 6 pm also) and then there was no Train until 6:50 pm. I spent a 1/2 hour sitting in the train station doing nothing. Where was the 6:20 BNSF?

That is the first time a METRA train has been missing but the CTA buses are there at about a 50% rate . I can walk to the train station in a 1/2 hour, but if I can get a bus it only takes 15 minutes (even stopping on every block). But if I knew there would not be a bus for a 1/2 hour I would just F-ing walk.

I get to start working from home on Fridays this week. I won’t miss the 1.5-2 hour commute each way.

How have your experiences been with Chicago CTA & METRA commuting?

TopGear USA, Canceled – 2nd try

TG USA NBC FAIL - Who is up next?

TG USA NBC FAIL - Who is up next?

I just read that TopGear USA or Gear as NBC was going to call it, has been canceled before it has even begun. (because of the epic fail of Knight Rider??? WTF?)  This is disappointing news but it also doesn’t surprise me since this has been the 2nd try at getting a sister show in the US running in some form.

There was a BBC developed test pilot about 2 years ago called TGUSA that never left the ground, and in 2008 NBC started the process of developing a series and selecting hosts and now that has stopped too.

The Top Gear Show people at the BBC say that they are shopping the concept around to cable broadcast networks via the Jalopnik post, but I am not all that sure this will work either. I think that finding a network in the US for TopGear will be tricky because of a few things:

1. All the shows in the US change their content to please advertisers. TopGear does not. This is a huge risk for US networks, (cable or free tv) because they could loose a huge amount of revenue if an advertiser doesn’t like a comment about their product on the show. (not just cars remember, TG rips on anything they don’t like from caravans to clothing to speed cameras)

2. The only people who will want to fund this show would have to be fans. (even if they are executives or media moguls, they still have to be fans to believe in the concept) They would have to understand the intricacies of what TG is, how it is produced and why people love it so much all over the world. You can’t mess with that formula. They are trying so hard in Australia to get it right and my brother still calls it “Bad Top Gear” that we watch when UK Top Gear is off-season. It is a show that is incredibly hard to get right  and the chance you can replicate this in a formulaic way is slim. Just think, the UK  Top Gear has been running since 1977 and only since the late 1990’s has it been really good. It took them that long to get the UK version right and they are still tweaking.

The TopGear show not only takes the best improviser hosts, it must take a huge staff of researchers, a boatload of talented car mechanic guys for all the race and experimental stuff they do, a boatload of the best camera guys and the most excellent editors and sound people. And I am sure I am unfairly forgetting half of the staff. And then there is the constantly updated website. This is a large overhead cost when networks may not know if they can make any ROI from it and don’t know heads or tails about what would make it successful.

Maybe they should start small instead? A small TG-USA blog with short 5-10 min segment clips once in a while? See if it generates enough web interest and then take it to TV? Smaller staff, less hours needed in all the functions and it lets you get your bearings straight on all the details before going on to a higher cost/risk situation. Just a thought… 

Or maybe produce one time hour long “specials” to see how they take without a huge commitment in set building and long term contracts? More the on the road stuff, challenges, trips, building/breaking things? I am just trying to think of ideas on how to keep costs down and limit the risk in the beginning so it can catch on.

Another idea is to pitch it to a sports network, the speed channel or odd indie channel on cable like FX. Or go wild and produce it on the BBC America channel. (and take off those neutered versions of the show that are running there now) That might be it’s best chance of succeeding. Get some large (non-car) sponsors of the show and see what happens. 

Regardless of who ends up producing and funding TopGear USA I hope it lives and I still look forward to seeing the final product. (even if it ends up kind of crap)   . . .

Hey can I help? My brother and I plus my fiance make 3 redheads who know negligible things about cars and have great banter. (my Brother and Fiance actually do know something about cars, I am really the goof of the bunch) If nothing else these pics prove we are real people.

Ok, I know that is a crap idea, but I had to try…

We’d be the super low budget version.

Here’s a camcorder duct taped to your window, good luck, don’t break it. 

Seriously, it would be funny… Ok I’ll forget about it…

Top 10 Questions we have for TopGear, Season 12

I just wanted to post these since I have not written about TopGear UK in a while and I didn’t want them to think they weren’t still producing top content or keeping my attention. The season 12 shows (1-4) that I have seen so far have been excellent and had many laugh out loud moments in each one. I always find it funny that my brother, fiancee, my dad and I laugh at different parts of the shows too.

The US trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats for Speed Week was my favorite so far (maybe because of a post I made last year suggesting it for TG USA) but there is always another great TopGear show around the corner. Anyway, here are my top 10 questions for TopGear UK, since I do not live in the UK and can’t go ask them directly. (if they would like to come to Chicago, I would be happy to answer their questions about my city) 

If you have the answers to any of these questions feel free to leave me a comment.

10. When is the TopGear USA (Gear on NBC?) going to start? They have been filming/talking/speculation for over 6 months already. (This has been answered…it has been dropped by NBC, no plans as of yet to sign another network)
9. When are they going to start showing current shows on BBC America? (ahem, without 33% of the show cut out)
8. When are we going to get the Top Gear track times on the board for the Corvette ZR-1, Challenger SRT-8 and CTS-V? (its only fair)
7. Why does Richard Hammond change hairstyles each episode? Why does he still wear the man-jewelry he aquired during that Africa trip episode? Why is James May’s hair always falling in his face in the studio segments even though there should be a stylist around to help him avoid that? Why does James always wear the Cheshire Cat rugby shirt on new car test days?
6. Where can I go to learn to drive like that in my car? (seriously, TopGear sport driving schools sound good to me)
5. What is that 747 doing there out on the runway near the track? Is it flyable? I thought it looked like they might be taking it apart in one of the recent episodes.
4. Why is one of the turns in the TopGear track called “Chicago” if they have never actually filmed a show in Chicago? (hint, hint…)
3. What are all these bets that end with weird clothing about?
2.Who is the stig? What are the morse code messages saying in the car when the Stig tests out the new cars on the track? 


1. How can I integrate TopGear somehow into my wedding ?

TopGear USA Interview with Adam Corolla and my show suggestions for BBC & NBC

So, I saw this article by popular michanics about the new USA version of TopGear and their interview with Adam Corolla today and since so much seems to be up in the air about the show I thought I would post some topic suggestions for fun. I am a car fan, although not a gearhead. My brother is a gearhead so I’m related to cars, I guess. Anyway don’t expect me to decode the technical imperfections in blockbuster movies or anything, but I do have a database of TG episodes in my brain to off-sett any lack of technical knowledge.  Oh yea, just to clarify one last point: I am a girl. (needed since most people who write about TopGear are always guys)

1. INDIANAPOLIS SPEEDWAY – you have to work it in somewhere. It is an icon of American racing and cars and history all in one. Occasionally TG gets into the history of cars by exploring the past and how crazy ass those people were driving without seatbelts, air bags or windshields. Indy is an icon and the track isn’t busy most the year, so stop by, build something, race it, put the stig against some real drivers, drive some vintage racers and see what happens.

2. The Bonneville Salt Flats – We all know this institution for it’s land speed records and it’s yearly speed week. I would love to go, but alas I have a day job that pays fairly well and I can’t leave. So, go out, build something, race something, follow the stories of some teams, see what it is all about. OMG! TopGear UK is doing this!!!! (holy shit that is going to be a good episode!)

3. Nurbergring – Ok I know it isn’t all one word like that, but it’s how I say it. This track has gained heavenly status since it’s TG inclusion and it is the 3rd most interesting car place to go on my list. A major feature of this trip would be the lack of German language knowledge of the presenters and the colorful regulars that race there. Sabine is a super bonus since she is an amazing driver.

4. Route 66 – Hello road trip. I think most of it is still available or close to being travelable now. It might be a fun challenge with vintage cars. They say they were easy to fix because there weren’t all the bolt on power accessories back then, so if they break down it shouldn’t be too hard to fix a 57 Chevy right?

5. Fuel economy cars – hey, we are all affected by this running out of oil because “we taught the rest of the world to worship cars and now they have them” problem. So, why not do some alternative fuel conversions? I have a 2001 Saab 9-3 that I would love to convert to electric. How on earth does one do that? What ever happened to electric car magazine from the 1990’s? Import some Hot Hatchbacks from Europe that should be for sale here based on their fuel economy stats.

6. Demolition Derby – Hello; fun times at the state fair. Every show should end with a Demolition Derby or breaking stuff.

7. NASCAR – Um, I am not much of a fan, but at some point you have to respect the speed that they travel and their innovative use of duct tape. I would suppose there could be a lot of interesting challenges here. Not sure what though since I don’t watch because of that annoying rev-it-up segment they have. Do they have what it takes to be on a Nascar pit crew?

8. Figure out why American cars suck. Seriously, why do they suck now when they didn’t 40 years ago? Take a poll, comparison shop, talk to the US manufacturers and ask why they suck and why I have to buy a car from Sweden just to get a decent looking one, even thought it is still an unreliable piece of crap from GM. Why can’t they bring back the 50 mpg geo metro for the eco-people who want it or the EV 1 for people who love it, why can’t Ford design a fuel efficient car to save their life and why can’t Chrysler make a car that doesn’t break down every 3rd week?

9. Buick of the week segment – just a suggestion…

Ok, that is all I could come up with in 15 minutes. I will post more later if I can think of additional ideas, but alas I have to go back to my real job now. I would think also that as many new car reviews as you can get for hot cars is great, but don’t forget real people cars too like low cost entry level cars and family cars. You can forget the trucks and mini-vans though. No one really needs to test them, they are all the same.