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…

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TopGear USA Version 2 with NBC BBC Partnership

According to this news article NBC has contracted with the BBC to produce a USA version of TopGear for network free tv. No estimates on when it would launch but I would guess Fall of 2008. It is sad though that I think they may miss the mark. A lot of funny TopGear stuff is not suitable for US TV let alone would pass the network censors.

Anyway, I did get some hope when I suggested a few months ago that TopGear should hold open auditions for the 3 presenter spots when launching a new show in a new country because you can more accurately find talent that is in touch with what is funny and new with cars. Plus its a huge PR event to get the public involved.

Anyway the TopGear Australian franchise took my advice (or thought of it too) and has open auditions scheduled. Go Aussies! Bring us some Holden goodness.

Another Word of advice: for an unscripted but not a reality show, you need people with a background in Improv and Cars. Or a smart ass who knows cars, or an improv funny guy who knows nothing about cars and gets to be the new captain slow. And these presenters have to have strong opinions about cars for it to clash in a funny way. Who knows. But improv training and quick wit is a big part of the equation. Exploiting your lack of knowledge for comedy can be just as funny as knowing a lot.

So, what I want to know is where do I sign up? You could very easily use a girl in the mix right?

The other part of the successful mix is not chopping it into small pieces with commercials every 5 minutes and not ruining it with dumb stunts like fear factor. I hate fear factor but love TopGear. If you put anything like FF on TG I will hunt you down and hang you by your toenails. It’s supposed to be about humor in car culture and in every day life. Heck, get the Jalopnik guys. They know the cult of cars as good as anyone I know.

My brother just replied to my email I sent alerting him to this and suggested that Jay Leno or Tim Allen host but I really think they need presenters who are unknown and from improv. Jay Leno and Tim Allen are great funny car guys, but they are too attached to other brands and images. And they aren’t a Jeremy Clarkson. Plus how are you going to get through traffic on the 405 with filming big stars anyway? Would either of those guys put on a wet suit and try to windsurf in freezing cold water? And be ok with failing miserably in freezing cold water? You also need unknown people so you don’t attract too much attenton filming in the city as these challenges are happening.

On a side note about the show content, they need to visit all the racing and car history places along the way going cross country as they film different challenges. (think INDY) They go across entire countries in a day on UK TopGear but in the US it would be states instead. At least you don’t need a passport. And we need an American cousin Stig that actually fits in the car this time. Not all Americans are that fat.

Anyway, my lack of time for this post is probably evident in it’s lack of  structure, grammar and spelling, but you get the point: NBC/BBC: Don’t FORK this up!

And my brother just emailed again saying he still wants Tim Allen to host with 2 unknown but funny/smart side kicks. Ok, we can compromise on that, but no denim shirts and grunting this time ok? That’s so 1990’s. Ugh. 

Another idea; Why not Ze Frank? he singlehandedly entertained us on the internet for a year and might be perfect for this kind of non scripted show. Check out the show http://www.zefrank.com/theshow/ and his TED talk from a few years ago if you have a minute. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/87  I have been wondering what he has been up to and missing his show anyway. Maybe this would be a good opportunity for him. Hey Studio people, give Ze a call!

 Update: The first TopGear USA NBC host has been chosen: Adam Corola.

Toyota Quality Drops, Ford Quality Improves Dramatically

I have never been excited by the sight of a Toyota, but they have climbed to the top of the sales charts in the U.S. because of a claim that they build better cars with less mechanical problems and better over all quality. They cite all the J.D. Power and Associates awards and Consumer Reports reviews that gave them high marks for quality and the consumers that echoed the same feelings with repeat purchases generation after generation.

It wouldn’t be an axe to grind with me except that every Toyota owner, dealer and ad over the years has picked on GM and American Domestic cars saying that they suck. (and has picked on my cars always being Buicks and recently a Saab) And in the 80’s they did but that was a looooong time ago now, and the tables have turned. GM, Ford and Chrysler have been very aggressive in making production changes that improve quality and reliability in the short term and long term.

The gap between quality in a foreign car and a domestic one has closed and for years (despite many ad claims) there hasn’t really been any difference. Yet these people who own Toyotas still flaunt it and say that any American Car just sucks. And I resent that. Especially today when a new report from Consumer Reports comes out saying that the 6 cylinder Toyota Camry for 2007 scored as “below average”. Not ok, or good, or average. The best selling TOYOTA IS BELOW AVERAGE in QUALITY! 

Go suck on that Toyota!

I am sorry if this seems like a very 1980’s stance to have in liking American cars, or if it seems uneducated and uninformed like many Domestic car buyers are (it seems to be the demographic type who keeps buying them) but it is really a very current idea and very related to our own economy. (Hello Jobs!) I think that the open market lasezz faire idea only works to the benefit of the masses if you have companies and people that care about their own country and economy enough to support it and be proud of it’s achievements. And here we have a case of most people believing old out dated information from a foreign manufacturer and the advertising rather than the real true information.

It is hard to sway people’s opinion and “feeling” about something as costly as a car. It takes years and sometimes generations, but I would like to start that chain reaction to bring people back to the belief that U.S. made cars are good quality, very reliable, a good deal for the money and will hold their resale value. It isn’t just a belief though, it is true and proveable with stats.

For example, I have a 2001 Saab. (Yes Saab is owned and operated by GM) And I bought it for 14K in 2003. It’s 2007 and I was thinking of trading it in and was offered 8K for it. Would you get that much value retention in a Toyota that was 6 years old? I don’t think so. They really can hold their value and be good reliable cars. I decided to keep my Saab and I still drive it now. I am very happy with it and would recommend checking out GM, Ford and Chrysler in your next car search. I think you will be happier with what you find there than with the imports.