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.

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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.

TopGear is Pissing me off! (BBC America Edits a Lot Out)

topgear, BBC AmericaOk TopGear and company, I thought you had finally come to your senses and finally decided to broadcast TopGear to the United States via BBC America. I was glad the US Pilot was scrapped (because there was no open audition for it) and people would stop uploading your videos to YouTube because they would be able to tune in and see it on TV like 350 million other people around the world do every week. But NO, I saw it for the first time this weekend and I am sorry to report that it’s screwed up again. Here’s why:

1. The season is off for broadcasting to America. They show season 9 on BBC America and Season 10 is airing now. Why do they make the US wait 6 months behind everyone else? See reason 2.

2. They cut out 1/3 of the program!! WTF!!!@!>? I know the BBC America’s monetization format is from subscriber fees AND commercials but jesus, why can’t you just leave all 60 minutes of the show intact for just this one show? Or extend it to be an hour and a half? Putting 20 minutes of commercials in and taking out 20 minutes of content ruins it. It is no where near as good if you chop it up and put commercials for razors and beer every 5 minutes.

3. WTF is up with the promos showing the big funny moments before each commercial break?? You’re spoiling it. It’s not supposed to work like US TV where you bait someone along for 3 hours for a payoff after you have monetized them to death. Just let it run for 60 minutes and then play commercials for a 1/2 hr before or after.

Seriously. This is awful. And it’s not really TopGear. You can’t ‘get” TopGear in bite size pieces. You don’t get the relationships or the references that are particularly UK or European unless you sit and watch the whole thing and then think about it for a while and watch it again. And duh, that is why we LIKE it. We want to learn about how things are over there, and see what they have to say. It’s entertaining because it’s worldly and different.

Please, I beg you to just sell the full format shows in a DVD box set that is in it’s complete 60 minute format.  Start releasing season 1 now and roll out the rest over the next 2 years. Seriously it is the only way you will ever really win over the Americans, by showing us the same program the same way you show it to the rest of the world. Jipping us by selling a 1/2 assed version just sucks.

At this point I recommend only watching the full versions on YouTube and not watching it on BBC America at all.

Building Rockets and Jets from parts

If you are one of those people who watch the UK rocketry association with interest as the TopGear guys launch a mini from a ski jump or blast a car named robin into space ala space shuttle you may be able to get into rockets too as a hobby. There are a lot of rules and regulations as well as saftey concerns for getting into this kind of hobby involving rockets and jet pack type technology, but for geeks its a lot of fun. Even better if this is part of your business (if you work for aviation companies like Boeing, Lockheed or Northrop Grumman) there is a site online with all the supplis and parts you can possibly need. See how you can quickly search Jet-Tek’s stock. It’s fast, but not as fast as the jets themselves.

TopGear Season 10 Episode 4 Review – Drive Across African Desert

This week’s show was not the funniest one ever. It was really about jaw dropping risk and edge of your seat drama in a more serious sense. I was drawn to the show’s risky challenges of driving across most of the continent of Africa in old used cars and was suprised that they were able to pull off as much as they were. Many times they even decided to reveal the team of 20 people or so that were traveling with them to ensure saftey, fix the cars repeatedly, film everything and manage camping all along the way.

I think this is good because the idea that they really travel on these far away expeditions by themselves is beginning to get a little hard to believe. In fact those of us that have been watching for a few years now are pretty wise to the idea that they have a huge crew to make these situations which look unplanned work. Sure it’s not scripted but it is very planned out. So that was nice to see and it is always cool to see them demolish some cars and run them on the frames only.

And it was nice to see that James was right for once that his Mercedes (not merc, that is a mercury guys) was really quite good in the challenge and held up the best overall minus the weight issue in the salt flats. That wouldn’t be legal here or in europe probably so it’s good they did it there. Anyway check out the site and see clips from the show.

TopGear Season 10 episode 3 review

smallest car ever built, clarkson, jeremy, topgear, tall, small, car, peel p50This week’s top gear was even funnier than the last 2. I Know they are really all about serious cars sometimes and we do appreciate that. We learn things about cars we will never own, and it’s entertaining. Then we get to see Richard almost not park a car and Jeremy shoehorn himself into the smallest car ever built. These are the endearing parts of the show and keep us laughing with the ridiculousness of what they try and pull off. Here are some of the funniest moments from this week:

1. James describes all the things you can do with aTampon.

2. Richard tries to park a Lexus with the automatic park assist feature and lands it in the wall.

3. Jeremy drives the smallest car ever to work and then through the BBC. Its pure comedy.

There was also a segment about the one millionth lamborghini that no one will own with another name I forget because there are so many these days. They also review the Ferrari 599 which apparently isn’t a daily driver and isn’t spectacular enough to be a weekender either. I think the styling is a little reserved and doesn’t look the part. Something is out of balance about it, like the guy who designed the front end wasn’t the guy who designed the back end. They don’t match. James also drives a Rolls Royce convertible in a very cool elegant segment with some very nice views of the car against a beautiful dusk sky and city.

Till next week, we will be driving with the sport option turned on. (in the saab)