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.

Top Gear Season 17

It is almost that time again. June 12 26th the 17th season of Top Gear UK starts. The marketing gurus at the BBC have finally decided to run the same season in the USA on BBC America as in the UK. Last season this meant a 2 week lag time, but considering the editing needed that was pretty good. Now I’m seeing daily posts on my Facebook feed reminding me that it is coming back with some big social media campaign and we’re only a week away.

I am somewhat jaded about this season though, because of a lot of controversy that has surrounded the show and the presenters in the off-season. I have also been watching this show for far longer than most people (since 2004) and think it has been some of the best TV ever created.  One thing should be clear about this list, I love Top Gear and have been telling everyone about it for the last seven years, so these issues may be different than the way you feel about the show not having a long history with it. Some of my concerns to think about before you set your DVR/TIVO to record the season and commit yourself to 10+ hours of TV:

1. Jeremy Clarkson is an arse. We all know this, and he amplifies the rudeness of his character for laughs most of the time even if it isn’t his real personality. There is also a charismatic charm there, but he seems a whole lot less charming lately. There have been reports about evidence linking him to dating a female crew member on the Top Gear MPH Tours (he is married). He even wrote about it in a printed piece in 2010 thinking nobody would get it.  Well this whole issue kinda spoils it for most women fans of Top Gear. Most women find a charming guy that is married kinda interesting but a charming cheat isn’t going to work out for anyone. The mystique is lost. This whole thing was clumsy and a mess for someone that has been grooming his career for decades. The only twist I can think of with this story is to possibly meet Chelsea Handler if he does decide to get a divorce. With his wife having been his long time manager, this whole issue has put Top Gear in a precarious position knowing they still have to work together.

2. Richard & James have had as many TV series going as Jeremy made in the last 25 years. Therefore, I think they’re stretched a bit thin. I also think they’re both losing the newness of the experience that create the genuine reactions on camera that really resonated with the audience. (if you’ve seen one Bugatti, you’ve seen them all) Jeremy entertains but the people relate to James and Richard. But with so many super cars of their own now, is this really exciting anymore? I kinds feel like they need some time off to get back to their roots of why they are not Tim Allen or Jay Leno and why that made them great presenters.

3. They’ve possibly run out of new things to do. The show has even used some of my anonymously posted ideas (Bonneville salt flats)  Possibly because they thought of them too. But if I’m no pro are they scraping the bottom of the barrel? I do think they have created some of the best TV in history, but that is such a high mark to meet again and again. I foresee cross promotion coming with all Top Gear country teams (UK, USA, AUS, RUS, CH) pitted against each other in some kind of epic battle of automotive wonder, with subtitles of course.  I think they need to start looking further from car entertainment ideas and into other types of shows/experiences and bring the cars into them in order to keep the originality high.  The USA Show has a lot of possibility because it is new, and I am almost more excited about their prospects than the UK team right now.

4. There are BBC budget cuts. And it is hard to coordinate script writers, the best cameramen & editors on the planet and all the special effects and projects that go into the show on a smaller budget. Those sweeping helecopter shots aren’t cheap and all the automakers use them in their commercials now too. Heck Jeremy Clarkson may have to start doing his own driving. (check the windows when they show exterior shots of the car, grayed out, it’s not the rainy weather either).

5. And last but not least, They’ve run out of tricks. The comment from Ben Collins about wearing a curly wig to do Jeremy’s power slides hit me hard. I know Jeremy Clarkson is good at managing Top Gear because he has done many different shows on UK TV over the last 25 years. Heck, you’ve looked up the Motorworld show? Far less interesting, and in one he rides a motorcycle (very well btw) around the track at the F1 race in Monaco. Jeremy has had a lot of time to figure things out and evolve into what Top Gear has become. But I think the word is out about  how pre-planned and manipulated things are to get them on camera and ultimately what seems like reality but is not. I’m not sure people are going to be so fiercely loyal to a show that manipulates things so heavily and has abandoned the accidental funny that used to happen. Some people might call this jumping the shark.

The one thing that Top Gear UK has in its favor is that there is rarely if ever any good TV on in the summer in the USA. True, people are outside and not in their living rooms as much in the evenings while it is warm outside, but the DVR saves you while most shows are off season and you don’t have to compete for an audience.

So, will you still be watching? I want to but I’m a bit scared it won’t be like it used to be.

TopGear’s MyFirstCar contest

You may know by now that I’ve been a huge Top Gear UK fan for about 7 years now. I discovered the show when I was on a quest for Eddie Izzard comedy performances and saw that he was a guest on the show. This slightly crazy show really caught my interest. I almost immediately found the Top Gear episode where they take 3 supercars through France and get them stuck in a parking garage and I was hooked because it reminded me exactly of the stuff that my brother and I were into back in High School and college.

When I heard about the #MyFirstCar contest from BBC America I thought, we had a good story to tell. And although it is a cost saving move to ask your fans to do your advertising for you, I was still hooked.

For the contest I set out to figure out how one makes a video with the very limited tools I had available. I did not want to talk in front of a webcam, it felt too awkward, and I’m not exactly a glamour model at this point in time. Plus I’m never going to be as interesting on camera as Jeremy Clarkson without some training.

I was looking for the “ken burns” slow zoom effect on some photos because that is mostly what I had to work with, 1990’s advantix camera photos. I thought I might be able to do a voice over narration and possibly talk Scott into it too, but it ended up just as me in the end. 

We did find that Scott had one vhs tape with some stuff a guy Paul had taped and given copies to the guys. It was fun to watch and see some of the racing stuff I had not seen them do but most wasn’t fit for broadcasting due to my flip camera video of the TV and the nature of the comedy on screen.

I ended taking a few shots with the Flip camera I got from work for Christmas and used them at the end with the car in the garage and we pooled photos from my house, his and my parents. Scanning them in and finding the software wasn’t that hard. (I found Muvee and it wasn’t hard to learn to use, although some people may find it too automated)

Writing the story was the most difficult part. I wrote out a few versions, Scott edited them and then we realized the photos and content were nowhere near as long as the written piece. And I could not read it and watch the pictures to keep up at the same time. So I was winging it, and I say “Um, So, Yea” a lot as I’m thinking of what to say next. We also found we didn’t have photos of crucial parts of the story that were funny so they were cut. We also tend to be funniest when we play off eachother and make fun of eachother and he wouldn’t take part because he’s shy or something.

The end result isn’t a funny video like I had hoped, but like I said most of the funny content wasn’t suitable for publishing. We ended up with a more sentimental documentary piece. It doesn’t have the views to really be a contender in the competition. It was fun though to do something new and try and think about the story in a video creation like what they do on TG all the time. I have even more respect for what they do and the high level of quality in their work.

UPDATE: it is now 2/8/2011, a week into this contest and my video has received a whole 62 views. This is in comparison to the other people’s videos who had really old falling apart cars as their first car and weird stories as to how horrible they were are all 1,000 views and such.

I guess my video isn’t the intended story they wanted to tell. And I admit my storytelling wasn’t great considering my editing ability is limited and the story had to fit what the software and photos provided. And I can’t exactly get on camera and talk about this right now. And I’m just more low key than the guys jumping around on their cars in the videos.

I suppose that I should have expected this. I haven’t been to an improv class in far too long. Best of luck to the rest of the crowd, I applaud your ability to get the BBC people to put your videos on TV.

UPDATE: 2/8/2011 As I was lamenting that the video has not performed very well with views, I got an email from BBCA. Plot twist…

Update: 2.28.2011 – So, they did email us a release form to use the video in their promotional process for TG UK (America). We did see that they did post our video to the Top Gear My First Car Tumblr feed, of which drove about 400 views to the video. I’m guessing that is where our story ends. We haven’t heard anything since and although I asked if our video would be included in snippets used to advertise the contest on TV, and they said yes, we never saw it there. Granted, it has been a pretty busy few weeks so I could have missed it. .

This was fun and all, but considering that Rutledge Wood posted on FB today that he was flying to the UK to meet Hammond for the first time today, and he’s the host of the USA show, I’m not going to hold out thinking that the general public will have any way of enjoying Top Gear in person anytime soon.

I kind of wish I did re-record the voice over since I think I sound like a dork in it, but I’m not going to have time at the moment. Maybe at a later time I will be able to spend more time on car related videos.

Update 3.1.2011 – I finally had time to go through the episodes on BBC America tonight and look for the 1 commercial spot they use the #myfirstcar clips in, which is usually somewhere in the 2nd half. I saw a one second glimpse of a  photo from my video used, so they did indeed use something after sending me all kinds of forms to sign. It wasn’t actually a picture of the car we had as our first car though. (possibly the assignment had a bit of scope creep adding the history like that) So the Electra – Park Avenue gets its brief moment to shine instead of the IROC camaro. I think they had to use this picture because it had people in it and they seem to want someone’s face involved in the video. I’m not wild about my appearance these days so I thought I’d spare people the pain, and keep the focus on the cars but I guess that wasn’t outlined in the guidelines, but it was still important.  I kind of want to reshoot it and start over, but time is fleeting and the contest is almost over.

Update: March 2011. I ended up with about 400 views on the video and have taken it down now since the contest is over and things have moved on.

Top Gear USA Review

TopGear USA Buick Roadmaster Wagon 2011 Redesign Cool ModernSince the holiday hullabaloo has passed I am sloooowwlly catching up with the programming on our DVR. One in particular that I was both excited about and dreading at the same time is Top Gear USA. Here is my review of the first 4 episodes of the show.

We were curious to see if it was going to become Top Gear Lame Edition, and it has its lame parts but seems to be more good than bad thus far. (or like my Brother calls the Aussie version Bad Top Gear) To be clear, it is worth watching!

If you have all the Top Gear USA episodes on your DVR/TIVO or eventually on DVD, my recommendation is to skip the first episode. Start watching at Episode 2. We showed the first one to my brother-in-law when he was visiting from Norway and he fell asleep while watching it. All it does is establish the three character types in the show of which I will share with you now and save the hour of time in your calendar:

1. Tanner Faust is the geek. He lists facts and figures the whole time thinking he can estimate how every matchup will turn out and tries some lame smack talk to try and be superior because of his history winning races. It is lame and he establishes himself as the nerdy-geek from here on out. He is the best driver but the one with the least personality and is most annoying trying to be superior instead of relating to his Top Gear USA cast mates, of which he doesn’t seem to really like. I guess its hard to become friends when you’ve been competing against people for so long. (this gets better later in the season, but it takes a while)

2. The Italian Guy – (Adam Ferarra) is an interesting choice for the show. I like that he isn’t a pro driver and is new to this space and I like his Italian character as an element in the series since it is one you run across a lot in car circles. That spot on the side of his face worries me, is it skin cancer? (I just had some removed so I may be paranoid) I do like his genuine emotion and feelings about the cars and the experiences. You can tell this is very real to him when it is being filmed. I think he should loosen up a lot though in the studio, he seems very nervous on camera in the first few episodes. Best quote yet: “That has the turning radius of Pennsylvania” about the Buick Roadmaster. (sometimes he seems a bit too harsh in his car put-downs in the studio but he has loosened up a lot)

3. Rutledge Wood is the underdog that becomes the most entertaining and likeable character in the series. If you’ve seen his NASCAR game show, just watch this instead. Rutledge is a little more southern than most of us, but he is informed of things that happen in the northerly areas and with non-us cars. Above all, he seems to be most adept at making fun of the situation, revealing the emotions linked to a car or situation and willing to tease his castmates without seeming mean. I think he is the new Jeremy Clarkson because of his timing and ability to understand the improvised comedy with these situations messing around in cars. He also gets big bonus points for choosing a Buick to run through the Save GM testing and defending Buick a few weeks later in the studio. And because he also has a beard. Best quote yet: “Anyone seen Tom Cruise in a Girly Ferrari?” in Las Vegas. (everyone looooooves Rutledge except James May)

Some Top Gear USA show segment suggestions from the peanut gallery:

1. Car sledding – pull someone on a sled with the car, extra points for jumping the car and the person. This suggestion is from my brother who used to do this with his late 90’s purple cavalier.

2. NPR recently had an article about Caterpillar, Volvo and Case construction and earth moving equipment being stolen all over the US and Canada because of the universal key system where one universal key will start any vehicle and you can buy them at a dealer for $10. This is too weird to not use in some segment somewhere.

3. I recently saw a car carrier on Ogden Avenue in Naperville unloading cars in the center turn lane inbetween lanes of traffic going both directions because it couldn’t make the turning radius into the dealerships. This was a dicey process in the middle of rush hour. A challenge where the guys have to unload cars from train cars, load them on car carrier truck trailers and deliver them somewhere would be interesting/exciting/scary. Also the old American Revolution car carrier commercial where they get the Chevy band back together comes to mind if you would like to integrate some stunt driving with a car carrier. (the commercial still gives me goosebumps! And its amazingly from an era before TG UK influenced car commercials)

4. A challenge involving a grocery store parking lot covered in a sheet of ice and a lot of shopping carts.

And you can follow my tweets about the show @chicagogirl1 on Twitter.

Another afterthought about the new show: It is nice to have feelings/remembrances of the cars that they pull up in for challenges on TG USA. In the UK version it is always kind of unknown/weird/quizzical at that point but in the US version we start voicing our opinions at the TV at that moment we see the cars and sometimes have driven them.

The Man in the White Suit – Ben Collins Stig Book

ben collins is the stig 2010 and a pretty hot guy if you ask me.I just finished The Man in the White Suit by Ben Collins and I found it to be an interesting look into the life of a man that landed in an amazing job on TopGear UK, and a telling look at the life of TopGear behind the scenes.

I was one of the many people saying “why?!” after I heard that The Stig published a book about his experiences on TopGear and revealed his identity and effectively lost his job. It seemed like career suicide to do this and lose this sweet gig racing some of the rarest cars on the planet and hooning some of the funniest moments in car television for an audience of 350 million people worldwide.

After reading the book I understand his motivations a bit more. In the press Ben Collins has said that he revealed this information in order to better move on in his career rather than be taunted by Jeremy and the other presenters about the difference in pay and benefits. And, I agree that taunting or lording things over the heads of your employees will produce resentment that can’t be undone and eventually things always end badly.

Reading this book has surprised me though, about the man who was The Stig and about how TopGear UK is actually run on a daily basis.

I think the first thing people realized after hearing that The Stig had written the book (after they were initially upset to lose the stig on the show) was that they had never heard of Ben Collins and most of the speculation up until that point was about F1 drivers in this role.

The truth seems that while Ben Collins was talented and up and coming in the racing circuit ranks of England he did not make it to F1 or stay in any one race style for that long. His race story started late in life (teenage years) and was mostly considered too old for positions with teams or had bad timing/luck with the teams he was on. But that is the story for 99% of race car drivers isn’t it? We just never hear about them so it seems unusual.

So, TopGear coming up as an opportunity was a blessing in a way, almost as much as it was a curse. What it seemed to be was a very-very part time job that despite the risk involved, would not provide enough regular pay to live on. The calls for doing appearances seemed irregular and in order to make ends meet after ditching his marketing career in favor of race driving, he had to enlist in the army in order to pay the bills.

Something does strike me as slightly crazy about Ben Collins knowing that at one point he was working in Marketing, racing cars, doing stunt work on films, enlisted in the Army and doing TG all at once. Who does this? It isn’t possible. That is like burning the candle at four ends. Nobody can keep that up and not end up dead somewhere. (yes, marketing is deadly)

On the same note Ben has also had some amazing skill/luck combinations that have mostly kept him out of the hospital/emergency room with a racing, stunt driving and military career. He only details one serious crash injury and with all those miles. It seems amazing it has only happened once considering all the crashes in racing that you see on TV.

On other notes it is surprising that in the Top Gear early days many of the stunts and shots they want to get with the Stig are vaguely defined and not at all specked/planned out from a safety or logistical perspective before Ben Collins gets there. It seems to be all managers and idea people pointing at him to figure it out and do the stunts without killing himself. This knack for figuring it out and nicely working for people who don’t really know what they’re doing landed him in his fifth career as a stunt driver and that has worked out in providing some choice movie driving roles, but again not regular salaried work.

I don’t know if I identify with the side of Ben Collins that puts himself through grueling Army military exercises running marathons through the un-marked wilderness while practically starving… but the side that shows juggling act of career with ambition is one that most people face and can relate to, so that angle in his writing works. I think most people have genuinely appreciated the creativity, skill and tenacity that he has brought to The Stig role over the last six years (this was way longer than the time the last stig was able to remain anonymous).

Do I think Ben did the right or wrong thing in reveling his identity? I think he realized that this job like most had an expiration date on it, and with the press on his heels he would be fired eventually when they published some weird proof of his identity without his knowledge. I think he just wanted to get in front of that and get the real story out before it got ahead of him and he lost his job as a result. Everyone wants some kind of control over their career and he hasn’t been allowed any in the last 6 years by taking extreme measures to remain anonymous and it was hampering his ability to get legitimate work so I can understand the motivation on his part.

I’m not sure what the BBC, Andy Willman, Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the TopGear staff should do about this. It is obvious that the unknown driver element is crucial to the Stig character but there are serious gaps in their understanding of what constitutes a full time job. Either find different drivers to freelance all the time or find one to employ with regular pay and benefits. Even if that means they have a desk job the rest of the time or something. You will have far less resentment between presenters if there is more fairness in the compensation structure of the show. That said, keeping secrets in a TV show that is seen by 350 million people in the camera phone internet connected world is going to get more and more difficult. The person tasked with this needs to be compensated/rewarded as much for their secrecy and confidentiality as their driving skill since that is half the work.

I hope that the BBC and TopGear can come up with a solution for this because I certainly can’t. It is weird from all angles and delicate for the BBC as well as the Driver and the fans of the show. I will still enjoy the show regardless though, because of the creativity and general nuttyness of what they continue to do.

Yet, we are dealing with a completley different issue here in our family this week so with a slight change of topic I’d like to remember our car past here a bit. We are mourning the loss of one of our dear friends here that was a hoon-tastic car loving, Granada driving part of our high school years back in the 90’s. This reminds me that there are guys (and girls) all over America that could and would be great TG presenters (and Stigs) because of their love of cars and of pushing the boundaries with them (and laughing at them). 

In comparison, looking at the issues facing the BBC and Ben Collins, it is hard to identify with either side at this point, because they have both had so much success with their shows/careers already and probably have worked something out within five minutes. I’m not sure it is worth getting upset about.

granada whiteWe had just as many laughs with the guys from DGS high school and their Camaros, Mustangs, Fords and Imports over the years as TG has on a daily basis. Now years later it is sad that we’ve seen that some of them have had some serious issues in their lives and in this case we’ve lost one of the best guys to ever take apart a motor. We will miss Edgar Schuster and always remember his 8-track stayin-alive tapes, the 70’s white Granada and the snow tires with spikes doing sparky burnouts while driving my brother to school in 1994-95. Almost all of the four-corners guys showed up to pay their respects this weekend and say goodbye. For my brother, things just won’t be the same without his friend Ed. I’ve heard there is a VHS tape floating around of some hoontastic stuff, maybe worth uploading at some point. Maybe some car-sledding?

Why is it that the brightest stars go out the fastest?

camaro n mustang

I didn't have a picture of the Granada or Ed all I could find on facebook was this one of Scott and Brian from that era. It seems like a blink of an eye and yet it was 15 years ago. Brian says this is the only time Scott wasn't behind him while they were racing and Scott says that Brian has a broken dryer vent sticking out from under his car. I'm just glad they couldn't afford cars with very much horsepower back then when they were 18. Edgar's Granada probably smoked both of them with his nitrous.

What Should TopGear do about the Stig? get a new one?

racing helmets colors stig bbcWe all know by now that the TopGear white Stig has written a book and revealed his long kept secret identity. How could he do this? (maybe I will find out when the book arrives)

The Stig was a great character that adds a lot of life to the show, although he doesn’t publicly get acknowledged for his work. (Maybe that is what he needed?) Still, his mysterious identity was the way that fans related to him. Nobody wanted to be like the Stig when he was jokingly shown as Michael Schumacher. That is just way too intimidating. And keeping the role anonymous also kept racing enthusiasts from arguing over the bias/skills that he has because of the driver’s specific experience. It was pure genius for the show and the robotic slightly alien personality they adopted for the Stig over time really brought a comedic element to the show also. (anyone remember the stig’s credit card or how he used it?) 

I’m not sure what the answer is to this question. Mr Ben Collins has lost the best gig he has had yet and now they have to reinvent the Stig in a new form because Jeremy Clarkson has said that Ben was fired for this breach of confidentiality and contract with the BBC.

Does this mean there will be a Blue Stig? Or other colors and shapes and sizes? Or will they bring real race car drivers into the show as regular presenters? I think Tanner Faust is a good example of why not. Race car drivers tend to be emotionless trash talking robots. Look at Tanner and Paul Tracy in that car crash of a show they have on cable. It’s painful because there is no real-person-experiencing-the-car type element that people can identify with and the guys seem a bit wooden on camera. So, I don’t recommend bringing in more race car drivers in as hosts.

Maybe the stig can be reinvented in an interesting way. Maybe there is a recall and they can get another Stig sent from the factory? Maybe borrow the Stig’s Fat American Cousin for a while? Maybe recruit new stigs and make it a competition between the different colored race suited Stigs? Maybe there is a story behind how each stig is born or made that can be amusing to us all. Or a school full of little Stigs running around to recruit from in the coming years? Or can they get a local car rental place to rent a stig with the VW Rabbit for a slight upcharge? This is the joy of writing for characters like this, you can just make it all up as it comes, and that has made it quirky and interesting for the last 10 years or so.

Some people may want them to get someone like Sabine in there (as herself), which could be interesting, but even she isn’t the same element to the show and she likes to trash talk too much. I don’t understand what that adds to a show. They could very well hire a driver to “play a robot/alien guy driver character” with their face shown but acting isn’t really what race car drivers are known for.  They could turn ridiculous and audition a bunch of other people in bear suits, or whatever but thats kind of jumping the shark. Maybe they could recruit one of the guys from Clarkson Island?

Anyway, back to reality. I really liked the impartial comparison of each car by this independent yet authoritative source in the show. I really liked it being anonymous and I also think the story/character adds a lot of fun. I’m not sure what Jeremy Clarkson & team have up their sleeves but I hope its good because he has 350 million people waiting on this decision.  This is the most universally popular show in the world because of how it represents people’s love affair with cars and irreverence about conventions. It’s the biggest thing to come from the UK since Monty Python in the irreverence department and we would like more please.  Whatever they do, they may want to consider a higher salary for the role or just pick a new stig every year. I’m sure that if the show ends they would be able to reveal this info since it wouldn’t be necessary anymore and have  Stig reunion episode or something.

 Update:  Maybe TopGear should hire Daft Punk as the next stigs, have one drive and the other with a digital mixing board making music during the test drives? They’ve already got the right wardrobe.

New Media and New Information Paradigms

I have been hearing about the demise of the newspapers, the rise of search/social networking/new media and the internet fragmentation concept for years now. (almost a decade?) And I just read about it again today with the newspapers secretly meeting to try and sort out monetization methods to save their business. At the same time I am a Guinea pig living through this time of change/shift in how people find information, use information and consume things. Here are some of my observations although not in a concise dissertation format yet. 

  • We are at an odd time in internet evolution, on pause between big developments. We got email, IM, web sites, RSS feeds, Blogs, social networking and now Twitter. We don’t need more services or ways to interact on the web. We need better all inclusive ways to connect and consume all in one. Ways to make the experience more relevant and more inclusive of many kinds of content at the same time. Not wasting our time.
  • I can’t help but notice that at 33 I have never really “read” a newspaper. This indicates to me that newspapers were not that important back in the 1980’s to my generation when their profits were healthy and the internet was but a dream for most of us. (Except being something to line litter boxes and bird cages with.) I hate the size format, I hate the ink and I always have. I actually like the ads though, especially the Sunday fliers. 
  • Weeks go by without my watching any TV. This started about 3 years ago when I got high speed internet. It’s not that I don’t like TV, I just don’t have time to sit for 2 hours plus and I know if i sit down I won’t get up and get anything accomplished in the evening/weekend. And I don’t like overly repetitive things. I was watching the sell that house shows on HGTV to get ideas about how to sell mine and after about 3 I got it and didn’t need to watch any more. Reruns aren’t nostalgic to me really, more just boring. And reruns is all Cable TV is about.
  • The only TV I will drop everything for is Top Gear UK. When it is in Season we trek over to my parent’s house and watch wwith extended family weekly. Everybody drops everything to watch that show. It makes you laugh, it makes you dream of fancy cars and it inspires you to take grand adventures regardless of what the outcome is.
  • This leads me to a general cluelessness about a lot of local and newsworthy (?) events. Things like buses that are Hijacked and what the weather will be tomorrow. I also find that these things weren’t essential to me in the first place. I carry an umbrella, what’s the big deal?
  • I find myself focusing on things I’m interested in. Maybe this is the political polarization people speak of? I read my marketing emails/newsletters/blogs as well as home design blogs and write my own blog as well. I check status on Facebook/Twitter/Flickr and maybe update if I have something interesting to say. And I work a lot. I also am always investigating 2-3 new directions for my work/career. Not all of them pan out, but they help me figure out what is evolving that I need to know about.
  • I do still use the phone (yes the land line). It is the best way to reach my parents and Steve’s parents. Steve’s parents email but mine are not really into it. And we try and go visit once a week in person. In person time still matters.
  • I am a book reader because I am a train commuter. I have been for years now and it has created a small library of business/marketing/analysis books. I order from amazon when I see something I like and then go consult the pile of books for something new.
  • And that is all I have time for. Now with a husband (fiancee really for one more month), 3 cats, 4 litter boxes, a yard, wedding planning, condo selling, house hunting, family organizing, laundry, food shopping & cooking I am overbooked. I don’t even get to skype/call my friends very often. A party invite seems really daunting these days with the schedule we keep.
  • I wonder about new media uses and if we will really care about anything not personally relevant to us in the future? Will a police chase matter to everyone in Chicago or just the people who live by the highway where it happens? Will we be less distract-able by sensational news and distracting entertainment? Will we be able to channel the news, information and analysis we really need into our lives and ignore the products/content we really don’t care about?
  • On the other side of the coin, how will we ever discover new things? I find myself looking to find out what is happening on the internet a few times a week and look to Google News and the Yahoo home page. Not the Trib. Yet somehow the list at these sites is always limited and not really anything relevant either.
  • There has to be something in-between a completely open fire hose of information and one select rss feed with just content from one niche area. There has to be some middle ground between being hijacked by ads for 20 minutes of a 60 minute program on TV and not knowing at all where to find a dress for my rehearsal dinner when my usual 5 clothing websites didn’t pan out. (who has time to go to a mall?) ((and why does Google shopping suck when the main search is generally good??))
  • People won’t pay for news. Period. They will pay for some kind of extra relevant cool service though. They will pay for innovation, new products that are noticeably better for some reason. Things that simplify your life.
  • Ads should not be integrated more with content as if they were the content. It blurs the line in what is really true and what is marketing speak. And although they may pay the bills for a while, people will eventually figure it out and abandon that medium that does this.
  • We need another search player. Google is not enough and although they do some things well, I am not a fan of everything they create. I would like more companies to work on real time indexing of information as well as historical archiving to keep information accessible if anything happens to Google’s accessibility. At some point people will be so hooked they will be able to charge for a (low cost) subscription to the search engine itself. 
  • More people need web enabled phones with internet use active. I just read yesterday that out of 57 million people in the US with internet capable mobile phones only 18 million have internet enabled! (netpop stat comparing us to China) 31.5% of the people with internet use phones don’t even pay for internet access? (only 13% of all the cell phones total) This is a huge hurdle to making info more relevant and accessible because people carry their phones everywhere. Things like bigger screens, flatter profiles and easier software app use on these phones will help the adoption rates improve. 
  • Identity management and security is also a problem. We might like something like OpenID but only if sites still allow anonymous comments too. Privacy and being able to say something important without being hunted down in person for your opinion necessary for getting people to adopt this identity management software and make our lives easier between all the hundreds of web sites and e-commerce activities we do in a day and consolidating that information for our own personal use.   
  • Data mining is going to have to improve. If statistics are wrong 25% of the time like stated in the Numerati book, we really need to combine automated data crunching with human decisions about data more often. Numbers are meaningless without someones explanation. This completely changes what and how data is configured, crunched and reported and can determine/undermine your results even if you manage to collect it perfectly.
  • All this plus the only way out of a recession is through innovation. We’re waiting.