We ask industry experts how they would reinvent the comedy car show without its star presenter
Reinventing Top Gear post-Jeremy Clarkson is not as easy as just replacing one, or maybe three presenters.
Their banter, on-screen chemistry and buzz took years to evolve and as one producer pointed out, it is not just a car show, it’s a sitcom.
Like Doctor Who, it has shown over its 38-year history that it can survive reincarnations.
Yahoo senior vice president, EMEA Dawn Airey, who was Channel 5 chief executive for Fifth Gear’s launch:
“It would be enlightened and delicious to think the BBC might recast Top Gear with three cultured, car-obsessed women. But I suspect the winning formula of three boorish lads, having a laugh, acting like teenagers in a lock-in at Majestic Wine will be replicated – I for one will love it.”
Top Gear’s first presenter Angela Rippon: “As half the drivers on the road are women – and women in general take an interest in a whole range of transport and motoring subjects – of course there should be a woman on the new Top Gear team. If the programme is going to ‘reinvent’ itself and reflect its audience, this is absolutely the right time to introduce a bright, well-informed and opinionated woman broadcaster. It is highly unlikely that the BBC will ask me to return as part of the presenting team. But fortunately there are many terrific women around on the motoring scene who are really good journalists, broadcasters and drivers. Any one of them would be a terrific addition to the new team and bring a whole new look and voice to the programme.”
Former Top Gear editor Tom Ross:
“The revamp of Top Gear in 2002, engineered by Jeremy and Andy Wilman, was an elegant combination of conventional motoring programme, chat show and documentary. Truly multigenre in the prevailing jargon.
The BBC owns the name and the format. So … roll the opening titles, cut to familiar empty Top Gear hangar, fade the music … three blue boxes with a blue light on top and bearing the word ‘Police’ appear one by one … slowly each door opens in turn and three figures emerge into the light – led by a woman!”
Former Channel 5 chief executive David Elstein:
“Even if you replace all three of them you have got a motoring show with a built-in audience. You’ve got loads of opportunities to get it right, there is no hurry to get it back on air. When Eamonn Andrews died we hired Michael Aspel to do This Is Your Life, but it was the format and the red book that made the show, not Michael or Eamonn as it turned out. When Harry Enfield dropped out of Men Behaving Badly we thought that’s dead, then we hired Neil Morrissey and the show ran for years and years.
“Top Gear worked without him [Clarkson], it worked with him. You don’t have to look for a 6ft 5in podgy-faced, overweight presenter, you don’t have to hire Dan Snow and put him on a bulk up your tummy course. It is not beyond the wit of man to come up with Top Gear version 4 or whatever. I would move it slightly sideways, still make it as amusing as it is about information, I would still have big production values, big stunts, at least one bloke in there. There are loads of people who could give a kick to that format. What about Clare Balding? After a while people will have completely forgotten about Clarkson.”
Former BBC chairman and agent Michael Grade:
“All shows have a natural life, except maybe Coronation Street and EastEnders – this is where Simon Cowell is a genius in keeping shows fresh. Top Gear has an attitude, a point of view which comes from Clarkson and the chemistry and interplay with James May and Richard Hammond. Top Gear is still a great brand. If you are the programme controller you’d have to look at something fresh. You couldn’t just replace Clarkson. You’ve got to reinvent the show based on the title [which is] made for petrolheads.”
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