New Top Gear Still Struggling in UK

Photo: topgear.com
Photo: topgear.com /
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Top Gear has only aired three episodes with the new hosts, but the ratings for the show are falling fast.

According the the Daily Mail, the new incarnation of Top Gear has lost almost half its audience in a three week span. Couple that with the scathing criticism on social media of Chris Evans in the main presenters roll, there could be changes brewing across the pond. The ripple affect could be hurting BBC America as it is one of its top rated shows.

There were always concerns with the cast changes, as the show has broken the mold and not had any turnover for more than a decade. Any changes were naturally going to be met with skepticism, but bringing in a high energy radio guy in Evans has fractured the fan base. Jermey Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May had energy but appealed to a wide based by have a sense of refinement to go with its frivolity.

Surprisingly Matt LeBlanc has been well received by audiences in the UK and here in the United States. His understated style and dry humor has resonated very well with Top Gear viewers new and old. The cast of the spin off, Extra Gear, is also getting high marks as each week we get introduced to more. Not having anything to be compared against, Extra Gear is getting a chance to make a fresh impression on viewers.

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Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Chris Evans and his incarnation of Top Gear. Having an audience so accustomed to a format and cast, the BBC radio personality could have gone with continuing the old format just plugging in the new presenters and not rocking the boat too much. Evans with for option B, blow it up and try to keep fans from even being able to compare the two shows.

The gamble has not worked and the comparisons are even more critical than if he had kept the format unchanged. His bombastic almost buffoonish style might work on the radio, it is not sitting well with the fans who liked the intelligence of the original trio. What makes it worse, Evans does not even seem like the same person who was a guest on Top Gear in the past. His persona on the couch with Clarkson as a guest was that of a normal person, or when he lent May his Ferrari California he was relatable. What is on the TV now seems forced, loud and unnecessarily over the top.

Top Gear is one of the most syndicated shows around the world with it broadcast in 80 countries, but its popularity on the BBC drives its popularity elsewhere. The reports of fake crowd noise and audience members leaving early have done nothing to slow the flow of complaints about the show. The audience reaction has shown that LeBlanc is more liked than Chris Evans is compounding the issue for the production team.

LeBlanc has a 13 episode sitcom order for CBS that has put pressure on the BBC to lock the former Friends star into a large contract for the next season and possibly beyond. Many viewers have expressed their desire on social media for Matt to take of the lead presenters spot on the show for Evans. Interesting enough, LeBlanc gained popularity overseas with his roll in the sitcom Episodes that parodied an American version of a popular British TV show that spirals out of control.

BBC America has struggled with its ratings for the new version of Top Gear. The premier episode for the last series garnered 792,000 viewers, while this season premier only showed 547,000 tuned in. Some of the ratings fall could be blamed on the extended hiatus the show took following the departure of the old cast and premier of the new. The selection of Evans, a relative unknown outside of the UK, on a show with the reach of Top Gear is a hard sell here in the USA. Matt LeBlanc has struggled with his career following Friends here stateside limiting his appeal.

In the UK on BBC2 Top Gear has seen its viewership drop from the premier episode of 4.3 million all the way to 2.3 million for episode three last Sunday. The reviews for the third episode did show an uptick with a common theme of less Chris Evans was good. Evans has been very defensive on social media of his version of Top Gear, his reaction to these observations will be very interesting.

Whether it is an audio flaw in the production, or the design of the new set, the echo of Evans yelling on set has a nails on the chalkboard feel. Even though the echo is present for everyone on set, it is the elevated tone of Evans that makes it annoying. That should be a production issue that should have been fixed after the first episode but has not.

Anther noticeable loss in the new version of the show is the intimacy of the guest in the interview setting. Where as the guest or guests on old Top Gear had a conversation with Clarkson, now its a competition between guests that seem forced together. There again that was a part of the old show where you felt like you were like the audience listening to stories from celebrities that seemed natural. Now its a like a morning radio show trying to get ratings. With Evans radio background you can see where it came from, but in prime time it does not fit.

When it comes down to it, there is hope for the show but the changes are going to have to be drastic. The audience for Top Gear is an intelligent one and does not like the in your face style Evans has brought. If he can return to the persona he had as a guest, that will appease a portion of the audience. Finding some intimacy during the 90 minute show will help as well to bring some heart back to the program.

Top Gear has been an institution for more than a decade now, any changes are going to be met with resistance. A nod back to the old format and a touch of heart will heal many wounds. The fear is the changes will not come until the Clarkson, Hammond and May show begins on Amazon Prime and fans will be reminded of what they miss on Top Gear. If they wait to long, the days are numbered for Top Gear.