In this week’s Uncooked Truth, Josh is dumbfounded why everyone thinks they can remake Top Gear, and why they actually think they’re any good at it…
Top Gear is, for all known reasons, the greatest automotive entity in the world. Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond are three blokes who do the exact opposite than being automotive journalists: they act like imbeciles. That’s exactly the way every person who writes about cars would love to be. However, we don’t have a government backed news organization, in this case the BBC, to protect us and keep us free from advertisers. Oh, and fund us with millions of dollars to do whatever the hell we’d like.
For some odd reason, everyone tries to replicate it. We’ve had three iterations of Top Gear here in the United States, with the most recent one actually making it to air and being in its third season almost. Then they have Top Gear in South Korea, China, and the now defunct Russian and Australian versions.
You really can’t make Top Gear anywhere, nor with anyone else. It’s an institution.
Nowhere else in the world do you have a Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, etc. Each and every one of those schools is ranked in the top for their own merits. Sure they teach similar ways, and to a particular type of student. Yet, they’re each inherently different and unique, just all universities.
It’s the same with Top Gear. That’s why I love Fifth Gear; it’s completely different. On Fifth Gear you have Tiff Needell, a former Top Gear presenter. He’s also a professional racing driver with decades of experience in open wheel, touring car and sports car racing, even competing in Formula 1 and Le Mans Series. One of the other presenters is Jason Plato, a two-time British Touring Car Championship winning driver, as well as a former open wheeler, like Needell. Together the two of them typically review two sporty cars on a track and attempt to beat one another in a series of challenges and timed events. Rounding out the presenting crew are journalist and amateur racer, Jonny Smith, as well as journalist and pro-racing instructor Vicki Butler-Henderson. All four of them add their colorful personalities and talented points of view.
Fifth Gear is extremely different from Top Gear, and that’s why I love it.
Top Gear here in America, it will unfortunately die in the next couple of years. It’s gained some fame and notoriety, however not with the real car people. So what’s the problem? The scripts try too desperately to bring the UK version’s buddy comedy here to the states, which doesn’t work. Also, none of the hosts are actual writing journalists. Tanner Foust is a fantastic professional racing, stunt and drifting driver. Rutledge Wood is a NASCAR TV presenter, a form of journalism. And Adam Ferrara is a great professional comedian and actor. I had hopes for the show during the first season, because it looked like everyone was trying hard. Unfortunately, though, it has become dull and not very entertaining. If it were a different show with a different name, then sure, it wouldn’t be as bad, because the expectations wouldn’t be there. But it does have a name, and that name is Top Gear.
So how do you remake Top Gear? Well, simple. You have three colorful auto-journos who know how to get into trouble with cars, have a good time, are actually funny, and have a unique way of talking about a car. Not everyone has that style.
Speed recently tried it with The Car Show, hosted by Adam Carolla, our buddy and The Smoking Tire great, Matt Farah, as well as award winning automotive critic Dan Neil, and throw in NBA champion John Salley. Wait, what? Salley was dropped half-way through the first season. But the show was dropped at the end of the first season, too. So what went wrong? Was it too much like Top Gear? No, not really. But it wasn’t enough of its own thing. It was too under-produced, being done by the same guys who created and managed The Best Damn Sports Show Period. That’s right, a sports show…
One thing I’ve yet to mention about why all shows pale in comparison to Top Gear: funding. Top Gear gets millions upon millions of dollars to do what they want. Now I did say that already, but I didn’t tell you how they get their funds. You see, Top Gear UK is a completely commercial-free television show that airs for one whole hour. They’re funded by the the British tax payers, which is quite funny, if you ask me. The British Broadcasting Corporation is the largest news source in the world, being a public broadcasting agency owned by the government and the people, technically. Each tax payer pays a TV fee, essentially. From these monies, Top Gear gets its budget and abilities to work without advertising. Something that no other car show can really do.
Now on to the conclusion. How exactly do you make a proper car show without being too much like Top Gear? Well, being like Top Gear is inevitable. Sorry, it just is. Saying you’re nothing like ’em only means you’re the exact same thing. Acknowledging that they’re an influence is to be honest. I do think a genuine car show similar to Top Gear can be done here in the states, and The Car Show had the right initial idea. It got 3 car guys who weren’t racing drivers together to talk about cars. Advertising dollars need to come from places outside of the automobile industry. Tires, insurance companies, banks, lending companies, etc. they need to be exploited. This way, you’re not pissing a car company off Sunday night and saving your ear drums from hurting Monday morning after they call you and whine over the phone, or via e-mail.
Without a doubt, America could do the exact same setup as Fifth Gear and it would work perfectly. Racing drivers with journalist-esque opinions, as well as fun challenges and races between two greatly matched racing drivers would be great, too. No NASCAR drivers, though. Unless it’s some of the guys who grew up in karting, sports car and open wheel racing.
So there you have it. Try going out and making your own, see what you can muster. Don’t complain when you fail at being the next Top Gear, though, because I certainly warned you.