If you're a fan of automobiles, you are probably familiar with the BBC produced television program "Top Gear." The UK based show started in 1977 and has gone through a couple of revisions to reach its current state. The 60 minute program stars three hosts (pictured above) who usually disagree on their personal opinions of whatever vehicle they happen to be putting through its paces. And because the program is produced with public funds, the hosts have no qualms about saying what is good and especially what is bad about any car they are highlighting.
I've been watching the program so much that I've almost started pronouncing the word "coupe" as "coo-pay." Man those limeys have a whaye with wourdes.
Other than having to tolerate the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and hearing the three talk in terms of British Pounds and Kilometers per hour, the show is fantastically produced. They spend a lot of time not just talking about the car, but showing it off in beautifully constructed montage sequences that would make Michael Bay get a chubby.
In short, it's a well-produced, well-written program.
Which is why I have more than a little trepidation when I heard the news that us "yanks" were going to do our own version of the show.
And then my heart sank even lower when I heard who would be hosting.
Part of what makes the BBC program so amusing is the rapport with the three hosts, Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond: Three very talented, knowledgeable, expert professional journalists that know a lot about cars and how to talk about them.
For the American version, the producers have picked Tanner Foust, Adam Carolla and Eric Stromer to host the show. If you haven't heard of a couple of these guys, you are not alone. We had to look it up.
Foust is a professional drift and rally car driver, who has hosted SPEED channel's "Supercars Exposed" and "Redline TV." He's also been a stunt driver for films such as "Need for Speed: Tokyo Drift" and "The Dukes of Hazzard." Basically, its safe to say that he knows a thing or two about cars.
On the other hand, Adam Carolla got his start playing silly characters on an LA radio station, then went on to co-host the sex advice call-in show "Loveline," followed by the Comedy Central show "The Man Show." He also starred in a movie that apparently was in one or two theaters before being buried in the shelves at Blockbuster. His experience with automobiles? well..uh, as far as I can tell, he may have changed the oil on a junker or two. And Eric Stromer? He's hosted a couple of lame DIY shows and is a carpenter.
Good lord, are you kidding me? One expert, one wanna-be and a carpenter? That's the best NBC could come up?
"This franchise is a proven winner worldwide and the hosting team of Adam, Tanner and Eric that we have brought together for the U.S. version offers a perfect match of humor, insider know-how and priceless track experience," said the suit at NBC whose job it is to make turds look shiny and pretty. "We are going to create a high-powered show that, like the original, will keep viewers in every demographic clutching the edge of their seats."
Oh right. I can just see soccer moms frothing at the mouth at the spectacular shots of a minivan chugging through a slalom like a brick through lard.
As if the lack of hosting talent weren't bad enough to make my nether-regions pucker at the thought of an American bastardization of Top Gear, there's the thought that unless the program is completely underwritten by some third party that has no connection with automobiles, you are not going to be able to get the same level of criticism that makes the original program so good.
More often than not, the BBC version will skewer the vehicle they are talking about, critiquing it much the same way I tend to write about movies Hollywood cranks out: honest, unfiltered, irreverent, and downright bitchy.
In an article for the UK's Times Online, aptly titled "I hope we dont ruin Top Gear," fanatical car collector and enthusiast Jay Leno wondered about the same thing:
I said on The Tonight Show recently that the new Kia was available with a heated rear window, so if people needed to push it in winter they could keep their hands warm. Boy, the phones did not stop ringing. So imagine what Jeremy would have to put up with.
So the question then is: How can you possibly do that same irreverence with an American version of the show if, say Ford happened to be a sponsor?
The answer is that you can't. Without unbiased snark, and the freedom to call a vehicle a piece of crap when it is one, what you will get is an infomercial talking about how great that Scion is, or how well that new Mazda whateverthefuck handles. And if this is what the show is going to look like, I expect that it will tank in the ratings, which - as we've seen in the past, means that unless the new program scores big Neilsen numbers right out the gate, it will be pulled as soon as humanly possible.
So it is with a heavy heart that I drive the first of many nails into the coffin for Top Gear America. I hope I am wrong. I really do. But it doesn't look good.
NBC hasn't given the show an official start date yet, but we'll keep a nervous eye peeled for the latest news.
As always, stay tuned.