Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why an American "Top Gear" will fail

I'm a fan of Top Gear, a British car show presented by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May. I haven't mentioned the show that often, it's only appeared once on this blog in a post covering Wikipedia's lack of accuracy. I love the show for several reasons, some being that I like fast cars, even if I'll probably never buy one. I love the antics of the Top Gear presenters as they take on wild tasks such as crossing Africa on used cars, or being the first people to drive to the magnetic north pole. So you'd think that I'd be thrilled that NBC is looking to bring Top Gear to the US. No, I'm not. In fact, the program will fail.

There are a couple of clarifications to be made here. Top Gear has been in the US before, both on the Speed Channel, and on BBC America. However these appearances have been pale copies of the original show as Top Gear runs a full hour on the BBC, an impossible time slot to fill on US networks with commercial breaks. Both Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Wilman, the executive producer of Top Gear, seem to be aware that many of their US fans get the show through Bit-torrent, which is being honest here, how I wind up watching it.

Other factors to be aware of is that the planned NBC show won't be Top Gear. As of now, it will simply be called Gear. The NBC show also will not be starring the Top Gear presenters. Instead the show will be staffed by American hosts such as Adam Carolla and Tanner Foust.

The first, and common, argument made against the American Top Gear, hereafter referred to as Gear, is that Top Gear is Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May. I've watched the first season of Top Gear that featured Big Jason, the used car salesman, so I've seen a Top Gear without James May. I cannot tell you how glad I am that Big Jason was sacked from the program. It's not that he was a bad presenter, I liked him... after all it's not like I'm any less rotund... or any less named Jason... but his leaving opened up for James May, who has in my opinion, been brilliant. I've also seen episodes of Tiff Needell's Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson, and I know that's why the old Top Gear crashed. People watched the show for Jeremy, not Tiff.
A lot of the charm, charisma, or whatever you want to call it, of Top Gear, is the personality clashs of James, Richard, and Jeremy. No matter how good the American hosts are, they'll never be able to replicate the experience and emotion that James, Richard, and Jeremy deliver.

However, that argument is something of a mug's game. I'm no fan of Adam Carolla, but NBC isn't pitching the new show towards the veteran Top Gear Audience. The new show, in order to survive on network TV, would have to be pitched towards an audience used to commercial breaks and in-show sponsoring.

I probably should clarify that I don't watch TV. I don't even have a TV hooked up in my own room. Yes, there's a cable coming in, but the spot that used to be hooked up to a TV currently has a 23" monitor with a PS3 and Wii connected. I don't watch TV for several reasons. For starters, network studios cannot produce good content.

The fact is, NBC, ABC, and CBS all have strict policies in place about their shows. Their shows cannot be conservative, cannot show conservatives in a good light, and cannot be anti-politically correct. Any shows that have characters who are anti-politically correct must paint those characters in a bad light. As far as I'm a aware from what I read through the likes of Plugged In, in network television only Fox and whatever WB / UPN has become (don't know, don't care) have historys of positive content. Recent example from Fox being the show 24, and on CW the show 7th Heaven.

The fact is, and this not up for debate, is that ABC, NBC, and CBS have declared war on good television, and have declared war on conservatives and those who do not agree with the liberal democrats.

Now consider that Jeremy Clarkson is the guy who once made a joke about a quintessential German car only having sat-nav that goes to Poland. Jeremy Clarkson is the guy who took an AK47 Assault Rifle on a camping trip. Richard Hammond and James May raced a bunch of cards around quarry... and wrecked them... not to mention playing darts with cars. When it comes down to being politically correct, Top Gear has never been close, and I'm not even going to touch on the topics of when Clarkson made the environmentalists look as dumb as they normally are.

As a matter of principle then, Top Gear itself is in direct violation of NBC's policies. An American Version could never follow the same format. The humor itself, the basic writing, the basic concept of the show would have to change to fit NBC policy.

It doesn't matter how good of a comedian Adam Carolla is, and it doesn't matter how good of a driver Tanner Foust is. It doesn't matter if NBC gets Damon Hill to play the part of the Stig. It doesn't matter how closely Adam and the Top Gear staff want the American Version to be the BBC Version... NBC policy will shut that down.

So, even if Gear gets off the ground as a show, the show itself will have to fight studio policy at every turn to remain true to the BBC model. That is going to affect items like writing, and what can be shown on television.

Does that mean that Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear team should not keep trying to break into the US market? Nope. I think there is a market for Top Gear, but it's not on network television. I'm not even sure it's on Cable Television.

It's my opinion that the best market for Top Gear in the US, is the Playstation 3 and Wii platforms. Nintendo has made headlines in the UK markets with the recent addition of the BBC Iplayer to the Wii platform. There's no way around it, the Wii is the dominant platform of this generation of consoles. Putting the real Top Gear in the US, on the Wii, through the Iplayer would allow the BBC to retain the original formatting. No commercial breaks, no sponsorship problems, no issues with US network televisions war on good TV.

The Playstation 3 is also a good choice because Top Gear is already on the PS3... through Gran Tourismo. Just as there is no way around the Wii being the hottest platform to develop for and buy, there's noway around the near completely domination of Gran Tourismo in console racing. If you like racing at all as a video game, Gran Tourismo is probably in your collection. The Gran Tourismo audience is Top Gear audience.

Again, going through consoles would enable the BBC and the Top Gear staff to avoid the problems with the US television market. Here's hoping Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the Top Gear staff figure that out before NBC becomes yet another failure in the long list of attempts to bring Top Gear to the US.

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