On the shoulders of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, BBC’s petrolhead series Top Gear raised the bar for automotive journalism to considerable heights as the trio bumbled their way through reviews of some seriously spectacular vehicles for 13 spectacular years. They traveled the world, usually risking their ability to return to where they visited, harassed friends and foes alike, and garnered hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide. The appeal of Top Gear was that one didn’t have to be into cars to enjoy the show. The three were just seriously entertaining.
The empire that they built came crashing down, however, when Jeremy Clarkson — easily the most rambunctious and inflammatory of the three — got into a tussle with one of the show’s producers, Oisin Tymon (read: he punched him in the face over some hot food, or food that was supposed to be hot, or something). After years of answering for his controversies and antics, BBC brass decided they had had enough, and booted him from the show that he largely helped build.
Hammond and May soon followed, leaving an irreplaceable vacuum in their stead. Though BBC soon began making moves to find replacements for Top Gear, it was apparent that the three were not going to call it quits over their loss of BBC’s backing. For entertainers of their stature, there will always be another studio willing to take them in. In this case, it was Amazon.
Known first and foremost as the world’s premier online shopping destination, Amazon has had its arms elbow-deep in a number of different services and industries lately. The latest venture for the brand is Amazon Prime’s streaming services, a service with which it hopes to topple Netflix’s streaming empire — or at least give it a go. But denting the appeal of the creator of Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and the new seasons of Arrested Development would take some money and some talent. So, Amazon spent $250 million landing three big fish from across the pond.
The first new season from them will debut next year, and the format of the new series will feature “themes people will be familiar with,” said former Top Gear executive producer Andy Wilman, who departed the BBC at the same time as the hosts, and will helm the new series with Amazon.
There are several notable advantages to moving to Amazon from the BBC, including a bigger budget and more creative freedom. “[Amazon will] give us the freedom to make the programme we want…there’s a budget to produce programmes of the quality we want and this is the future,” Wilman said in an interview with the BBC. There’s also the notable appeal of not having to cater to the needs and concerns of advertisers, since Amazon funds its original series’ in-house.
“I can’t tell you how good it feels to get the chance to produce something from scratch,” Wilman went on. “We’re all really excited. No one telling us what we can and can’t do, just us hopefully producing great programmes. It feels really liberating.”
For many, this could be the Top Gear we’ve all be waiting for — like the original, but with a liberal sprinkling of F-bombs and four-letter unmentionables, challenges that are bigger and more outrageous than ever, and virtually zero concern for the automakers who might have been bankrolling the BBC’s ad operations. BBC’s Top Gear is dead — long live Top Gear.