We were all completely devastated a month ago with announcement of Jeremy Clarkson’s suspension and resulting dismissal from the BBC show Top Gear for his “fracas” with one of the shows producers. Fracas is the word they chose to describe the manner in which Clarkson physically and verbally abused the producer upon his realization that there wasn’t a hot meal at the end of a days worth of filming. Even as a MASSIVE fan of the show it is impossible to excuse the actions of a grown man who hits an employee and calls him a “lazy Irish c**t” merely for furnishing cold cuts at dinner instead of steak. To Clarkson’s credit he owned up to his mistakes and apologized to the producer (whom he has worked with for a decade now) while also ordering his legions of fans to not blame anybody but himself for what appeared to be the untimely ending of one of the world’s most popular tv shows.
Yesterday the announcement was made from the BBC that the shows executive producer Andy Wilman will now also be exiting the show. Wilman and Clarkson are childhood friends who reinvented the stagnating show in the early 2000’s to create what eventually became the most watched television program in the entire world. Alongside the recent statements from co-host James May to the Guardian that he would never do Top Gear without Clarkson, Wilman’s departure almost certainly spells the end of Top Gear as we know it.
Or does it?
There have been subtle hints from several different sources that tease the possibility of Top Gear, or some show resembling Top Gear with original cast, returning to the BBC.
First there are James May’s specific and deliberate statements to the Guardian clarifying that Jeremy Clarkson hasn’t been “banned” from the BBC, his contract has simply not been renewed, which is a crucial detail. Contracts are dropped and renewed constantly in television and it leaves the door open for the sacked presenter to return in some form or fashion to television on the BBC. After that he added “In the future when all this has blown over there might be an opportunity for three of us to get back together on the BBC to do Top Gear or a car show of some sort,”
Second there are the comments from Kim Shillinglaw. As the head of BBC 2 and BBC 4 Shillinglaw has been tasked with finding a replacement for Clarkson on Top Gear. However she recently revealed that “Jeremy will be back on the BBC, it’s serious and unfortunate what happened but there is no ban on Jeremy being on the BBC,”
With the exit of Wilman it would almost appear that there is concerted effort to abandon the creative identity of the show. That identity is what makes it immensely valuable to it’s audience and, in turn, the BBC, who reportedly rake in 50 million annually from the program. This situation could move many different directions now. The BBC could cave and allow the original trio back on the show in the face of what most certainly will be an utter flop (do they really expect to maintain the same standards and thus same revenue without the original presenters and exec producer?) or the foursome could embark on something new together for another content provider. Grumblings of Netflix picking them up have been heard in some circles, though there may be non-compete clauses in their contracts temporarily inhibiting such a move.
The BBC would certainly look weak to about face and allow Clarkson back immediately but they would also be doing massive fiscal harm to themselves by leaving him out altogether. My guess it that there will be a new show on the BBC that is NOT Top Gear but leverages it’s former audience. In that way the BBC doesn’t have to back away from their decision to remove Clarkson from the show but they still manage to retain the audience he brings with him.