I can’t think of anyone who has watched an episode of the BBC’s seminal car show Top Gear and not enjoyed it. In fact, even my most auto-ambivalent friends are quick to reference the exploits of Jezza, Captain Slow and The Hamster as their sole source of automotive news and entertainment. Thanks to its status as one of the world’s most-pirated TV show, Top Gear has made remarkable inroads in the US with a little “help” from fansites like Final Gear. But will an American version be able to capture the appeal of the original? It’s been tried before, and now it’s being tried again.
In 2008, NBC picked up the option to produce a US version, rumored to star Adam Carolla. By early 2009, NBC had canceled the show, reinstated it, booted car reviewer extraordinaire Dan Neil from the lineup, and kicked the project to cable. With A US version of the show apparently dead, enthusiasts shrugged and kept downloading episodes of the BBC version. But now, according to a Jalopnik interview with the show’s executive producer, Top Gear USA has found a new home at the History Channel, and will start shooting on Monday. But should we care?
The History Channel’s John Hesling makes a strong case for the new show by revealing that Top Gear USA will deviate as little as possible from its British inspiration. Apparently that means we can expect the show’s format to be largely unchanged. Says Hesling:
We’ll be doing star in a car, we’ll be doing the power tests, car reviews, action films, and the studio element. It’s a format that’s the jewel in the crown of the BBC so we’ll be doing it exactly like the British version. It’s exactly the same format.
That means a full-hour show (well, 44 minutes, including commercials), a Stig (though not “the Stig’s fat American cousin”) recording “power laps,” and a real “star in a reasonably-priced car” segment instead of a Leno-style “Green Car Challenge” abortion. Hesling also insists that:
There’s no sense in doing it if the production value isn’t there… We wanted to get enough money to absolutely match the cinematic caliber of the UK version.
So far, so good, but what of Top Gear’s famously take-no-prisoners review style? For as long as rumors of a Top Gear USA have been circulated, there have been murmurings that Top Gear’s editorial freedom would fall victim to the commercial TV format. After all, the BBC doesn’t have to worry about offending advertisers, but the History Channel sure does. Regardless, Hesling insists that
we will be absolutely and brutally honest. That’s what Top Gear is.
To emphasize the point, Helsing pledges that Top Gear USA will not be sponsored by any automaker. But will the show’s cast be capable of wrapping that brutal honesty in the same entertaining-yet-informative patter as their British counterparts? Hesling admits that nobody can replace Jeremy Clarkson, meaning the cast’s chemistry will require more than a little tweaking. Top Gear USA will be hosted by comedian Adam Ferrara, Race/Stunt driver Tanner Foust and Speed Channel “NASCAR analyst” Rutledge Wood. But will these three be able to find a unique but equally-endearing rapport? We won’t know for sure until the show hits the airwaves sometime in November or December.
In the meantime, filming reportedly begins on Monday in the hills outside of Monmouth, Oregon… which just so happens to be quite close to TTAC’s Portland headquarters. If enough of the B&B are buying the hype and are desperate for clues to the potential awesomeness of Top Gear USA, we will certainly consider a fact-finding mission. Register your enthusiasm (or lack thereof) in the comments, and we will act accordingly.