Shifting to a Lower Gear

Earlier this week, the BBC announced that they would be firing Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson.  For those of you not aware of the background of this story, Clarkson is one of three hosts for Top Gear, a show allegedly about car reviews but mostly about watching Clarkson and his cohosts, James May and Richard Hammond, banter and generally behave like idiots.

Back in early March, after a long day of filming a segment for the show, Clarkson got into a fight with a staffer on the series apparently over the lack of hot dinner options at the hotel the cast and crew were staying in that night.  And when I say “got into a fight,” Clarkson verbally and physically assaulted the guy.  There’s no “allegedly” about that.  Clarkson reported himself to the BBC the next day.

What followed was a few weeks of suspense as the BBC investigated.  During this time, fans gathered over 1 million signatures insisting that Clarkson keep his job and had someone dressed as the shows “Tamed Racing Driver,” The Stig, deliver them to the BBC on a tank.

Yes an actual tank.  Apparently you can rent those.

But, as I stated at the beginning of this post, their efforts were futile, and Clarkson was fired.

I am disappointed.  Now I am not a car junkie (or “petrol head,” as they say on the show).  Discussions of cylinders and horsepower mean little to me, and, after years of watching, I still couldn’t tell you the difference between oversteer and understeer.  I watch because I enjoy Clarkson, Hammond, and May.  I don’t know if they’re friends in real life.  On the show, they come across as colleagues who can’t stand each other sometimes and really enjoy each other at other times.  That may be truth. 

All I know if that I’ve had fun watching them race each across London on various modes of transport, bicker their way on road trips through exotic locales such as Botswana and Vietnam, and try to one-up each other as they’ve attempted to build the best camper van or ambulance. 

Even if Hammond and May stay on board, Top Gear just won’t be the same without Jeremy Clarkson.

That said, I support the BBC’s decision.  I may find Clarkson entertaining to watch, but in the end he attacked a coworker.  If that sort of thing happened at your average workplace, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.  The responsible employee would be fired immediately and possibly facing criminal assault charges (Clarkson may be dealing with those as well, but that remains to be seen).

We cannot have a society where the rich and famous are excused from horrible and criminal behavior just because they are popular and make a lot of money for themselves and whatever studio/corporation/conglomerate they work for.

Top Gear is one of the most popular shows on the BBC, and they export it to countries around the world.  One estimate I saw put its value to the BBC at over $50 million per year.  Firing Clarkson and possibly destroying the show is a going to be a huge loss to the BBC.

But they really had no other choice.  If they had retained him, the message would be clear: celebrities can do whatever they like as long as they bring us a profit.

I’m sure the BBC will try to launch a new version of Top Gear.  The show is worth too much to them not to make the attempt.  And I’m certain they will throw as much money as they can at Hammond and May to get them to remain with the program and provide some kind of continuity.  I doubt they will agree, but they might.

Even if they do, I probably won’t be watching.  Yes, I support the BBC’s decision, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to keep viewing a show that probably won’t be nearly as enjoyable without Jeremy Clarkson.

There have been rumors that Netflix or some other outlet might try to court Clarkson, Hammond, and May into hosting a new project.  That I would check out.  Because for me it’s really about the personalities rather than the show.

Even if one of those personalities can be a hot-headed jerk.  

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter