Yesterday the BBC announced a new presenter for their hugely successful auto show Top Gear… and it wasn’t me.
Top Gear is a show about cars that no one can afford, mostly, presented by three socially awkward Brits and a masked race car driver called The Stig (which I think is British for Zorro). What made it successful was the interaction between its presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond. They clearly liked working together as well as making life difficult for each other. And we all enjoyed their awkward attempts to socialize with the locals in foreign countries (or their own). Top Gear rose to the status of global pop culture and slowly evolved into more of a comedy show with a hint of buddy movie and less an actual car show.
All of this came crashing down last year when the controversial Jeremy Clarkson, the patriarch of the trio, got himself fired for a fracas with a producer. The other two soon followed when they realized that the chemistry was no longer there if their buddy wasn’t part of the show. Fans were furious. Petrolheads (British slang for car fans) didn’t care about political correctness. It was the lack of it that actually elevated the trio to stardom.
So was Top Gear dead? Many thought so. I thought so. We all mourned its demise and watched reruns on BBC America. But then the producers announced that the show would go on with a new producer/presenter: Chris Evans. Here was someone who had appeared as a guest on Top Gear, an experienced presenter as a morning radio show host, and a self-proclaimed petrolhead with a collection of Ferraris. Evans said they wouldn’t mess with the show too much but would try new things and not try to duplicate the previous show’s characters. Top Gear supporters have been mostly acerbic in their response. It seemed that Top Gear was truly dead.
During the summer Top Gear posted (they have quite the online presence and an actual car magazine) that they would try something new. They decided to check globally and search widely for new presenters. In fact anyone could apply. Simply record a 30-second video explaining why you want to be a Top Gear presenter. I thought that if they wanted to mix it up a bit then they needed an American. They would have a good time making fun of an American presenter driving on the wrong side of the road nearly crashing a Bugatti Veyron, laughing uncontrollably ordering spotted dick, and basically insulting the monarchy.
And who better to do that than me? I drove out to the Bonneville Salt Flats, home of land speed records… a real petrolhead location… and shot my video. I sent it in and waited for a response while imagining what it would be like living in the UK being maybe only the second American on British television. There’s one in the cast of Downton Abbey, right? I returned to my life as a broadcasting teacher and commuting the 52 miles to work at 100 miles per hour. I never heard anything from the BBC or Top Gear producers and, eventually, realized that there was probably thousands of entries and maybe I just wasn’t quite ready for British prime time.
Yesterday, Top Gear announced a second presenter… wait for it… an American! As I said, it isn’t me. Instead it’s Matt LeBlanc, the fastest celebrity around Top Gear’s track. Well, damn, he’s the perfect American presenter. I never had a chance.