The new, revamped Top Gear series was always going to court controversy. After the public sacking of former host Jeremy Clarkson, followed by the departure of him, plus co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May, to Amazon Prime, the BBC were left in the rather unenviable position of finding suitable replacements. Clarkson’s replacement was found in the form of Chris Evans, BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show presenter, BBC TV presenter and an extremely well-known broadcasting figure in the U.K. (and decidedly un-Captain America-like).
In February this year, it was also announced that Friends star Matt Le Blanc would join him as co-host, a move thought to be made by the BBC in order to appeal more to U.S. audiences. While both Evans and LeBlanc are huge petrol-heads, neither have genuine motoring experience – so the presenting team was filled out with racing driver Sabine Schmitz, YouTube star Chris Harris, F1 pundit Eddie Jordan and motoring journalist Rory Reid, though only Evans and LeBlanc appear in each episode.
The show relaunched in May 2016, to mixed reviews. Certainly the first episode did not fare well with fans and critics alike but since then, the show has steadily improved, though the viewing figures are well down on previous seasons. While 6.42 million watched the series opening episode on the BBC, this has since trailed off to around 2.4 million average; less than half of the least-watched episode under Clarkson’s leadership.
The show’s struggles aren’t limited to on screen, though. For a long time now, Top Gear has been plagued by rumors in the British press that Evans and LeBlanc don’t get on. This seems further cemented today by news from The Sun (via Autoblog) that LeBlanc is now threatening to quit ahead of the second season, if Evans isn’t fired. Though far from confirmed, if true, this puts the BBC in a very awkward position indeed.
Firstly, LeBlanc is swiftly becoming the main reason for watching Top Gear. Though he was awkward on screen to begin, he is finding his stride and has set a dry, acerbic tone to the show which viewers enjoy. He is also, as has already been pointed out, a pull for American audiences, which brings in much needed revenue for the channel. The BBC are confident in LeBlanc’s abilities, since they’ve agreed to pay him for another two seasons at least – so if he does walk before season two filming begins in September, then they still need to pay out.
Amid reports of diva-like behavior that LeBlanc cannot stand, and a refusal to interact with the rest of the cast, it would seem logical to fire Evans and bring someone else in to co-host. However, it’s not as simple as all that. Evans is one of the darlings of the BBC. After a tumultuous few years with channel four and as a Virgin radio show host, Evans became public enemy number one. He took some time out, and proclaims himself that he needed to “grow up”. The BBC took a gamble by naming him as the host of its most popular radio breakfast show in 2010, but it paid off and Evans now also regularly hosts a popular BBC One magazine-style show called The One Show (as well as raising millions for the BBC charity, Children in Need). If the BBC decide to fire Evans, it could negatively impact his other projects, too.
Meanwhile, the last episode of this current season of Top Gear is set to air on Sunday, provided England don’t make it to the quarter finals of the European Championships. After the season finale, we might hear news of any host change pretty quickly, since season two is set to film in September.
UPDATE: Following on from the rumors that LeBlanc wanted Evans to quit, Evans has now announced his resignation from the show via his Twitter account, saying:
“Stepping down from Top Gear. Gave it my best shot but sometimes that’s not enough. The team are beyond brilliant, I wish them all the best.”
The BBC has not yet confirmed which, if any, of the other presenters will be staying on for the next season of the show.
The Top Gear season finale will air on Sunday, July 3rd on BBC Two, and on BBC America.