Top Gear is a show that has stayed fairly consistent over the years. After its relaunch in 2002, the show found a magazine format that brought viewers in, and the tried and tested format remained pretty much unchanged for the 13 years that the show was fronted by Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond. However, the BBC was forced to change things up after firing Clarkson, meaning that Hammond and May also quit the show in solidarity. Radio DJ and British TV personality Chris Evans was brought in as replacement, along with Friends star Matt LeBlanc. Joining the team were F1 pundit Eddie Jordan, Racing Driver Sabine Schmitz, You Tube star Chris Harris, and Motoring Journalist Rory Reid, who contributed to the show rather than appearing as regular presenters.
However, Evans didn’t gel with the Top Gear audience from the start, and during his season on air, viewing figures declined dramatically, drawing only 1.9 million U.K. viewers for the season finale; the lowest since its 2002 relaunch. Evans then quit the show, saying that although he had given it his best, it just wasn’t enough. At the time, LeBlanc’s future wasn’t certain; though it was widely rumored that both he and the BBC wanted him to remain as host, there was also the question of LeBlanc’s central role in the new CBS sitcom, Man With a Plan.
A deal has now been reached, though, with the BBC announcing that LeBlanc has signed on to host another two seasons of Top Gear, starting with season 24 (which will air in early 2017). LeBlanc has always been a petrol-head, as has Evans, but while both might have been lacking experience in presenting a motoring show, it was LeBlanc who won viewers over with his dry wit and humor, as well as his insight into cars. Though Evans is a much more experienced presenter (as well as being British), he did not have a natural rapport with the audience and many very quickly grew tired of his presenting style – which is an acquired taste at the best of times.
Joining LeBlanc for next season as co-hosts, are Harris and Reid; a move sure to please fans of the show. Both presenters were woefully underused last season, and their spinoff show, Extra Gear, on the BBC’s online channel, BBC3, has been popular. Together, the three should make for a strong presenting trio, backed up by contributions from Jordan, Schmitz, and The Stig. In a statement, director of BBC Studios, Mar Linsey, praised LeBlanc’s relationship with the viewers:
“Matt was hugely popular with Top Gear viewers last series with his humour, warmth and obvious passion for cars and for the show, so I couldn’t be more delighted that he’s agreed to come back and do more for us.”
While LeBlanc made no secret of his wish to return to Top Gear, he now faces an uphill battle to recoup and add to the viewers lost during the last season. Evans’ departure now gives LeBlanc a chance to shine; he was oftentimes stilted and appeared awkward when Evans was on screen with him. Now he has a chance to bring his humor to the fore, as well as his deep knowledge and love of cars. Reid and Harris also get time to prove their worth, and Top Gear could return to its former glory if people decide to tune in and give season 24 a a chance. It remains to be seen, however, if Clarkson, Hammond and May’s new motoring show, The Grand Tour, will pose any threat to Top Gear when it makes its debut on Amazon Prime this fall.
Top Gear will return to BBC 2 and BBC America in 2017