It's been a tough few weeks for Top Gear. Ever since the show's relaunch, with BBC radio personality Chris Evans and former Friends actor Matt LeBlanc as hosts, Top Gear has found its viewership in steady decline, reaching an all time low with the season 23 finale in the U.K., when it averaged just 3.9 million viewers. At the same time, rumors surfaced that Evans and LeBlanc do not get along off camera, and it was rumored that LeBlanc had threatened to quit the show unless Evans was fired.
The controversy came to a peak this week, when Evans announced via Twitter that he had quit Top Gear. While he did not specify the reasons why he had quit, he did state that he had given it his best shot but that ultimately, it wasn't enough. With filming on season 24 set to begin in September, talk turned to possible replacements for Evans, but it seems as though the BBC has decided not to take that option and instead, LeBlanc will fly solo, with the support of the contributors team; Sabine Schmitz, Chris Harris, Rory Reid, and Eddie Jordan.
According to Variety, LeBlanc has decided to return for the next season, despite the fact that he is set to star in a new CBS comedy series, Man With a Plan. For LeBlanc, the comedy will be his first U.S. starring role for a decade, and he plans to fit Top Gear filming around it. Variety reports that LeBlanc's deal with CBS means that the studio must try to accommodate his Top Gear filming, with Top Gear expected to work around his schedule.
While Top Gear received a lot of criticism overall, LeBlanc was generally singled out for praise, particularly as the season progressed and his deadpan humor became a hit with the British audience. Contributors Schimitz, Reid and Harris were also strong on camera, but wildly underused, so the departure of Evans might actually give the BBC the chance to utilize them more.
The BBC did not comment on the reports of LeBlanc being set as the solo host, but instead reiterated the statement made by BBC Studios Director, Mark Linsey, who said that "the right people remain, on both the production team and presenting team, to take the show forward and make it the hit we want it to be.”
Given Top Gear's popularity on both sides of the Atlantic, it is plausible that the BBC can still return the show to its former glory. One bad season does not make a bad show, but changes will need to be made, and LeBlanc will need to make a strong impression as a solo host when the show returns, in an effort to entice old viewers into watching once more.
Top Gear is expected to return to the BBC in 2017.