• On the box

Reborn in the USA

ESPNF1 Staff
December 31, 2010
Adam Ferrara, Rutledge Wood and Tanner Foust , presenters of Top Gear's US version © Getty Images

The multi award-winning BBC show Top Gear is watched across the world but, as the presenters often comment, it's not widely shown in the USA for a variety of legal/taste reasons. But now a US version is halfway through a ten-show run and the jury is out on whether it is a success of not.

Audiences have been stable around the 1.2 million mark after attracting two million for the first show - a far cry from the 6.6 who tuned in for the BBC original's Christmas special on December 26 - although analysts are concerned it is failing to hold on viewers from the preceding programme.

Jane Tranter of BBC Worldwide, who are making the programmes on behalf of the History Channel, said: "Together we have worked to tailor the format for the American audience, while staying true to the original dynamic that fans across the world have come to love."

While wanting to ape what the BBC itself describes as the "laddish antics and irreverent humour are such a big part of its appeal" - many of the familiar features have been carried over, such as Star in a Reasonably Priced Car (renamed Big Star), and the Stig also makes appearances - producers have had to adapt for the local market, and that has met with a mixed response.

We asked our US-based readers on our Facebook page to give their opinion of the American version and the feedback was almost unanimously negative, with the biggest area of concern the three presenters, racing driver Tanner Foust, Speed channel reporter Rutledge Wood and comedian/actor Adam Ferrara.

"For those who have not seen the England version, it may be alright, but the dialogue between the US version guys is simply not entertaining or funny," one wrote, while another added: "No enthusiasm, forced, not funny, not imaginative, very scripted, sorry but it is horrible"

I don't see why you'd want a group of sort of bad-teethed Brits coming and telling you about your own car culture
John Hesling, the show's producer

British-born, LA-based John Hesling, the show's producer, has defended his choice of the trio. "They got on with each other very, very well. There's that immediate kind of X Factor. These guys seem to chat like they've known each other for a long, long time. I don't see why you'd want a group of sort of bad-teethed Brits coming and telling you about your own car culture."

There have also been concerns expressed that the show is funded by advertising, largely from the motor industry, which they claim limit the amount of openness when reviewing or commenting on cars. Self-proclaimed car fanatic Jay Leno turned down an offer to front an earlier pilot for the NBC channel for this reason. "My great fear in America is that, for instance, if Kia was our sponsor this week, we'd have to say the car was fantastic," he wrote in the Sunday Times.

Actor and racing driver Bruno Massel, who ended up fronting the earlier NBC pilot, echoed those fears when he said: "You didn't want to insult anybody or put a product down, there was a concern about alienating the companies."

Producers can take heart from Australia, where a local version of the show was met with withering criticism when launched in 2008, but after making changes the programme has now completed three series and is attracting good audiences. However, a Russian Top Gear was scrapped after half a series in 2009.

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