Why Chris Evans Had to Leave Top Gear

After weeks of online criticism and falling ratings, Chris Evans has stepped down as Top Gear host. Short of a biblical turnaround, the future looked bleak for his continuing presence on the motoring show. But it isn’t just viewing figures that led to his demise.

There are several factors that have come into play. All of these have created the perfect storm, for an imperfect revival of a major BBC asset. The most obvious is the declining viewing figures. Evans himself never helped his own corner here.

The first show drew 4.7m on the night (0.3m below the prelaunch target Evans had set). On the face of it, this was acceptable. But the ginger one took to Twitter to defend the numbers. Hammering home “facts”. A 23% audience share, 12% higher than launch of the previous series.

When the figures continued to drop, he added that TV viewing habits had changed. That people consumed on the iPlayer. Again, not entirely untrue but it fails to acknowledge that a successful, well received broadcast, maintains a relatively unchanged viewership. Last night’s show brought home 1.9m.

Add all the iPlayer views you want, that isn’t acceptable.

In many ways Chris Evans is the David Moyes to Jeremy Clarkson’s Sir Alex Ferguson. It was always going to be a tough job to fill. Couple this with another disadvantage he had in comparison to his predecessor – chemistry with is co-hosts – and he was always doomed.

Rumours circulated that Matt Le Blanc threatened to walk if Evans remained. In the face of so many personal attacks, the BBC had to lean on Evans to leave.
That leaning would have intensified in the wake of sexual abuse claims; which Evans seriously denies. The allegations refer back to a time in the 90s, and could be heard within the next few weeks.

After Operation Yewtree, and the way the corporation hounded, a later to be cleared, Sir Cliff Richard, they couldn’t take the risk that a failing show was about to face scandal. His radio show is an easier plug to pull if required further down the line.

Ratings, ruptures and red top headlines. He had to go.

What is most baffling is how one of British television’s greatest pioneers became so entrenched in a nostalgia trip. His version of Top Gear should have been about reinvention. The nods to the past subtle or sublime. Instead he was living in a nightmarish version of Quantum Leap, where everybody found him too loud, the show too dull.

Chris Evans can bounce back from this but it will require a project that enables him to tread new ground. Not the safe path he was so eager to stay on.

New Top Gear Review

One of BBC’s flagship shows has finally returned to our screens. Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc replace Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May as Top Gear presenters. The interest in how they’d do has been intense as the shadow of the three departing hosts looms large. At last, we have some answers.

The show pulls no punches in the opening segment. Evans and Sabine Schmitz (a German female driver) head to the actual Top Gun facility in America. Cue movie quotes galore, one of which Sabine gets comically incorrect, and two co-pilots. Their job is to control a laser guided targeted system attached to Evans’ and Schmitz’s cars.

It was Dodge Viper versus Corvette Z06, and while the concept was fun, it becomes clear early on this new Top Gear is going to be very scripted and staged. “Hit the brakes and fly right by,” the famous quote used to avoid a lock-on. Without proper planning, two supercars would have been written off.

That’s not to say the old show wasn’t planned but it always felt natural. That lack of organic feel becomes evident once Evans and LeBlanc share screen time together. At this moment there isn’t a spark between them. It may come over time, and there’s enough promise to suggest they deserve the chance.

This week’s theme was USA v UK and was decided by driving Robin Reliants to Blackpool, a series of challenges (standard dragging Ice Cream vans around stuff), climaxing in Jeeps hauling the Reliants to the top of a hill. The main thing to take away from it is how much Matt LeBlanc looks like Ross Kemp if you put him in a helmet and goggles.

Breaking up the challenge was LeBlanc in a buggy skipping around Morocco. Again, it was a decent feature but the stunt at the end was pure script and felt out of place.

The show has justification sticking to the tried and tested formula. Star in a Reasonably Priced Car got an upgrade. It’s now a Mini and there’s an off-road section in the track. Gordon Ramsey and Jesse Eisenberg the first to take the new layout. But sticking to the old way too closely leaves Top Gear feeling dated.

Evans has said the show isn’t in competition with Clarkson and Co.’s The Grand Tour, and with good reason. They will never go head-to-head and The Grand Tour’s £140m budget dwarfs BBC’s own production. But what it does is highlight how “New” Top Gear now feels old.

It doesn’t help when Evans is sat in cars trying to do a Clarkson impression. He has enough natural charisma and presenting experience to avoid this. The problem is worsened by LeBlanc’s blandness. It could be seen as a cynical move having the American on the show just to increase its export value.

Overall the show just got a lick of paint when it’s clear it needed the type of overhaul Matt LeBlanc’s Robin Reliant required.

Based on the Top Gun section and the potential, it gets 6/10.