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.