Top Gear has been one of the BBC’s most popular shows for close to 40 years, but it was recently announced that the three hosts — Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May — will be moving to Amazon Prime next year, bringing their unique brand of automotive humor to the online streaming service.
This is big news. Amazon Prime will be getting a show that already has a huge following, and it may get a lot of new subscribers because of this one show. Even more importantly, this acquisition signals online streaming’s power and intent to take on network television as a primary source of entertainment. Is this the beginning of a shift away from TV?
Getting Up to Speed
If you’re not familiar with Top Gear, it’s a car show. But just calling it a car show doesn’t do it justice; the middle-aged bro humor, insane challenges, and sometimes childish antics turn it into something else altogether. Despite a great deal of controversy, the show has earned itself fans of all types; young and old, male and female, car fanatics and non-gearheads alike.
The show’s wide appeal likely stems from the variety of things that are covered: supercars, everyday cars, celebrity interviews, crazy challenges, and travel to some of the world’s most beautiful places are all common elements. If you don’t understand what the hype is about, you’ll need to see it for yourself. To help you dive right in, we have recommended a handful of must-see episodes at the end of this article.
Jeremy Clarkson, the de facto leader of the group, is known to frequently step on toes with lightly veiled racial humor and questionable off-screen behavior. And after facing calls to fire him for years, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) finally gave Clarkson the ax after he physically assaulted a producer in a hotel after a hard day’s shooting.
Both of the other hosts, along with the executive producer Andy Wilman, announced shortly after that they wouldn’t be returning to the BBC. All three Top Gear hosts, along with Wilman, have signed a three-season deal with Amazon, with the show to be streamed on Amazon Prime. The first season of the new show will air sometime next year.
Streaming Revs Its Engine
Top Gear is the latest in a string of shows that have been revived after being cancelled by television networks (though Top Gear hasn’t exactly been “revived”—more on that in a moment). The Killing, Longmire, Arrested Development, Community, and The Mindy Project were all cancelled by their original networks, but were brought back by either Netflix or Hulu.
This is a clear move by the streaming providers to lure viewers away from network TV by providing the shows that they already love. Of course, they haven’t been slacking on creating their own content, either; House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Transparent are online-only shows and continue to be very popular. Netflix also has a deal with Marvel, with the fantastic Daredevil series to be followed by shows focusing on Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage.
While some of these shows’ target audiences are already being served by network television, streaming services are taking full advantage of not being constrained by the need to maintain ratings and the restraints that are required on public channels. The shows are more violent, contain more profanity, and are sexier than what you’ll find on the likes of NBC or FOX. Which means they have a lot of appeal for people who aren’t satisfied with the often toned-down shows on primetime.
These are the kinds of shows that people flock to HBO and Showtime for. Interestingly, both HBO and Showtime are now offering online-only subscription streaming options, making it clear that they don’t want to lose customers as cord-cutting gets more popular. It wouldn’t be surprising to see both of these premium channels go to online-only in the near future.
The Race Is On
OK, back to Top Gear. Earlier, I said that it’s not really being revived, and this makes it a very interesting case. Despite the loss of its three superstar hosts, the BBC is going to continue making Top Gear. It’ll be hosted by Chris Evans and at least one other person; Formula 1 driver Jenson Button has been mentioned, but no official announcement has yet been made.
What this means is that Amazon’s new Top Gear will be directly competing with another show. The original show. And because Top Gear was so successful, it seems unlikely that Amazon will want to change the formula of the show, so Clarkson and co. new effort will probably be very similar to the BBC’s motoring classic.
This is streaming’s most direct challenge to network television yet. No longer is Amazon satisfied with filling gaps in the network schedule — they’re now openly challenging the supremacy of primetime TV. And although Amazon Prime is generally considered to play second (or even third) fiddle to Netflix when it comes to online streaming, the addition of this show could help catapult it to the top of the online game.
Of course, we still have no answer to one of the most important questions in this whole situation: how many people will join Amazon Prime to watch the show? At the time of writing, a poll for The Guardian shows 53% of respondents saying they wouldn’t join Prime to watch the show, and 47% saying they would.
Because the new Top Gear doesn’t debut until next year, it’s difficult to make predictions. Amazon could change the format of the show, the BBC could do something different with Top Gear, and more shows could be added to Prime. In essence, any number of things could happen to shift the power balance before we actually see what Clarkson and his crew are up to.
It’s clear, however, that online streaming services are no longer content to be second to network TV; they’re looking to completely usurp its place as a primary source of entertainment. And with their original programming and revival of cult shows, they seem to be doing a good job. Whether they’ll be successful or not in the long run remains to be seen.
Take It For a Spin
If you’re not sure whether it’s worth joining Amazon Prime to watch the new show starring Clarkson, Hammond, and May. Or if you’re already a Prime member and don’t get what all the fuss is about, here are five episodes of the old Top Gear that you need to watch in order to understand why the fanbase is so dedicated.
Season 15, Episode 1
The boys’ humor is on full display in this episode, which introduces the world to the Reliant Robin, a staple of British motoring history. The three-wheeled car is less than stable, and makes for some of the most hilarious mishaps in the show’s history.
Season 10, Episode 1
Of course, Top Gear isn’t just about hilarity; it’s also about amazing driving machines. In this episode, the presenters take three supercars on a journey to find the greatest driving road in the world, and they visit some absolutely stunning locales that you have to see to believe.
Season 9, Episode 6
This episode is a great introduction to the ridiculous challenges Clarkson, Hammond, and May come up with — in this case, making their own stretch limousines. An Alfa Romeo / Saab limo with a sauna is just the beginning of the fun.
Season 8, Episode 3
Have you ever thought how cool it would be to drive an amphibious vehicle? The Top Gear crew decides to make their own and see who can make it across a lake. Predictably hysterical antics follow.
The Polar Special
Who could make it to the North Pole faster: two guys in a monstrous Toyota pickup or two guys on a dogsled? This episode provides the answer. The Arctic landscapes in this popular favorite are absolutely not to be missed.
Bonus: Season 3, Episodes 5 and 6
The Toyota Hilux, featured in The Polar Special, made an appearance on the show back in season 3, when Clarkson and crew tried to destroy it by driving it down some stairs, into a tree, and into the sea, as well as hitting with a wrecking ball, and having a caravan dropped on top of it. And that’s just in the first episode.
Pedal to the Metal?
With the new Amazon version of Top Gear making its debut in 2016, it could be quite a while before we find out the answers to the questions that this announcement has brought up. The only thing we can be sure of is that Clarkson, Hammond, and May will be reunited, and that they’re sure to want to up the ante. Beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Is Amazon revving up for greatness with this show? Or should they have put the brakes on the Top Gear hosts’ reunion? Would you join a streaming service for a single show? Or do you wish Clarkson, Hammond, and May had chosen Netflix or another online platform to which you already have access? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.