Motoring TV: Top Gear

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There's no question that the global popularity of Top Gear has managed to influence an entire generation of car buyers.

We refer here to the current incarnation of Top Gear, the most popular car show in the world for several years, and now the world's most popular fact-based television show. The reach of the show is incredible, and the opinions of the presenters hold a huge amount of sway. Though other shows might be more informative, Top Gear still manages to inform, and all while offering unrivaled entertainment value, and it is for this reason that it is so popular.

As we have discussed, Top Gear was once a slightly different kind of show. The format of showing sober car reviews and giving helpful safety advice lasted for about 10 years before producers started tweaking the show. More humor and irreverence was introduced, but it were still largely a show devoted to reviews of fairly mainstream cars. This too pretty much fell apart by the turn of the millennium, and the show was cancelled. It was revived, albeit in a modified and more entertaining form, under the name "Fifth Gear", following which a pitch was made to bring back Top Gear with a new format.

The pitch was made by Jeremy Clarkson, formerly a long-time presenter on the old Top Gear, and producer Andy Wilman. When the new show debuted in 2002, Clarkson was joined by Richard Hammond, a former radio DJ from Birmingham (also the city from which the original Top Gear had come). Also presenting was Jason Dawe, an expert on used cars. The first season of the show was very hit-or-miss. To look back at now, it seems very crude, and production values are seriously lacking in comparison to the more recent episodes. It was popular enough to avoid cancellation, but not without major changes.

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The segments from Dawe where he gave advice on buying used cars bogged the show down, and not only were these cut, but so was Dawe himself. The chemistry and banter which the presenters now have, and which fans will drone on endlessly about, really wasn't there at first, and was only starting to get on track in the second season. With Dawe gone, the vacant slot was filled by James May, a former writer for Autocar and briefly a presenter on old Top Gear during the period when it was losing viewers in droves, although this could hardly be said to be his fault. The reviews in this new format are now largely of supercars, as these obviously carry a much better entertainment value.

There are also lots of other feature segments, including various automotive challenges for the presenters. These have only sometimes proven nearly fatal, most notably a particularly horrific crash in which Richard Hammond was very badly injured while driving a jet-powered dragster in an attempt to set a land speed record.

The show has attracted a fair amount of controversy over the years. There's far too much to go into in any great detail here, and there's a couple of reasons for this. One of these is obviously that the occasional politically incorrect statement is really pretty good for ratings.

But there are also a good number of people who believe the show to be irresponsible no matter what, and are watching in the hopes of catching something that gives them an excuse to complain. Of course, as any TV producer will tell you, those people count in the ratings the same as anyone else.

No matter how you feel about the content of the show, it is worth noting that the show's cinematography, editing and even music are some of the best that television has to offer in any form anywhere in the world. This is a rarity in such fact-based programs, but the polished look is no doubt a part of the show's popularity. It has even become so popular that several spinoffs have been made in other countries, including the United States, Australia, Russia and South Korea, although this has proven to be an interesting enough phenomenon that we will devote another article to them.

Although the show has been running for some time, and the producer once even said that they had effectively run out of ideas years ago, Top Gear won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

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