Chris Evans made himself the story – and his Top Gear exit became the only solution
The disappointing end to the Chris Evans/Top Gear romance will be mulled over for many a moon. Of course hindsight is 20/20 vision, although taking a step back it does speak volumes for the motor show’s brand. For Jeremy Clarkson it took several diplomatic incidents, a handful of desecrated world heritage sites, offending the majority of the world’s minorities and a punch up with a producer to convince the BBC it was time to say goodbye. For Evans it is just six ho-hum episodes.
As the dust settles after the week-on-week ratings freefall, the BBC should reflect on its part in the awkward pairing of star presenter and prized vehicle. Of course Evans brought with him the real, or perhaps perceived baggage of fame and ego. There was never a guarantee he’d bring his audience with him too. Evans was brought to Top Gear in the same way that executive boards negotiate corporate mergers. The figures added up but creative intuition was shut out the room. This was in stark contrast to the old team who were plucked out of relative obscurity: Clarkson was a hack for regional and trade press, James May was a sub-editor for Autocar magazine and Richard Hammond worked in BBC local radio.
For all Evans’ talk of the Top Gear family there was rarely a sense of team spirit. The former Big Breakfast star was simply not able to conceive of the show as something bigger than another chapter in his glittering career. In contrast to the laddish camaraderie on the old team, the chemistry between Evans and Matt LeBlanc was stilted at best. This is unsurprising. With Evans busy with his Radio 2 show and LeBlanc off filming a new series of Episodes their opportunities to shoot the breeze together were encumbered by several layers of possessive diary managers.
Whenever Clarkson et al got into a spot of bother they allowed the hamstrung BBC press office to pick up the pieces. For Evans it had to be personal. As the first batch of disappointing reviews and ratings came in the frontman took on the role of official spokesperson. A series of increasingly frustrated and defensive statements only underlined how exposed Evans had made himself. The BBC team around him are partly to blame for allowing Evans to seize ownership of the Top Gear brand. It wasn’t inevitable that Evans would have had to exit after a disappointing first series. The first series of the Clarkson-fronted Top Gear was even worse. The difference is, Evans had succeeded in making himself the story. His exit has become the only solution.
All of this is bitterly ironic. In its haste to revive Top Gear the BBC has wounded its major cash cow. Had the Beeb simply waited longer and opened up a more extensive search for new talent – perhaps engaging the public in its selection – the outcome could have been different.
Mark Borkowski is the founder of Borkowski.do. He tweets @MarkBorkowski