top of page

Demise of The TV Car Show

Updated: Feb 20

Bad news folks.

The penultimate episode of the now sporadic, The Grand Tour has dropped.

That’s right. The second to last one EVER.

Which is frankly, an unrecoverable blow to all petrolheads out there.

The literal end of an era.

(Could be a play on words. Who knows...)

What Are You Talking About?

Switch on your TV.

Go on.

Peruse your free-to-air channel schedule guide.

Scour traditional terrestrial telly.

Although we wouldn’t encourage you to if you’re a car fan. For the simple reason you’ll discover not one new car show for your troubles.

At least, not one which was created/originally broadcast in recent times.

Whilst repeats of pioneering car shows such as the seminal Top Gear are omnipresent across the plethora of freebie channel offerings, there is suddenly a yawning chasm where once the revered likes of the aforementioned TG, The Grand Tour and yes, even Fifth Gear once reigned supreme in real time.

Automotive podcasts and dedicated - if not a little, niche - YouTube channels are plentiful in choice. That much is true.

But have they really filled the eerie void left in the wake of the de-commissioned and the hiatus-experiencing motoring magazine shows which ruled the terrestrial broadcasting airwaves not that many years previous.

(Hanson, after MANY gap years)

What Fills The Gap Left By Top Gear And The Grand Tour?

The bottom line is, if you like your fill of motoring light entertainment served up on the bigger screen anytime in the foreseeable, then you’re just going to be plain out of luck.

Clarkson and Co announced their intentions a while back now.

Not long after another un-closely guarded secret regarding the cessation of Top Gear was let out of the bag. We believe that Fifth Gear stumbles on, nowadays found on an obscure channel, and specifically re-purposed to engage fans of EV’s.

And them alone.

But with all due respect, it was historically viewed as a poor facsimile of both Top Gear and The Grand Tour even when in its heyday. Reflected most noticeably in its far less expansive production budget, characterful presenter line-up and glossy appeal.

(An scene from The Grand Tour's, 'Sand Job')

The Ever-Shifting Sands Of Terrestrial Car TV

You see, wherever you now try and seek it out, this type of irreverent, ballsy, lad-tastic automotive fair has become another victim of the times.

Although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as a rethink of car programmes was, admittedly, long overdue. Lethargy had set in, repetitiveness was the only seeming solution. 

Even diehard car fans know that evolution is relentless and unstoppable. 

And to be perfectly honest, the revered likes of Top Gear and The Grand Tour had enjoyed a good run. Arguably outstaying their long-extended welcome according to some. 

(Revamped Top Gear's saviours)

And let’s not forget.

It was Clarkson who took a pre-May and Hammond-era TG and singlehandedly reinvented the motoring broadcasting template back in the early Noughties (along with co-conspirator, Andy Wilman, above).

Pitching - and subsequently overseeing - what was then perceived to be a ground-breaking shake-up of presentation styles and delivery to a typically horrified and antiquated BBC.

Who then went on to export TG version 2.0 to a global audience. An audience who wouldn’t have known quite what to make of an Angela Rippon, William Woolard or Quentin Wilson

While hesitant at first, the Beeb soon recognised that they were witnessing the change that was needed. To fuel (and indeed, fool) inject a televisual institution that has reached the end of its natural shelf life at that juncture.

And so the TG that we have all known, loved and now mourn was born. 

(the last hope for televisual adventures in motoring, Magnus Walker)

RIP TG And TGT. Now What?....

So, what follows a brave new dawn, you ask?

Another brave new dawn, of course.

The old/new Top Gear clung to the coattails of the fast-fading lad culture indicative of the late 1990’s.

And with it, many found new heroes in the wash of - and somewhat bizarrely when you consider the full circle of his particular journey-to-come - Chris Evans’ and other pioneers of provocation and protagonist. For the most part, your average TG studio audience was not dissimilar to the mainstay of a Kasabian gig.

Only with cars rather than bucket hats thrown in for good measure.

But a zeitgeist it captured, along with its inevitable headlines.

A reputation carved from advertent misadventures as much if not more than the boy's own adventures. In some ways diversion tactics included sweeping cinematography and art direction values which put it on par with anything David Attenborough fronted.

(Top Gun in Top Gear)

Whilst guest appearances by widely-acknowledged cerebral types, thesps, broadcasting power brokers and Hollywood royalty including Stephen Fry, Kristen Scott-Thomas, David Dimbleby, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Fiona Bruce, Mark Wahlberg, Jeff Glodbum, Will Smith and Tom Cruise underlined its prowess at drawing sizeable audiences.

But the one thing Top Gear failed to do in its final flings was reinvent itself.

It either couldn't or wouldn’t.

Or a curious mixture of the two. 

The Grand Tour Was Like Clarkson Era TG’s Greatest Hits Package

With regards to The Grand Tour, this was always billed as more of the same.

Getting the band back together, as it were.

Not fixing something that Amazon believed wasn’t broken. Clearly the BBC hadn’t, either. New personnel failing to resurrect a flailing format in the aftermath of various reincarnations.

Yet after throwing an unprecedented amount of money at it, even Amazon has now acknowledged that such programming has seemingly run its cause.

The official line from Clarkson is that he - along with fellow petrolheaded pensioner, May - is now too long in the tooth to be shoehorning himself in and out of supercar exotica and finding himself marooned in far-flung and inhospitable destinations.

Especially when he has fields to plough and beer to brew, while May has a far more pedestrian pace of travelogues to continue making.

Both for the same employer.

Meanwhile, as Clarkson puts himself out to pasture, and May tinkers, the smallest of the three cogs is content with his classic car restoration business. With Hammond’s days of living out of a suitcase indefinitely over.

Although still flogging the deceased equine that is/was, the ill-fated Drivetribe channel.

(A who's who of who....)

Cliche Watch

It is without question or pause for further reflection, a crying shame.

Not least because it’s more evidence to support the notion that none of us are getting any younger. And all good things must come to an end sooner or later.

And whatever other meaningless cliches we can think of under these sets of circumstances.

It was a good innings, that much is true.

And for anyone left in any doubt, just watch ‘Sand Job’.

The Grand Tour’s penultimate offering. With its 2 hour running time and equally celluloid-esque grand scheme of things.

Pure bliss.

Yes, the script was, well, scripted to within an inch of its natural. Yes, the gags were plodding. And yes, the turns of events, reassuringly predictable. 

Yet for all that, it continued to be the chucklefest it always was. The guilty pleasure any car fan can almost shamefully admit to missing before it’s even gone.

A collective safe place, where it’s cool to be the uncool kids.

And where comfort eating this sort of TV dinner might make all our silhouettes rival Clarkson’s if we’re not very careful.

Did the audience learn anything new about these cars? Nope.

Was our grey matter challenged in any way? Nadda.

Will our lives be enriched for watching it? Nah.

But who actually cares.

Gritty drama is overrated and omnipresent. 

'Reality' TV equally as scripted.

If there’s one thing the irrepressible trio are doing is they’re going out with a bang, rather than a Rolling Stones-esque whimper.

Their job here is done. 

(Supercar Blondie; at the vanguard of social media car influencers)

Content Creators Rule The Airwaves

Formats are possibly the biggest sweeping change.

The stylish death knell for the substance that’s passing.

It’s not just where we get our car content from that has changed beyond almost all recognition. But the length too.

The bitesize element.

Zoo TV in all its gory.

The short attention spans indicative of the TikTok generation.

Where the kicks might be free, but the hit must be instant as well as throwaway.

To be replaced seconds later by another Snapchat of life and times which demand our attention, whilst we haven’t even allowed for the previous, briefest of interludes to digest.

Fast and furiously served as a moveable feast those of us of a certain generation struggle to swallow.

That’s the nature of the beast though.

In all walks of life, not just the arena of televisually-splashed automotive journalism.

The ‘here’ is ‘now’.

Seconds later, it’s already yesterday’s news.

Chip papers are long gone. Entertainment as fleeting. Recycling, selective.

Two hours of three old men slowly making their way across a desert in customised supercars that haven’t been blinged to death by Yianni Charalambous and pals is not so much yesterday as overtly Dickensian. 

Today’s car peeps aren’t referred to as mere presenters. They are content creators and influencers.

Demi-gods in DryRobes.

And it’s this new breed who now hold the most consequential sway amongst TV audiences, wherever and whenever they scream into our conscience. 

While they exist on any screen you subscribe to these days, they are by their very definition the preserve of that there internet.

Smartphone savvy.

So slick, they even make Max Headroom look 8-bit. 

Yet ask most of these car influencers who or what inspired them, and the echo chamber will resonate to the names, Clarkson et al.

Meaning the legacy left by Top Gear and The Grand Tour will endure, even if the father figures fade from our transient Discord databanks. 

Goodbye chaps. And thanks for putting cars and adventures prime time for so long.

64 views0 comments


bottom of page