Reports from the BBC are that Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson is to be sacked today for getting into an altercation with producer Oisin Tymon. Apparently Clarkson punched Tymon when Tymon provided Clarkson cold cuts instead of steak after a long day of shooting. I’m sure there’s a much larger backstory there, but we’ll only get the spin from both the Clarkson and BBC sides.
Can’t say as I didn’t see this coming. Clarkson has been a lightening rod of controversy with his racist and misogynist on-air comments. If he had been on network TV in the US he would have been released long ago (or relegated to talk radio with the likes of Rush Limbaugh.) This was not a matter of the BBC’s political correctness run amok. A physical assault was the last straw, and Clarkson’s actions left the BBC no choice. If they pander to a spoiled star just because he has the top-rated show, regardless of his actions, then they show that they have no integrity at all. But, I have to remind myself that integrity has never been a hallmark of show business.
Top Gear is one of my favorite shows. My tendency was to think of Clarkson more as a character played on-air rather someone in real life. He was an Archie Bunker – someone that said absurd things. That’s how I could justify enjoying the show even though he made comments and held views with which I totally disagreed. He played the over-the-top absurdist role to the hilt, with Richard Hammond and James May acting as straight men to bring some modicum of reason back to the show. It was a formula that worked.
The problem was when Clarkson took his ranting character into real life, with no care as to how his actions affected others. It’s OK to play a character who’s a jerk, but actually being one is not without consequences.
So, Top Gear as we know it is over. Oh well. To be honest, the show had gotten long in the tooth, and it seemed that they were starting to run out of ideas. All of the super-hyper-cars I’ll never ever be able to drive, much less own, were starting to run together, and some of the skits were repeating themselves. I enjoyed the foreign excursions, but Clarkson’s tendency to insult any host country was making it harder to find venues and it was causing them to get into even more trouble, such as the recent altercation in Argentina. Of course, part of the appeal was to tune in and see how much trouble they got into.
I don’t know how a new set of presenters would do on Top Gear. That trio made it work. I’ve tried to watch the American version of Top Gear, but it’s boring as all get out, and I’m afraid that’s what will happen to the BBC version. They just haven’t been able to replicate the reparte´ and comedic timing of Clarkson, Hammond, and May, which took a show about cars, of all things, and turned it into an entertainment powerhouse.
So, mixed feelings about Clarkson’s firing, but life moves on. I think the BBC did the right thing, and I certainly won’t send letters of protest or tweets for them to change their minds. It’s just a TV show. And on that bombshell…