If new Top Gear host Chris Evans got paid by the word, he walked away from his Q&A at TCA one very wealthy man. Not since Oprah Winfrey came to this semi-annual TV confab to promote her new TV network has a single panelist done so much of the talking, and the journalists in the room asked so little.
Evans gave us his thoughts on great programming ideas in the hands of a bad storyteller, and bad programming ideas in the hands of a great storyteller.
Evans talked about the show’s start in the late ’70s. He spoke coyly of the recent “something” that happened, causing longtime host Jeremy Clarkson to leave, and then “everybody” else on the show to leave as well in a “sort of Armageddon…or apocalyptic issue,” and of the “lone warrior” who stayed behind. He explained the importance of taking over the hosting gig with a really solid “idea” because, in order to be really spontaneous, you’ve got to be really relaxed. He reminisced about his 90’s breakfast show that “broke all boundaries,” how “everything I touched turned to gold,” including a hit game show on Friday nights – and “then I went mad, and had to leave for five years and I bought a farm and dug holes.” While digging holes, he revealed, he realized he hadn’t hated being a big star of hit TV and radio, and instead “I hated me.” And, we heard about how he then tried to get back in the biz, begging for a weekly radio show and wound up having to buy a radio station from Richard Branson in order to get that radio show. No resolution on the farm and the holes, but maybe he’ll return to TCA in July to finish the story.
Evans spoke of being so in demand he’s had to work on two shows from his living room. “I’ve had this unbelievable run of success,” he said modestly. FYI, his first car was a ’72 mini, but now he drives a ’76 Rolls Royce. When he drives his own car at all, which is hardly ever because, for the column he also writes, Evans gets sent a new car every week to review. Anyway, he’s got “a lot of cars,” he reports.
Among the other things we learned: The current craze for classic cars is born of people’s innate desire to mess about on cars using tools from their tool kits, only new cars are too complicated.
On Evans’ Top Gear, the cars are “definitely the star.” Evans said. (Note to Cars: Good luck on that.)
Top Gear remains “one of the biggest shows in the world” because it’s not about the person, it’s about the cars, and different cars pass through, and the cast changes every week. Most shows fail when their casts get old and die, Evans said. The virtue of being a Simpson is that that never happens to them, he explained. Cars are like Bart Simpson. Top Gear has a revolving door of Bart Simpsons every week.
Top Gear will not change that much, Evans said – at least we think he did, but our head still is spinning. “We have a huge audience. I don’t want to see the next incarnation of Top Gear, I want the next show. Top Gear is not a single bespoke show” it’s many bespoke shows each year. Evans said he liked the old show, and if Clarkson hadn’t triggered that apocalyptic incident, he’d be watching it now.
Evans wants to do the show to travel to Los Angeles sometimes. Because Top Gear is in a way the biggest talk show of all time, Evans insisted, and its low-risk atmosphere + biggest audience in the world = best place to plug a new movie. That is, so long as said celebrity with movie to plug also has something to say about cars. But, then, who doesn’t?
Evans said he thought the show would carry on with Clarkson’s fellow former Top Gear presenters Richard Hammond and James May for a while, until the dust settled on the Clarkson fracas. And, he may have hinted he once thought Clarkson might eventually return and “so did BBC” – or maybe he didn’t. It was hard to tell. But anyway, Amazon poached them all, so it’s a moot point. The day Jeremy and BBC “parted ways” Evans was leaving his mother’s house. His mother lives spitting distance from the Top Gear track. Kismet.
While here for TCA, Evans is taking advantage to shoot segments in Las Vegas and had been shooting one on Pacific Coast Highway only he ran into “One of your El Ninos.”
“So L.A. had a little rain,” One brave critic dared to begin, hoping to get in a question.
“No. It didn’t have ‘a little rain’,” Evans shot back, like he meant it to sting. “It had a shitload of rain. And hailstones…. Like in Scotland.”
Evans is likely to go head-to-head with Clarkson’s new show. Amazon signed a hefty check to bring Clarkson and fellow former Top Gear presenter to Amazon Prime with a new car-themed show. That after BBC allowed Clarkson’s contract to expire, upon determining the wildly popular Top Gear host had assaulted producer Oisin Tymon in a dispute over catering, while filming on location in North Yorkshire. Seems Clarkson wasn’t happy with his soup and a cold meat platter, when he wanted steak, except the hotel chef had gone home for the night.