The revamped season of Top Gear, with new presenters Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, has debuted to a mixed reception, averaging somewhere between 4.3-4.4 million viewers and drawing some social media fire. Those figures rep a decade low bow for the first ep of a new Top Gear series although the BBC chose to look at the glass half full, citing the show was the most watched in its primetime 8pm Sunday night slot, beating nearest rival, ITV’s British Soap Awards by some half a million viewers. As a comparison, the previous season opener of Top Gear, with former presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, debuted to an average 4.7 million overnight audience when it aired in December 2014. Lead presenter Chris Evans had also been quoted in recent weeks as saying he would be disappointed by an opener that attracted less than five million viewers. The BBC, however, said the latest opener earned a higher overnights audience share than the previous season opener at 22.8% compared to 20.2% for the previous edition.
The anticipated debut, which has been plagued for weeks by rumours of discord on set plus the PR fall-out from an ill-advised segment filmed in view of the Cenotaph War Memorial subsequently scrapped, also drew some barbs on social media, especially for Chris Evans’ animated performance. Carol Vorderman, a former presenter on Channel 4’s cult show Countdown, took to Twitter to voice her displeasure with the latest Top Gear incarnation.
Top Gear remains a highly lucrative franchise for the BBC, worth an estimated $75 million to the broadcaster’s commercial arm BBC Worldwide. Former Top Gear presenters Clarkson, Hammond and May will launch their new driving show The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime last this year. The need for revamping Top Gear came in the wake of Clarkson exiting the show and BBC after being found guilty of assaulting a Top Gear producer last year.