Idris Elba, Louis Theroux and ‘Top Gear’ Headline BBC America’s Fall

The Brit actor who’s just signed to play maverick cop Alex Cross in David Twohy’s Cross, stars in the 6-part BBC mini-series Luther playing another maverick cop (think Cracker meets Prime Suspect meets Wallender). Luther uses the Columbo trick of letting the viewer discover early on who the murderer is – the suspense comes from watching how Luther will catch the murderer. Brit TV reviewers agreed Elba saved a tired formula “pitched somewhere in that territory between fantasy and cliché that commissioning editors find so irresistible,” humphed the Guardian, while the Daily Telegraph said: “Luther lets Elba down”. Poor early reviews impacted ratings. From an audience of 5.8 million (24%) for its first outing, ratings fell to 3.1 million (12.3%) by episode five. Despite falling ratings, the Beeb announced at the Edinburgh TV festival it was commissioning Luther for a couple more two-hour specials. Luther premieres October 17.

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz do a turn throwing a hatchback car round a racetrack in hugely popular car show Top Gear. Andy Garcia and Harry Potter star Rupert Grint also test their driving skills this season. Cruise and Cameron’s much-publicised appearance came as a welcome spike in Top Gear’s declining ratings. That week’s episode scored 5.8 million viewers and a 22% audience share compared with a season average of 2.6 million. Top Gear remains popular in Britain, and has made stars out of presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. As to who watches the show, that seems split between those who live outside London and those who live within it. Nobody in London drives much, so it’s not really watched by metropolitans. The unmasking of its mystery stunt driver has been a running news story for days. The BBC cleverly reinvented the format of a boring car review programme and turned it into a comedy series. The BBC has sold the format worldwide to territories including Australia, Russia and the US. There’s a feeling though that everything’s become too scripted and the show hosts too cartoonish. Season 15 begins on September 27 on BBC America.

December’s BBC America highlight is the return of gonzo interviewer Louis Theroux, son of novelist Paul. BBC America is showing the next three docs in the 10-part strand he signed to make back in 2002. This time around, Theroux goes inside San Quentin prison, follows wealthy American tourists who pay top dollar to hunt big game and goes on patrol with vigilante private security in Johannesburg, South Africa. Personally, I find Theroux’s faux-naif interviewing style grating. He should tithe a percentage of his BBC fee to Nick Broomfield, the docu director who pioneered his filmmaker-at-the-heart-of-the-story style in the first place.

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