Top Gear is invading the United States. So how will it go over? Pretty well, it turns out.
This past weekend 60 Minutes aired a segment on Top Gear. You may have seen it after the segments on Jane Goodall and unemployment among the middle-aged. If you're familiar with the show, the segment probably didn't reveal anything you didn't already know. They discussed Clarkson, May and Hammond's often toxic on-screen relationship, the Stig, Hammond nearly dying in a rocket car and the many trials they've put themselves through around the world. But the real story here was that a British show about cars was on one of America's most recognized and popular news programs.
For a show that's ostensibly about "three middle-aged men with bad teeth and awful haircuts falling over and catching fire", Top Gear has become a worldwide phenomenon. This includes the United States, where the only place the show is aired is BBC America, but since the new episodes don't air until several months after they do in the UK, American fans are forced to find other ways to watch the show. That is of course where YouTube and torrents come in.
No matter what method we Americans go about viewing the show (legal or otherwise), the fact that 60 Minutes saw the show as newsworthy speaks to the popularity of Top Gear in the States. A few years ago, a friend of mine who lives in Chicago asked me if I ever watched Top Gear. This caught me a little off guard because before this, she had never shown any interest in cars. In fact, she's a high school history teacher who doesn't even own a car. I've also spotted people in my office watching Top Gear during their lunch break. Again, these are people who have never shown any interest in cars. It's like liking a band for years, watching them skyrocket and then trying tell everyone that you liked them way before everyone else.
Interestingly, the American version of Top Gear, which is set to debut on the History Channel next month, garnered little more than a passing mention in the segment. Recent trailers for the American version have been looking fairly promising. It's immediately apparent that the hosts are wisely not trying to emulate their British counterparts, and that the production values will blow all other American car shows out of the water. But the question on everyone's mind is, given how popular Top Gear UK is here, do we really need a Top Gear USA?
I think Top Gear USA will be successful. The current state of TV shows about cars in the US is nothing short of abysmal. All you have to do is turn on Speed Channel any time of day to see what I'm talking about. I doubt you'll see the crew from Pinks being interviewed on UK news shows. The production values and quality of writing that Top Gear brings will be very welcome, but in the end I fear that it will be like watching the Foo Fighters cover the Beatles.