Top Gear (partially found American pilots to British show; 2005-2008)

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Top Gear Logo.jpg

The logo for Top Gear.

Status: Partially Found

Top Gear is a British motor vehicle-themed television series that began in the early 2000s. During the height of its popularity, rights to the show's format were sold off to many different interested countries including Russia, Australia, Korea, Italy, France, the United States, and China. Though the American rights were one of the first to be sold off, it was one of the last to be put into full production. Two pilots were made for this American adaptation, but neither has resurfaced.

The Discovery Pilot

A still from the Discovery pilot.

In late 2005, the Top Gear rights were sold off to Discovery Channel in order to produce an American version of the popular motoring program. This was done by the BBC with minimal input by the original cast and its producers.[1] The hosts for this version were Bruno Massel, John Littlefield and Johnny "Wildboy" (originally thought to be Jonny Fairplay of Survivor fame, though this turned out to be false).[2]

The "star in a reasonably-priced car" was Jon Favreau, which is notable for being one of the first times he announced that he would be directing Iron Man.[3] NHRA racer Bruno Massel's demo reel shows the intro where Bruno announces that it is like the British version with a "better dental plan".[4] There was no audience for this attempt.

The pilot was largely mocked by insiders, as can be seen in the January 2006 issue of "Top Gear Magazine" and as can be heard in a 2016 interview with script editor Richard Porter on the "Smoking Tyre" podcast.[5][6] Discovery largely buried the pilot, only airing a minimally reshot version using the original hosts (Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May) on the European and British versions of their channels as late as 2008.[7] There is some footage of the pilot in Bruno Massel's demo reel[8] that was later uploaded to the Internet Archive in August 2021.

Clips from the Discovery pilot.

The NBC Pilot

A still from the NBC pilot.

Two years after the failure of the Discovery pilot, NBC announced that it had secured the rights to the format in January of that year.[9] Taping of the pilot took place on July 27th, 2008 and had Adam Carolla, Eric Stromer and Tanner Faust as hosts, with David Hasselhoff as the "star in the reasonably-priced car". This attempt had the backing of the cast and crew of the original.

The NBC pilot had a segment where they tested two cars against one another, a challenge which happened in Death Valley, and an introduction for the American cousin of the Stig. Though feedback from those in attendance was largely positive and it was clear that there was a lot of excitement about the project, NBC decided to pass on the project, as their attempt at resurrecting Knight Rider was unsuccessful. This prompted Jeremy Clarkson to state "...they don't get it...".[10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

After NBC dropped the pilot, History took up the mantle. Adam Carolla was still interested, but because of his involvement with a different pilot, he was unable to be a part of it.[17] Motoring website Jalopnik offered NBC $5000 for a copy of the pilot, but this proved to be unsuccessful.[18] To this day, no footage has leaked and only one photo is available.

See Also