Top Gear (partially found Discovery Channel adaptation of BBC Two TV series; 2005)
Top Gear is a long-running British television series themed around cars and is a reboot of an earlier show by the same name. Broadcast in over 212 countries at one point in time, the series soon became the most pirated in the world, even in its own country, mainly due to the episodes frequently being subject to edits, which removed significant amounts of footage for time-saving or copyright-related reasons. Tapping into a market which they felt would net them a sizable audience, in 2005 Discovery took a gamble and commissioned what was originally 18 episodes (though only 13 would ever be produced) of an American market version of Top Gear, with entirely reshot audience segments and redubbed voiceovers.
Of these recordings, only 3 intact episodes survive to this day, and segments from another 2 have also resurfaced.
Following the conclusion of the fifth series of Top Gear in 2004 and amidst fears that the show would leave its homestead in Dunsfold for Enstone in Oxfordshire (the very same airfield which spiritual successor show The Grand Tour would later situate itself at 13 years later), American television network Discovery approached the BBC with the concept of its own localized version of Top Gear. Despite allegedly initially rejecting the offer, the usual production team agreed to produce the show, and filming at the typical location of Dunsfold Aerodrome went ahead in February of 2005. Each show would be made of recycled segments from the first five series of Top Gear, chiefly car reviews (although some challenges did appear), with new studio segments filmed to better appeal to an American audience, and to allow the show's reduction in length to air on commercial television, a feat previously attempted by UKTV in the United Kingdom.
Its production was perhaps an early response from an American television network at the meteoric rise in Top Gear's global popularity to secure US broadcasting rights for the show, due to BBC America's lack of interest, and an early streaming service offering the show as a P2P download in the days before the existence of iPlayer. From 2005, the BBC would also provide a multicast stream which could be accessed from anywhere in the world, albeit in low quality.
Changes from the UK version
In order to make Top Gear more palatable for the US market, the following changes were made:
- All derogatory statements made towards Americans were deleted.
- The Star-in-a-Reasonably-Priced-Car segment, which at that time largely featured B-List British personalities who weren't familiar to American audiences, was deleted in its entirety.
- The News was also deleted in its entirety.
- All clips previously filmed for the show were cropped to 4:3, and the new studio segments were also filmed at 4:3.
- Many voiceovers previously recorded for the first five series were redone for the American market, using American terminology (such as "hood" and "trunk" instead of "bonnet" and "boot") and units of measurement (i.e. American gallons and United States Dollars). Even the pronunciation of certain words (e.g. Jaguar, coupe) were adjusted to the more familiar "Jag-wire" and "coop" pronunciations.
Filming for the series was completed in a week and would have totalled around an hour of usable studio footage. The only confirmable filming date was Valentine's Day 2005, with two separate filming sessions occurring at 10 AM and 2:30 PM. A second set occurred the following week - according to photographer Jon Large, this was on the 21st of February 2005. Visitors to the studio were asked to have a 50/50 split gender ratio. They were told to keep away from the cars in the hangar as a female audience member inadvertently scratched a Ferrari with her purse.
The Stig incident
During the filming of one of the episodes commissioned for Discovery, a man dressed as The Stig (whether this was Ben Collins or a person merely dressed up is unknown) was accosted by two female audience members desperate to find out the masked racing driver's identity. They were unsuccessful in their attempt but did cause heightened security measures during the follow-up tapings.
Interestingly, these tapings saw the debut of the "Some say..." lead-in to each of The Stig's famed power laps, preceding its UK introduction by a number of months, although these would air after Series 6 had premiered in the UK.
Top Gear premiered on the Discovery Channel on June 30th, 2005, and was not suitably promoted by the network, as it's possible they felt it was a taster rather than a fully-fledged production. 13 episodes would air through to August, before being repeated. A second series was initially announced in October of 2005 but was soon withdrawn. By December, Discovery had discontinued production of Top Gear. All episodes were initially available online via FTPs and other measures of the era. Still, their low interest was not enough to sustain their survival, and a majority of the episodes were soon lost.
Reception to the show was largely negative from American fans of Top Gear, who felt the show had been dumbed-down for American audiences, and was not, as some had first thought, a brand new season exclusively produced for the United States, but rather a glorified compilation series. The series never aired again after its initial series of repeats and were never aired internationally. It is likely, due to differing tape junking policies between the BBC and Discovery, that the complete series no longer exists.
Three episodes resurfaced in the years following its airing - the final three episodes, alongside the first half of episode 7 and a clip of the Spyker C8, the latter two of which were discovered on the personal website of Ely Liu, a man who would later be employed by Disney as a researcher. As of 2020, this section of Liu's website remains active.
- Birmingham Mail article on Derek Smith's death. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
- BBC News article featuring Top Gear's widespread international appeal. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
- BBC News article on Top Gear's past, including a statement on its piracy rate. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
- FinalGear post containing a paraphrased quote from Jeremy Clarkson Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- FinalGear - TG on discovery channel Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- Get Surrey article on Top Gear's relocation Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- DriveTribe - Where Is The Celebrity Face-Off Track? Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- FinalGear - TopGear is getting mainstream :) Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- FinalGear - Help me convince BBC America to air Top Gear episodes Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- FinalGear - No need to rip TG in the future? Maybe, maybe not. Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- FinalGear - Top Gear Live - Lucky Americans... Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- FinalGear - Top Gear AMERICA Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- Jon Large's Flickr album of filming for Top Gear's Discovery tapings Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- BimmerFest thread with a petition to cancel the Discovery version of Top Gear Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- FinalGear - I HATE the USA edited Top Gear... HATE IT!!! Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- FinalGear - Top Gear On Discovery Channel 7/27/05 Retrieved 12 Oct '20
- Elyliu.com - Video database. Retrieved 11 Oct '20
- Twitter page for Ely Liu. Retrieved 11 Oct '20