NBC has pedal to the metal

Gives BBC's 'Top Gear' a lift to U.S.

The popular BBC car show "Top Gear" is revving up a U.S. edition.

NBC has ordered a pilot for "Gear," to be produced by BBC Worldwide Prods. Like the original, it will be a mix of cars, humor and celebrities.

Casting is under way for hosts of "Gear," which will be filmed at a secret location around Los Angeles equipped with a race track and hangar where the pilot will be filmed in front of a audience.

"It's a show with a very edgy point of view," BBC Worldwide Prods. topper Paul Telegdy said. "It's a celebration of car ownership but also a celebration of attitude and anti-establishment in every sense of the word."

NBC reality chief Craig Plestis said he is a longtime fan of "Top Gear."

"It all comes down to subject matter — it's a cool show about cars," he said. "It's very compelling for us because we have a great platform and space on the network to have such a show."

Plestis said the network already is getting inquiries from car companies that had heard rumblings about NBC doing a U.S. version of "Top Gear" and want to participate.

"This is a favorite of all automobile companies as it shows their cars in such a great light," he said.

"Top Gear," which airs on BBC 2, originally launched in 1977 but has gained wider popularity since its relaunch in 2002.

Among "Gear's" popular segments that will be replicated in the U.S. are races where the hosts have to reach a destination using different modes of transportation, road tests, challenges like converting and refurbishing existing cars into anything from a stretch limo to an amphibian and celebrities racing a midsize car. ("American Idol's" Simon Cowell holds the record for fastest lap time with a Chevrolet Lacetti.)

It's hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May and also features the Stig, a masked test driver. The U.S. version will feature a quartet of presenters, including a secret test driver. BBC Worldwide mulled doing an American version with the original British hosts, but the idea fell through in the summer, mostly over Clarkson's unwillingness to spend extended periods of time away from his family as well as the show's ratings success in Britain.

In September 2006, Hammond was injured while taping a test run with a jet-propelled drag-racing car. The episode featuring footage of the crash opened the show's highest-rated season to date, with the season finale drawing BBC 2's biggest ratings in a decade.

Australian Broadcaster SBS recently bought the rights to produce a local version of "Top Gear."

In addition to the show, the British "Gear" franchise includes a companion car-themed Web site as well as Top Gear magazine.
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