Revamped 'Top Gear' U.K. Ratings Drop Further Amid Renewed Criticism

'Top Gear'

The audience for the BBC Two show, featuring Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, fell by a third to 2.8 million amid reports of "canned laughter" and data showing viewers felt it was the worst show on terrestrial British TV on its launch weekend.

The U.K. overnight ratings for the second episode of the revamped Top Gear, featuring five hosts including Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, dropped to 2.8 million from 4.3 million for the first outing last week, according to data unveiled on Monday.

The Sunday night audience drop of a third came after negative audience reviews, with observers also citing sunny weather in Britain that had been expected to somewhat affect TV ratings on Sunday. Some viewers lauded the first episode for not changing the format too much, and LeBlanc and fellow host Sabine Schmitz drew positive reviews. But others criticized Evans as too "shouty" and trying too hard.

Going into the weekend, another controversy surrounding the show flared up amid a report by The Sun that said that the BBC had inserted “canned laughter” to cover up “awkward silences” during the studio portion of the show. Viewers also rated the show as the worst program on terrestrial British television on its launch weekend, according to internal BBC audience data cited by the Daily Telegraph.

"There were no awkward silences during filming as reported by The Sun newspaper, which clearly has an agenda against the show," a Top Gear spokesman was quoted by U.K. newspapers as saying. "It's well known that Top Gear isn't a live program and that the show is edited after filming, but last week's episode was edited in exactly the same way as previous series."

Host Evans has also been trying to fight off the attacks, beginning the second episode by telling viewers he was going to get "even more shouty," and taking to Twitter to hail the show's consolidated figures, which he said had passed 5.6 million for the first episode.

In a sign of weaker viewer interest during week 2, the Sunday episode's audience share fell to 14.3 percent, according to overnights.tv. The season launch had shown a higher overnight audience share at 22.6 percent than the previous season opener's 20.2 percent, according to overnights.tv. The BBC had even cited a 22.8 percent share.

Top Gear's season launch audience of 4.3 million on BBC Two compared with an average 4.7 million overnight audience for the first episode of the previous season, which aired in late December 2014. It also compared with the 5.3 million viewers in the overnight ratings that the final episode with former hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May drew last June.

Evans had said about his ratings expectations for the revamped show that "you have got to say you would be disappointed if it was under 5 million."

On-demand viewing will further boost the consolidated one-week audience for the new-look show, which has been the subject of intense scrutiny since Clarkson was ousted as host last year after a "fracas" with a producer.

In the U.S., Top Gear airs on BBC America. Amazon's upcoming big-budget motoring show led by Clarkson recently received a name: The Grand Tour. Netflix is streaming Top Gear in multiple international territories.

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