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The 2015 collapse of British series Top Gear seemed to happen almost as fast as so many exotic cars rounded its track over the course of the talk show’s four-decade history.
Host Jeremy Clarkson was suspended and ultimately fired over allegations of physical and verbal abuse against a producer, and co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May — as well as executive producer Andy Wilman — quickly decided to follow him out the door. (They’ve all since signed on for an Amazon show.) Producer BBC quickly tapped U.K. TV and radio personality Chris Evans to replace them, a task that’s been more demanding than the 49-year-old says he initially anticipated.
“Everybody had left,” Evans told reporters at Friday’s Television Critics Association winter press tour, explaining that the behind-the-scenes was also gone. “There was an Armageddon issue, this apocalyptic issue.”
Executive producer Alex Renton, who Evans dubbed a “lone warrior,” was his soul collaborator in reimagining Top Gear for the 23rd season of its contemporary iteration — one that premieres in May, in both the U.K. and stateside on BBC America.
It was for BBC America that Evans was previewing his version of Top Gear four months before its official debut. He addressed the controversy at the top of his Q&A, saying “obviously, something happened … and that meant that Jeremy had to leave,” and the room was largely forgiving in its line of questioning. But Evans was asked about his relationship with the former hosts, each of whom he says he knows professionally and personally. “The last three messages I sent were to James, Jeremy and Richard,” he said of his moves right before the BBC announced his hiring. Evans went on to explain that he’s since conversed with each of the men, either on the phone or via text, since the news broke last June.
He also said that nothing else is really changing for the show. “Yes, we’re going to keep the Stig,” he said, referring to the masked test driver. “Yes, we’re going to keep the stars. We want to work more with Los Angeles, too.”
Evans, in Los Angeles to film an episode on the Pacific Coast Highway, explained that it’s his intention to actually up the number of celebrity guests on the show. “It’s a low-risk interview,” he said. “If you want to promote a movie, we’re not going to ask about the maid you had an affair with. We’re going to ask you about cars. There’s not enough time.”
Evans did throw some criticism his predecessors’ way. When speaking about the sensitivity he feels to manufacturers in reviewing their cars for such a large audience, he pointed to Clarkson’s 2008 take-down of the Tesla Roadster (and the resulting, lingering legal claims on the car company’s part) as one reason to exercise some restraint.
“If it’s Tesla, they threaten to sue you — and quite rightly so,” Evans said. “We’re still breaking bread with Tesla now.”
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