Yesterday it was announced that Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May have signed with Amazon TV to do a show that will essentially be “Top Gear” in all but name. The continuity “Top Gear” meanwhile will be hosted by Chris Evans and in competition for viewership with the new Clarkson show, and one has to think the Evans programme stands little chance against it (although it does remind one of the Van Halen v David Lee Roth battle in the 80s, and that turned out to be the polar opposite of what was expected). Anyway, whether Evans or Clarkson, the Beeb or Amazon, ultimately triumphs in the war over viewers isn’t what interests me (I find anything to do with cars unbelievably uninteresting – I have likened watching Formula One to staring at traffic before – so I won’t be watching either). No, I find the debate fascinating because it clearly asks this question: what is the BBC for, and more to the point, what should it be for? Given we’re the ones paying for it, it is worth considering.
On a related note, I read that Ricky Wilson, a judge on the BBC’s “The Voice” programme (for those unaware of the show, think of X-Factor but even less interesting), was upset because he felt there might not be another series produced due to “government nonsense” (his words). Yes, it’s all very fashionable to join in on the Tory bashing in regards to slashing BBC budgets – but before we jump into that comfort zone, I have to ask you once again: what is the BBC for? And more pointedly, what is public broadcasting for? Because, actually, if the Tories cutting funding to the Beeb means they keep producing highly important informationally television while having to lose a new version of “Top Gear” destined to flop and a bad knockoff of one the worst, most empty headed TV shows in the history of the medium, then I’m sort of glad taxpayer money is being spared. If that’s not too Tory of me here.
Turning back to the “Top Gear” thing to prove my point: they sacked Clarkson because the corporation felt he wasn’t living up to some sort of community standard of behaviour. Now, I want to stress, I’m neither defending nor demonising Clarkson’s actions that led to him leaving the BBC’s employ, I’m just trying to get the facts straight. Thing is, no commercial network would have done what the BBC did to one of its absolutely bankable stars – he would have been deemed too valuable, and the bottom line would have spoken. The reason the BBC went through with letting him go is because they see themselves as more than just some racket a la ITV (who, incidentally, look set to inherit “The Voice” post Whittingdale “savaging”) – they are an institution, sir.
Fine, so if that’s the case, shouldn’t we be annoyed that they are willing to let one of the nation’s best loved shows (again, not by me) get ruined, all over some judgement of one of its star’s behaviour, while trying to flog the not only dead but decayed horse by inserting Chris Evans into the mix? Given you lot keep the whole thing financially ticking, again, you should be interested in this debate. Does the corporation exist strictly as a public service? Why then does it try and compete for big time ratings with crap like “The Voice”? What is the BBC for, I ask a third and final time, and this isn’t a loaded question? Discuss.
S oliver says
I Sir am on board with your rational. It does seem that the bbc have become self congratulatory and believe that they are Teflon coated.
They seem to have forgotten that they exist for and on behalf of the license payers which I hasten to add is no longer mandatory as long as one does not watch live broadcasts or so I’m given to understand, and yet in the after math of the Clarkson debacle they not only terminate his contract but then go on to use license payers funding to attempt to serve a writ precluding him from working on another motoring program for two years in the futile attempt to bouy up the remnants of top gear.
Ariel Poliandri says
The BBC would have done well sacking Clarkson for physically assaulting another employee. Any decent company would have done the same. The problem is that this was not the underlying reason why he got fired. This takes us to the real issue: let the Islington intelligentsia and all the sandal-wearing, vegetarian, feminist Quakers of England pay for their own broadcaster. Most of what the BBC does these days –including most documentaries- is not in the public interest.
The problem is with this debate is everyone trying to determine what ‘the public interest’ is and arguments are usually laced with high-minded snobbery about popular programmes. I agree with Nick on The Voice and Top Gear, but they are hugely popular entertainment shows and why does that mean that they do not fall into the public service remit? Does that mean that other entertainment shows, like the comedies that the liberal classes enjoy, should come off too?
Who decides what is good for ‘the people’ (whoever they are) on their behalf?
Nick goes to the heart of the BBC debate: everyone thinks the BBC should be about what they enjoy personally. Doesn’t mean it’s a debate not worth having, though! Interesting article
Richard Underhill says
The BBC did not sack Clarkson, they declined to renew his contract, which meant that they could not be sued for wrongful dismissal.
Top Gear was a car programme before the team went to Channel Five and became Fifth Gear.
After Clarkson came back it became funnier than many comedy programmes and, by their own admission, aimed at eight-year-old boys.
It is wrong to think of it as tax-payer-funded because world-wide exports were hugely profitable.
Clarkson’s departure therefore had an important effect on BBC finances.
We should not condemn a programme we have not yet seen.