Regardless of where you stand on Clarkson’s departure, it’s a seachange moment for broadcasting. Could it be...
So for all the protests, the commentary, the outcries, and in spite of the fact that assaulted producer Oisin Tymon stated last Friday that he will not be pressing charges, one thing is clear: Jeremy Clarkson as the face of Top Gear, and most likely as the face of anything for the foreseeable future, is now no more.
Even his supporters would have to agree that violence of the type he has been involved in should not be tolerated in any workplace, high profile or not. As Steve Hewlett, presenter of Radio 4’s The Media Show and media columnist at The Guardian, puts it: “Clarkson always sailed close to that line, that was part of his appeal. He crossed it sometimes, and he was upbraided for it. But this is different, this is bullying. This is about somebody who is very highly paid, with an enormous amount of power, using his position to essentially abuse a subordinate.”
This is true. But even those who have declared good riddance would have to concede Clarkson’s presence on TV, aside from being ludicrously popular, was unique. So central was his outspoken, anti-PC personality to the appeal of Top Gear it’s hard to see how he can be replaced, at least without a viewer mass exodus of viewers.
Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine any producer or commissioner being bold enough to risk engaging with a personality of his kind for a long time. Clarkson’s departure is a big moment for the future of television, specifically male-focused television.Things are about to change:
Men-focused TV is on the way out
Top Gear is such a male-focused TV brand that without Clarkson’s presence it could mark the end of solely male-targeted shows, outside of sport programmes. It’s the last show standing from the Nineties era of ‘laddism’ and, as such, can often look a bit archaic. Yet, its huge audience proves large numbers of men desired a ‘me-time’ TV show. Post-Clarkson, though, you can’t imagine a new male-focused lifestyle show of a similar ilk being commissioned. But as Hewlett puts it, “This audience is out there, so [the BBC] isn't going to want to stop providing for such a lucrative section of viewers.”
Top Gear will continue
It is unthinkable that the show won’t go on. It’s the BBC’s greatest global export, with an audience of 350 million across 214 territories, generating millions in profit each year. Yet, will it hold so much appeal without the naughty schoolboy approach of Clarkson, and his fellow wags Hammond and May? Whoever replaces them (and we’re assuming the other two leave as well), a shift in tone is inevitable. And without that outspoken unpredictability Clarkson brought, the show will surely suffer a ratings dip. After all, who really watches it for car-buying advice? “The three of them have this spontaneity, and it’s what made the programme so special,” says Hewlett. “Anybody can see TV gold, but nobody knows how to make it happen. Look at Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley – on The One Show there was a sense of chemistry, and when they go to ITV, it tanks. In theory you can replace Clarkson, but it won’t be the same.”
On the other hand…
Clarkson, May and Hammond for ITV? It’s unlikely the trio won’t sign up for another club. Worth the risk for another broadcaster? Undoubtedly. But for now, a long period of recuperation seems necessary. “Piers Morgan – who had a bust-up with Clarkson years ago – wrote an interesting piece in the Mail,” Hewlett says. “He said they resolved their differences over gallons of rosé wine. He was frank – Clarkson’s a man in his fifties, not quite what he was. He also offered advice on what to do if you’ve been fired, because it’s happened to him several times. He said to go and sit on a beach for a few weeks, not take the first thing offered.”
Right-wing champions may be over at the BBC
“There was clearly a degree of estrangement between Clarkson and Top Gear on one side, and the BBC on the other,” says Hewlett. “He apparently said to AA Gill,
a close friend, that he felt he was working for the enemy. In one of the statements about this, it was said the BBC is a broad church, and there was room for somebody like Clarkson. That’s politics – it’s the BBC with its eye on charter renewal in 2016, where the process kicks off in earnest after the election. It was a bid against the critics who view the BBC as soft left, liberal Guardian readers.”
Of course MAN TV isn’t over…
This is the heyday of TV in general. From Game Of Thrones to Louie, we’re spoilt with televisual riches. It’s just that these shows aren’t aimed solely at you, your dad and your dog any more.