Just when we thought it was all settled and we could return to our normal lives: it’s all change again at Top Gear.
The iconic British motoring show is set for yet another revamp with the news that lead presenter Matt LeBlanc is quitting after the next series.
BBC Studios announced the development, with Matt LeBlanc issuing a statement explaining his motives.
The 50 year-old actor and presenter said:
“My experience on Top Gear has been great fun. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the whole team,” LeBlanc said. “However, the time commitment and extensive travel required to present Top Gear takes me away from my family and friends more than I’m comfortable with.
“It’s unfortunate, but for these reasons I will not be continuing my involvement with the show. I will for ever be a Top Gear fan and I wish the team continued success. Thanks for a great drive.”
LeBlanc will leave following the broadcast of the next series, the 26th, which is likely to be broadcast in the first part of next year.
Patrick Holland, the controller of BBC Two paid tribute to LeBlanc, saying:
“Matt has thrown himself into the show with real passion, revealing his extraordinary car knowledge and a willingness to get down and dirty,” he said. “We were always going to be borrowing him from his day job as one of the top comic actors in Hollywood, so I wish him all the very best.
“The next series of Top Gear, Matt’s last, promises to be something very special and we have great plans to welcome a new co-host to join the team for 2019 and beyond.”
LeBlanc originally joined the team for the 23rd series, following the acrimonious departure of Jeremy Clarkson, who left the show - his contract not being renewed rather than a formal sacking - after an “unprovoked physical attack” on a producer in a row over a steak.
Clarkson’s co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May also left the show, remaining as a trio to launch The Grand Tour, which has run for two 24-episode series on streaming network Amazon Prime.
There was huge speculation over who would fill their shoes, with the trio having defined what the show was about, following its reboot in 2002, and turned it into one of the BBC’s most valuable franchises.
Eventually, Chris Evans was selected as the lead host for series 23, with former Friends star Matt LeBlanc joining as co-host, alongside Eddie Jordan, motoring journalist Chris Harris, German racing driver Sabine Schmitz and presenter Rory Reid.
However, with Clarkson et al’s fans on the warpath, Evans was on a hiding to nothing and eventually departed after just one series, as ratings fell to half of what they’d been under the original line-up, despite the huge interest around the show.
LeBlanc stay on to become lead host, with Evans’ support, and Harris and Reid were promoted to be more prominent on the show. This arrangement continued for the 24th and 25th series, with the latter being broadcast between February and April earlier this year to an average UK audience of 3.11m - the lowest of the show’s entire run (the 24th series was the second-lowest).
It remains to be seen in what direction producers will take the show; they could perceive this to still be weathering the difficult post-Clarkson era, or they might choose to revamp the show once again.
Will they be on the phone begging for Clarkson, Hammond and May to return? Somehow we doubt it.