I don't watch television like most people do. Sometimes, I'll go to my laptop, log on to Hulu, YouTube or some website and get my views on shows via stream. I even own a few episodes via iTunes. But, that's it.
It may appear that I am missing a lot. Not really. Social media keeps me informed of what's going on – especially automotive shows. In the past year or so, American viewers had seen their exposure to such shows double. Thanks to cable, you can follow these shows on various evenings to get your fill of four-wheel insanity – without having to sit through a few hours of auto racing.
There are four television shows about automobiles on American television. Here's a quick rundown of these shows…
TOP GEAR (BBC America): The original. As it was described to "60 Minutes," the original "Top Gear" is a buddy movie – with automobiles. You have three interesting characters, starting with Jeremy Clarkson, the boorish auto journalist and (according to Gordon Ramsay) a "millionaire gobshite." Richard Hammond, who has no fear whatsoever while ensuring he has the whitest teeth in Britain. Then, there's James May: An odd duck in various ways – and a foil to the other two. Then, of course, there’s The Stig – no explanation needed there.
You can't screw with success as their humor is cottoned with some automotive knowledge and a bit of drama. Um, maybe…then again, 350 million viewers worldwide can't go wrong! That is perhaps the key to their success. And, to augment the success of the original, BBC America is pegging Hammond for his own show based on this side of the pond. After all, the Hamster is truly a closeted American…
TOP GEAR AMERICA (History Channel): Though produced by the BBC, this is truly an American interpretation of the global franchise. The formula is the same: Three hosts, a test track on a former airfield, a Stig, celebrity laps and a studio audience. But, there is a distinctly American flavor from three distinctly different hosts: A New Yorker (Adam Ferrara) that winds up destroying vehicles, a Californian (Tanner Foust) who is a noted racer, and a Southerner (Rutledge Wood) who is pegged as the expert amongst the three.
Though many pundits panned the first season as lacking chemistry and interest, the word is that the upcoming second season will put Ferrara, Foust and Wood on the map. Actually – it has! So far, Ferrara, Foust and Wood are truly gelling as a trio in season 2. As with the original UK show, this is indeed a buddy movie with three distinct personalities finding the balance between their differences and shared experiences – in a very distinct American way. I'm absolutely entertained, so please watch for the rest of the new season…
THE CAR SHOW (Speed): This is not like the Top Gear franchise. The audience is sitting, there are four guys in the cast – and a real set. You had some serious cred with two major journalists (Dan Neil and Matt Farah), a celebrity (Adam Carolla) and basketball legend John Salley.
"The Car Show' is different since there is an excellent balance between intelligence and humor. The show also engages in the studio audience more, which is something you don’t see in the "Top Gear" franchise. There is chemistry between the four – somewhat. In the end, it’s Adam Carolla's show. Early criticism pegged Salley as the odd one out. Though he was awesome on FOX Sports Net's "Best Damn Sports Show Period," Salley has not yet grown to gel equally with Carolla, Farah and Neil. Keep in mind this is a brand new show – it will grow on you especially when you have more testosterone than the average male species.
MOTOR WEEK (PBS) Before Top Gear went to its current format, Maryland Public Television featured a single guy, John Davis, in what looks like a not-so-entertaining show about automobiles. Scratch that – Davis is one of the most respected television automotive journalists in the business. He is approachable and knowledgeable – you can learn a lot being within a few feet of him. Now that he has a team working alongside him, the show is focused on being informative for both consumers and enthusiasts.
The only fault of the show has been the continuously positive reviews Davis facilitated on the show for years. Not entirely true since sometimes Davis does point out a vehicle's flaws. If want an original American car show, take note that MotorWeek remains an influence for all of us.
Which show(s) would I watch? The two Top Gears, for starters. I will also throw in the Australian version of "Top Gear," though it keeps on changing casts (race driver Steve Pizzati remains the only cast member through three seasons) and networks (it began on SBS and is now in Nine Network). Yet, all three seasons manage to keep the theme in place with its own brand of "Top Gear." However, the US version kept its three hosts together and allowed them to grow – that is the main reason why I’ll watch that version above the other regional spin-offs.
Did I mention the UK's "Fifth Gear?" Though it is full of former old-format "Top Gear" presenters (Tiff Needell, Vicki Butler-Henderson, etc.), it is more in tune with the enthusiast without being as entertaining and hokey as "Top Gear." We do not get "Fifth Gear" in the US, but UK viewers will find it on Channel Five. There is a YouTube version of the show online.
"Motor Week" is still on my radar because of Davis' authority and access to social media. If you think that Congress will indeed cut funding to public television, may I suggest throwing your money at this show? That way, we can assure ourselves of a straightforward presentation for both consumers and enthusiasts alike.
So, which automotive shows would you watch amongst these four? Comment below…
Photo by Randy Stern – image via the British Broadcasting Corporation/BBC America/Apple Computers.