Commentary: "And, On That Bombshell…"

Photo courtesy of The BBC via The Guardian (theguardian.co.uk)
Photo courtesy of The BBC via The Guardian (theguardian.co.uk)


Today, the British Broadcasting Corporation ended their relationship with Jeremy Clarkson as one of three hosts of "Top Gear"” This came from an incident on March 4, 2015 in which the popular co-host of the show was involved in a “fracas” with a producer over a meal not provided after a long day of shooting. The BBC reported that Clarkson made violent physical contact onto the producer with continued verbal abuse. The investigation led to the decision not to renew Clarkson's contract.

Why is Clarkson so important to us? He, along with James May and Richard Hammond, had the attention of 350 Million viewers worldwide. His work at the BBC began in the late 1980s with the same show – though under a different format. Since then, Clarkson was seen as the byline to read when discussing automobiles – more notably in The Sunday Times during the 1990s. He was also the voice to hear – though some found him not so easy on the eyes on television.

Since the show's reboot in 2003, Clarkson took liberties within the context of the show to challenge the new Britain of visible diversity and swath of New Labour. He was old school, though born well after the end of World War II and growing up after the end of the Empire. His views were quite conservative and had something to say about everyone and everything. These statements either were laughed at or called for apologies and action against Clarkson.

Because of Clarkson, chiefly among other reasons, the "Top Gear" franchise grew to localized editions in other countries – including the USA. Neither of these franchises were able to provide a presenter on the level of Clarkson. Not even close. Maybe that is a good thing.

Clarkson had been sort of a touchstone in my early career. I knew of him from the media, mainly from his columns in The Sunday Times. He was as controversial then as he is now. The format of his columns began with some sort of social commentary that had nothing to do with the vehicle – or, maybe a kernel of it. He would say how stupid some group of people were, why they lived and why should we put up with them….then, Clarkson will get into some Peugeot or Ford he just drove. I usually skipped the first part.

In the time after the report of the "fracas," there had been a split of opinion regarding Clarkson. While some tried to rally for his job through online petitions and social media messages, others dismissed him for his behavior – stemming over years of controversial statements and actions against others. It was difficult to maintain a neutral stance on Clarkson. I had to trust what the media is saying, weighing on each side, and knew it was up to the BBC to make this decision.

For any employee – no matter what pay you get or how much power you have – you get into a physical and verbal altercation, there will be ramifications. It is in universal human resources law. It is expected there will be a separation if this is not the first incident reported onto a HR file. In many cases, such as altercation are grounds for immediate dismissal. That is also in the HR book. No person should ever be above a HR policy – not even the man whom famous chef Gordon Ramsay once called a "millionaire gobshite."

A few years ago, CBS' "60 Minutes" featured "Top Gear" as a subject of theirs. Steve Croft interviewed Clarkson and got some really honest points from him. We saw a Clarkson that knew exactly what he was doing and laughed off the notion that he was indeed offending people on air. The segment showed his description of truck drivers while doing a segment on big rigs. The point he got right was that truck driving is a "hard job." Many truck drivers would have been happier if he stopped there in his rant.

It points to why many of the 350 million viewers worldwide liked the show. Next to The Stig – the helmeted professional driver character that says absolutely nothing on the show – Clarkson was the reason why people wanted to watch. His opinions, dismissive attitude and authoritative position among automotive journalists in the UK drew these millions to their screens. A common bond came without full comprehension of British English and Clarkson's South Yorkshire brogue – yet as universal as we expect from automotive authorities, appointed or otherwise.

At this point, I am not sure that I will miss Clarkson or not. I am certain some British broadcaster – ITV or Sky – are looking to present him with his own show and a bit more freedom to say/do what he wants – regardless of the standards imposed by OFCOM (the British government's media oversight agency). Could he do something in the USA? Or, would Clarkson even consider working in America? He would probably reject that idea quick, if I knew him well enough from his statements over the years.

The future of the show has not been spelled out by the BBC and the global outlets carrying the show – including BBC America. There is talk of running out the final episodes, including an episodic challenge between the UK cast (Clarkson, May, Hammond) and the History Channel's US cast (Tanner Foust, Rutledge Wood and Adam Ferrara). The talk has grown as to whether May and/or Hammond would be retained past this season. Rather, who would replace Clarkson?

The "Top Gear" franchise has seen its act ebb and flow. The Australian series saw cast changes and a change of outlets from SBS to Nine Network. There had been rejections of the History Channel's version – mainly asking when Ferrara will be replaced – and by whom? Some even point how much NBC screwed up the original plans for a "Top Gear" USA version before being shifted to the History Channel/A&E Networks/Hearst/Disney/ABC/etc.

These machinations point back to the power Clarkson, May, Hammond, The Stig, and executive producer Andy Wilman has over global television. The parting of Clarkson puts this program and the BBC at an interesting crossroads. It also puts Clarkson at his own crossroads. What will all of this look like in a year's time?

I do not have the answers. I cannot speculate or make a wish on what will be the ultimate outcome for the show, the broadcaster and of Clarkson. There's plenty of popcorn available while we watch this drama continue from our collective couches.

“…and, on that bombshell…goodnight!”

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