Top Gear (2002 TV series)

Top Gear is a British motoring magazine, factual television series, conceived by Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Wilman, launched on 20 October 2002, and broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two. The programme is a relaunched version of the original 1977 show of the same name, which looks at various motor vehicles, primarily cars. While the original format focused mainly on review of cars, the 2002 version expanded on this with motoring-based challenges, special races, timed laps of notable cars, and celebrity timed laps on a course specially-designed for the relaunched programme, with its format developing over time to focus on a more quirky, humorous and sometimes controversial style of presentation. The programme has received acclaim for its visual style and presentation, as well as criticism for its content.

Since 2002, the programme has been presented by several hosts. In its first series, the show's line-up was Clarkson, Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe, with Wilman as the show's executive producer, and introducing anonymous test driver "The Stig", an individual played by numerous racing drivers over the course of the show's history. Following the first series, Dawe was replaced by James May, with the line-up unchanged until the end of the twenty-second series, when the BBC chose to not renew Clarkson's contract on 25 March 2015, following an incident during filming. His dismissal from Top Gear prompted the departure of Hammond, May and Wilman from the programme, and led to them joining Clarkson in forming a new motoring series. For the twenty-third series, the programme was presented by Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, with them joined by four co-presenters who would make occasional appearances during its run: Rory Reid, Sabine Schmitz, Chris Harris and Eddie Jordan. After negative feedback on this series led to Evans resigning from the programme, Harris and Reid became the main hosts alongside LeBlanc, with Schmitz and Jordan making occasional appearances as co-presenters, from the 24th series onwards.

Since its relaunch, Top Gear is one of the BBC's most commercially successful programmes. It has become a significant show in British popular culture, with episodes also broadcast internationally in many countries in Europe, North America, South-East Asia and more, making it the most widely watched factual television programmes in the world. Its success has led to various forms of merchandising, including live tours, special DVD editions, and books, as well as spawning a variety of international versions in various countries, including the United States, Australia, South Korea, China and France.

After the BBC cancelled the original format of Top Gear in December 2001, Jeremy Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman met together to work out ideas for reviving the programme for television. This led to them eventually meeting the broadcaster to pitch the idea of changing it from a motoring magazine format to one that was studio-based. Amongst the ideas that were pitched included: the involvement of a fixed location for car reviews and other films, alongside location across Britain and abroad; putting notable cars through a timed lap of a circuit; the involvement of test driver with veteran racing experience, who handle driving some of the cars for the programme; and the participation of celebrity guest who would be invited to take part in an episode, undertake an interview over motoring matters, such as their car history, and take part in a special challenge to do a timed lap in a designated car. Following the pitch, the BBC decided to green-light the new format, in order to create a programme to compete with Channel 5's new motoring show Fifth Gear.

Production began in mid-2002, with the broadcaster securing the right to use Dunsfold Aerodrome, an airport and business park in Waverley, Surrey, as the programme's fixed location - while its runways and taxiways were allocated for reviews and other films, one of the site's large aircraft hangars was transformed into Top Gear's new studio. To match the proposed ideas for the new format, the BBC gained assistance from Lotus to design a race circuit for use on the programme that would be situated at the fixed location, while editing of films that were recorded for each episode, focused on extending the runtime of the programme to one hour. Wilman took on the role of the show's executive producer, while Clarkson became part of the hosting line-up. Because those who had worked with Clarkson on the original programme had left the BBC to work on Fifth Gear, the production team arranged for him to be joined by Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe. A difficulty found during production, revolved around the show's test driver - neither Clarkson or Wilman could find a racing driver with experience at speaking on-camera. In discussions over this, the pair opted to make the driver silent, and later having their identity concealed. When they recruited Perry McCarthy amongst their possible candidates for the role, his input led to Wilman choosing to nickname the test driver as The Stig.

The first series of the programme premiered later that year, its opening episode airing on 20 October 2002. In its early state, the programme's segments were based on elements on the 1977 version's format, such as conducting interviews with people and reading out letters from viewers, though featured some unique elements based around humour. An example of this was that the presenters regularly destroyed a caravan during the early series. After the first series ended, Dawe was replaced by James May - having originally worked on the 1977 version, he initially declined to be a part of the 2002 format of Top Gear, until its growing popularity later changed his mind. At the beginning of the third series, McCarthy was replaced by Ben Collins for contractual reasons - the change in drivers was notable in the fact that for Collins' version, the Stig's outfit was changed from a black outfit, to a white one. As the programme progressed, the format slowly began to transform, with a focus towards creating a unique presentation style for the programme, which included the addition of new segments, a more unusual approach to reviewing cars, road trips, and more specialised films involving races - either between cars or between a car and another form of transportation - and completing a variety of challenges, most with cheap, second-hand cars.

This page was last edited on 15 May 2018, at 15:27.
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