Yesterday, Chris Evans rather sensationally quit as the host of ‘Top Gear’, following weeks of dwindling ratings for the newly revamped BBC motoring show.
A friend of Evans told the Daily Telegraph: “Every single day he has been accused of a different thing, all of which have been completely untrue.
“In the end you just think, 'f*** off and die’.”
Charming, but you perhaps understand, or at least forgive, his frustration.
Evans himself tweeted: “Gave it my best shot but sometimes that’s not enough. The team are beyond brilliant, I wish them all the best.”
Indeed, this morning he dedicated his radio show to the staff on the series, but the news of his departure came just a day after he was quizzed over claims that he had sexually assaulted a former colleague in the 1990s, allegedly grabbing her breasts and flashing her on a daily basis after she refused to sleep with him.
Evans has declined to comment on the matter.
But it is the latest in a series of heavy blows for the presenter, who seemed doomed in the 'Top Gear’ role from before the new show even aired. Here’s why…
Evans Is Divisive
Evans has always split audiences, from his very first appearances on TV in the 1990s on 'The Big Breakfast’ to 'TFI Friday’ and 'Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush’. His show on Radio 2 is still the most listened to in the country, so some people must like him. But saying he’s like 'TV Marmite’, perhaps, doesn’t quite nail it. Now it seems you either tolerate him (or worse, you’re indifferent about him), or you hate him. And that can’t be any good. It was perhaps evidenced in the drop from ratings of 4.4 million on its debut (still below the five million it was expecting), and down to two million it got for its finale, half the number of an ‘Antiques Roadshow’ repeat. Even with iPlayer figures, quite simply not enough people were watching.
Comparisons To Clarkson
Clarkson was also a polarising figure, but his fans – and fans of the previous incarnation of 'Top Gear’ – were fanatically loyal. You don’t find many expressing such fandom for Evans. Clarkson, Hammond and May’s tenure bought in the show’s highest-ratings ever, and a worldwide-syndicated success story for the BBC (350 million viewers worldwide), who made in the region of £50 million selling it around the world. Fans revelled in their politically incorrect style and the madcap stunts which took them around the world. Evans perhaps had just too big a mountain to climb.
While the ratings were dropping weekly, it probably didn’t help that stories about in-fighting between Evans and staff - as well as between Evans and co-host host Matt LeBlanc - were overshadowing the show’s content. LeBlanc was said to be frequently butting heads with Evans over his treatment of show personnel, and it was claimed that Evans was against LeBlanc’s appointment to the show from the very start. Meanwhile, other former colleagues have wasted no time in publicly branding Evans 'a bully’ and a 'spoiled child’.
Even after the first episode (maybe bolstered by the talk of Evans and LeBlanc not getting on), critics and viewers rounded on the fact that there was little chemistry to be detected between Evans and LeBlanc. Many found LeBlanc increasingly easing into the role, and when Jensen Button pitched up, many viewers picked up on how great an addition to the team he would be (would that the BBC could match his F1 salary). It seems viewers were looking for potential replacements before the show producers were.
Among the criticisms of the nuts and bolts of the show was the lack of cohesion that the former presenters would bring (after all, demin is a powerful tool). It felt too much like a 'magazine show’, with too many presenters and too many short films all tacked together. Where there were scarcely any women in the show prior to Evans taking over, the inclusion of just one, racing driver Sabine Schmitz, almost exacerbated the the lack of a female angle on the show. Rather than inclusive, it was viewed more as tokenism. With Evans being the producer and creative force behind the show, this is also on him.
Clarkson Is Coming…
As sure as winter is approaching Westeros, so Clarkson and co’s new show ‘The Grand Tour’ is approaching our screens. With his famous ‘fracas’ with a ‘Top Gear’ series producer - the one that got him sacked - all but forgotten, the series is arriving on Amazon Prime in the Autumn, reportedly the first in three, 12-episode series. This has long loomed over Evans, and that can’t have been easy to reconcile, as ratings were going through the floor.
Less The Stig, More Like The Stink
Once a show has a whiff of failure about it, TV executives know it, and tabloids can taste the blood in the water. With ratings falling week on week, something had to give, and with critics slating Evans’ 'shouty’ style, and the show’s fans deserting it in their droves, the TFI Friday creator’s days were numbered, no matter how much he loves motoring, and no how many sports cars he has in his garage.
Evans said after he’d got the job fronting the new show last year: “What have we been given? It’s either a golden nugget or a hospital pass. I’m waiting to find out which.”
He need wait no longer.
Image credits: PA/BBC