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BBC America to Feel Pinch of ‘Top Gear’ Suspension

The prospect of the BBC hit “Top Gear” scrapping the rest of its season due to the suspension of host Jeremy Clarkson is bad news for the Beeb’s U.S. outpost, BBC America.

“Top Gear,” which revolves around cars and the antics of hosts Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, ranks as one of the cabler’s highest-rated shows. Since the Jan. 26 premiere of season 22 on BBC America, the show has been by far the most-watched program on the cabler with an average audience of 823,000 viewers in Nielsen’s live-plus-three ratings. In live-plus-seven, the first four episodes of the 10-episode season have averaged 915,000 viewers.

For the coming week, BBC America said it will fill the void with a “Top Gear” rerun. The series was scheduled to air three more episodes in its current season. The BBC confirmed the show will be suspended from its regular Sunday broadcast for the coming week, and the BBC News reported Wednesday that the remaining three episodes of the show’s 10-episode season are unlikely to air at all.

BBC America, however, is working with “Top Gear” distributor BBC Worldwide to possibly fill the void with a two-part “Top Gear” special that has yet to air in the U.S. or the U.K. BBC Worldwide is the parent company of BBC America, but last year it struck a deal to sell half of the channel to AMC Networks, which now manages BBC America.

Clarkson was suspended due to a “fracas” with a “Top Gear” producer that is under investigation, the BBC said on Tuesday. The show has become a major franchise and export for the Beeb, airing in more than 200 territories worldwide.

Clarkson has run afoul of BBC management in the past, and the show is no stranger to controversy. “Top Gear’s” popularity is driven by the globe-trotting stunts and competitive relationship among the three hosts. Beyond his “Top Gear” gig, Clarkson is an established journalist and political columnist for the Sun who is known for his blunt style and often polarizing positions.

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