EDINBURGH, Scotland — “The Grand Tour,” the new auto show from former “Top Gear” hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, launches on streaming platform Amazon Prime Video in the fall. At the Edinburgh Intl. Television Festival Wednesday the show’s executive producer Andy Wilman, who held the same position on “Top Gear,” explained how the team had started afresh.
Wilman and Clarkson, who had gone to the same school, joined BBC’s “Top Gear” in 2002 and helped build it into the most popular factual show in the world. In March 2015, Clarkson was sacked by the BBC for punching a producer, and Wilman, Hammond and May decided to leave the show, too. In July 2015, Amazon announced that the former “Top Gear” team would be producing a new car show for them, and earlier this year they revealed its name: “The Grand Tour.”
Wilman said there will be 12 shows a year for three years, with the option to extend the deal further if the parties agree. He said he would prefer it if the shows went out weekly rather than all at once as it was not something to be binge-watched, but that was yet to be decided. Each show will be around 60 minutes but some may go as long as 70 minutes.
The shows will consist of pre-recorded films shot in exotic locations, and studio audience recordings that will take place at a different location around the world every week. The studio sections of the program will be filmed in front of a 300-strong live audience housed within a giant tent. Wilman claimed Clarkson got the idea for the tent after he watched an episode of “True Detective” that features a Baptist meeting in a large tent.
Wilman said there was no real difference in how they would address their global audience for “The Grand Tour” in comparison with how they approached “Top Gear’s” viewers, who were initially British, although the show had over time developed a global reach.
“There is a universal language if you love cars,” he said, although they would try to incorporate local elements when traveling with the show. “If we are going to places, we will look at the local color of the motoring — the local car culture.”
He said the worldwide success of “Top Gear” had been unexpected, but they hoped to replicate it with the new show. “We never analyzed it but something happened – people wanted to watch it all around the world. So we’re just crossing fingers that it’ll happen again.”
He said the show’s main asset was having Clarkson, Hammond and May as hosts. “The main ingredient is those three guys. They haven’t really changed,” he said.
The old “Top Gear” team had developed a reputation for liking to create controversy, and in particular there were accusations that some comments on the show were racist. Wilman said on the new show “there is mischief but there is nothing that would worry anybody.” He added that Amazon had laid out editorial guidelines, but he didn’t state what those were.
Wilman said he and the three hosts had started afresh. “We will try harder because now we have to do new things. We have got to embrace failure again. We are back to where we were in 2002.”
Wilman said that working for Amazon was “fantastic but really demanding,” which was a good thing – “it’s really nice to be pushed.” He saluted their ambition for the show, although he admitted the expectations were daunting. “The marketing they are putting behind it is actually quite overwhelming – I was thinking it’s like it’s a new Marvel movie. I’m going: stop, stop, stop, we are bringing back comfort food, it’s not bloody ‘Star Wars.’ They want to go big like that but there’s a lot of will behind it,” he said.
He rejected as nonsense press speculation that Amazon had paid £160 million ($212 million) for three seasons of the show, although he admitted he and his team were “spending a lot” on it. “That’s going out the door hand over fist because of what we have to do,” he said.
The high cost was partly a result of Amazon’s requirement to shoot everything in 4K, which he said was “a nightmare.” “Making a drama in 4K makes a lot of sense. Making the kind of actuality show we make, it doesn’t make sense at all, but that’s what we’ve been tasked to do.”
Asked why they had opted to go with Amazon over other bidders, Wilman said: “The main reason is we do get left alone, which as anybody who’s worked with us knows we like. But we are left alone because it is logical [as they need to be allowed to create with complete freedom]. You’ve got to go new world. That’s because they are a new outfit – they are like a blank canvas,” he said, adding that the desire was to start from scratch. He explained that there was also a legal need to avoid duplicating anything that they had done in “Top Gear,” and the Amazon lawyers scrutinized everything to ensure there was no duplication.
He said he would be happy to see the show get a second run on a traditional broadcaster. “I’d like it to be seen by as many people as possible, but it is Amazon’s show.”
Addressing the issues that led to the implosion at “Top Gear,” Wilman said it had been “a perfect storm.” “That show got bigger and bigger and bigger, and because it got bigger by accident we never adjusted to that,” he said. “We were collapsing under the weight of the work we were doing.”
He admitted that his own response to the crisis had not been ideal. “Everything became personal and confrontational. It was going to be a victory for somebody, not a resolution,” he said, adding that he “loved the BBC” but that “we had a broken relationship and I didn’t have the maturity to mend it. I was entrenched. I was vicious in my reaction.”
He said he hadn’t watched the new version of “Top Gear,” because “there was a lot of pain for me… It was everything we did.” The new show, fronted by Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, got a lukewarm reception from the press and audience, leading to Evan’s departure after one season, but Wilman said there was “no ill feeling” toward the new team at “Top Gear.” “I hope they do succeed,” he said.