GUEST ARTICLE: Will Channel Nine’s much hyped takeover of Top Gear Australia from its cash strapped SBS cousins capture an audience or send an already ailing show to its TV death? Motoring correspondent Pranav Bhatt attended a Top Gear Australia filming session to find out if the new host Shane ‘Kenny’ Jacobson can resurrect Top Gear Australia.
Note: Top Gear Australia starts broadcasting on Channel 9 at 730pm, Tuesday, September 28th with a “Top Gear Ashes Special”.
Standing outside a hanger at Sydney’s Bankstown Airport, site of the Top Gear Australia set, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering if Shane Jacobson would hit the mark hosting a series that’s already left Charlie Cox, James Morrison and Warren Brown in the rear view mirror.
From what I could gauge squeezed several rows back in the male dominated audience, Jacobson provided a refreshing take on motoring, differentiating himself from his big screen persona of “Kenny” the one hit wonder plumber. But where he might match the legendary wit of Jeremy Clarkson, it wasn’t clear if he had the motoring expertise to back it up, judging by his superficial review of a $450,000 Corvette.
Jacobson is joined by Ewen Page and Steve Pizzati, the sole surviving cast member from the first version of Top Gear Australia screened on SBS.
Judging by the fact that the third most ‘googled’ query for Ewen Page is “who is ewen page”, it’s clear that as the Editor in Chief of the BBC Top Gear Australia magazine, Page has a lot of work to do to stamp his personality on the show.
The episode was punctuated with a distinctly Australian rev head flavour. Page opened the show struggling to outmanoeuvre Sydney traffic in a V8 supercar. Somewhat predictably, the traffic, narrow windy roads and complexity of the gear shifts combined to get the better of Page.
Sweeping aerial camera shots of the V8 ripping up the Anzac Bridge brought the visuals up a notch whilst Page, following in the footsteps of James “Captain Slow” May, provided some unintended comedy as he managed to overheat the engine crawling, stalling and struggling to park the V8 beast.
Craig Reucassel and Andrew Hansen from the Chaser appeared as special guests, recounting their infamous near-death APEC limousine stunt. Jacobson did his best to keep the segment lively when the Chaser boys seemed to drop off. The hot lap on the test track concept seemed to spin Hansen out a bit as he even signalled for turns.
Across the ditch in New Zealand, the Top Gear boys were tested in a Suburu WRX challenge on one of the most dangerous dirt tracks in the world which almost claimed the life of the Kiwi Stig (or ‘Stug’ as they jokingly referred to him in a Kiwi accent). Fans of the big budget BBC original will probably appreciate this segment best with its raw camera work and high octane feel.
Returning to the V8 theme, Ford V8 driver Mark Winterbottom allowed Page to throw his championship car around a racetrack chasing a 60 second lap time. After exchanging a classic ‘don’t touch that button!’ moment with the rookie Page, things clicked into gear and Page’s confidence behind the wheel grew.
Jacobson rounded off the segment handing the V8 to the Australian Stig who he described as a man that “some say when he crosses the road, cars look both ways – all we know is that he’s called the Stig”.
The episode closed with a short-sharp high octane “V8 to the Rescue” studio stunt where a V8 engine was used to tackle ‘ordinary’ life situations with predictable results (much like the ‘V8 powered blender’ stunt performed by Clarkson in Top Gear UK). If I were a judge on one of the reality TV talent shows this segment would certainly score a zero for originality, probably pushing the Australian V8 theme too far.
If past reactions are anything to go by, one thing is guaranteed, fans of Top Gear UK and the legions of critics of the Australian hosts and format will unite, either warming to Jacobson’s straight-talking personality and appreciating the return to a more motoring rather than tacky stunt driven format, or they’ll blame Nine for destroying the Australian franchise for good.
To add to the pressure, the trio must deliver ratings fast or risk facing the axe. Channel Nine have apparently given them just six episodes to win-over the public.
Channel Nine are yet to confirm when Top Gear Australia will go to air in 2010 – maybe October.
If you’ve been to a studio audience filming session for Channel 9’s new version of Top Gear Australia what did you think of it? Please share your thoughts as well as links to any photos or videos you took, in the comments area
This article has been written by Pranav Bhatt. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Economics and Business at Sydney University. He has an interest in world travel, cricket, politics, technology and the media.