Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Driven Out?

On 16 June 2015, when the BBC first made the announcement that Chris Evans would be the replacement for Jezza Clarkson on a retooled Top Gear, yer actual Keith Telly Topping's sometime writing partner, the comedy legend that is Alfie Joey - a few months away from his own brush with TV greatness on Britain's Got Toilets - used Facebook to ask this blogger an interesting question. 'Chris Evans ... awaiting the Top Topps Telly verdict!' This blogger replied thusly: 'Roughly equivalent to the time when The Toon sold Daveeed Ginola and used the money to buy Des Hamilton as a replacement.' Because, whilst Keith Telly Topping had then - and still has - a high regard for Evans as a first class broadcaster, this blogger added that 'he's on an absolute hiding to nothing with this one.' With the benefit of hindsight, Evans's new version of Top Gear was always 'on a hiding to nothing' and anyone who didn't realise that in advance was deluding themselves. It was like David Moyes coming after Sir Alex Ferguson. Be Here, Now after (What's The Story) Morning Glory. The Godfather III after The Godfather II! Yet, Alfie, whose opinion this blogger really respects, just couldn't see it. 'I reckon he'll be different and good,' he confidently predicted. Well ... half-right, Alf. All of this malarkey came flooding back to this blogger on the afternoon of Monday 4 July 2016 when Evans dramatically - though, not entirely unexpectedly - quit Top Gear after just one series in charge of the popular long-running BBC2 motoring show amid falling ratings, unrelenting newspaper criticism and an, alleged, breakdown of his relationship with co-host Matt Le Blanc. The BBC is understood to be negotiating with Le Blanc - by a distance, the most compelling reason for watching Top Gear during the series just completed – for another series. Last month, it was reported that Le Blanc had threatened to quit if Evans himself did not go, albeit this was reported by newspapers and media outlets which have, it would appear, engaged in a sustained and determined agenda-soaked campaign of not so much whispers, but outright bellowing against Evans ever since his appointment was announced and, particularly, since the series returned to TV in May. The BBC confirmed that it had 'no plans to replace Chris' and that it 'did not expect to make any changes to the presenting line-up.' However, it described rumours that Le Blanc had made such an ultimatum as 'categorically untrue.' So, either the BBC are lying or the several newspapers which made this claim - the Sun, the Daily Scum Mail and the Gruinad Morning Star being three examples - are lying. Chose whom you believe on this matter with some consideration, dear blog reader. The only person on the planet, seemingly, more depressed than Evans on Monday would appear to have been the former leader of UKiP. That must have been the ultimate pisser for Nigel Farage, his resignation on the same day couldn't even make the 'top resignation story' on BBC News. One can imagine him standing on his balcony looking out at the panoramic London skyline, shaking his fist and screaming 'DAMN YOU, CHRIS EVANS' at the manifest unfairness of it all. In a tweet announcing his departure, Evans said: '[I] gave it my best shot but sometimes that's not enough.' The overnight audience for the Sunday night show had more than halved since Evans took over in May with the closing episode of the series watched by an overnight of 1.9 million punters, down from 4.3 million overnighters who saw the opening episode. Obviously, those figures failed to take into account timeshifting and iPlayer usage with Top Gear having always been a programme which had a huge 'other-than-live' audience. But still, even the final and consolidated ratings figures - which included timeshifting - were far below what the BBC and Evans himself, had confidently expected. Before its relaunch, Evans had told the Grunaid Morning Star that he would be 'disappointed' if the show achieved fewer than five million viewers per episode. Presumably, he meant total viewers as opposed to those simply watching live but his failure to specify that in the interview meant that most national newspapers - who only ever quote overnights when running stories about ratings figures - were immediately given a big stick with which to beat Evans. Hard. When it was presented by yer man Clarkson, Top Gear attracted up to eight million punters at its height – notably in the wake of co-presenter Richard Hammond’s near-fatal crash in 2006 – and always reached more than two million punters on overnights, even in its early days when it was still building an audience. BBC management was, the Gruniad claimed, 'concerned' about the falling ratings for one of its most valuable brands, which was worth an estimated annual fifty to eighty million smackers in worldwide sales and merchandising before Clarkson, Hammond and James May left last year after 'that fracas.' The decision to leave was made by Evans, but one - anonymous and, therefore, probably fictitious - alleged 'television executive' allegedly told the Gruniad that Evans had 'jumped before he was pushed.' Quite how this - nameless - individual knew this, the Gruniad didn't say. But, they still reported the comments with a barely restrained glee. With other broadcast commitments including hosting the Radio 2 Breakfast Show, Evans struggled with a barrage of newspaper stories alleging poor behaviour, most recently one alleging historical sexual harassment claims from the 1990s. Evans has denied these claims and previously said that such reports were part of 'a witch-hunt' and that allegations of bullying other members of the production staff were 'ridiculous.' But, Evans is understood to have buckled under the relentless onslaught of negative coverage. 'Chris isn't Jeremy Corbyn. He knows when it's time to go,' said 'someone close to the show' according to the Gruniad (again, anonymous and, therefore, probably non-existent). 'He now feels a real weight off his shoulders.' Le Blanc, who, in marked contrast to Evans, has been widely praised by both viewers and critics for his on-screen performance, is alleged to have told BBC executives during negotiations over his contract that the partnership was not working. One alleged 'source' allegedly said that Le Blanc allegedly 'disliked' his co-host's alleged behaviour on set, though the BBC would not confirm this. Reports that Le Blanc had vowed to leave the show unless Evans was sacked emerged eight days ago in that always reliable and accurate bastion of truthful reportage, the Sun, an almost-constant critic of Evans over the previous year. Describing Top Gear – which has been hit by a string of staff departures – as 'crisis-hit,' the newspaper - which, of course, let us remember is a stablemate of The Sunday Times at which yer man Clarkson is a regular columnist - reported that Le Blanc had 'grown increasingly frustrated with his co-star's rudeness and "frosty attitude" towards the team.' BBC News claimed that the remaining five presenters - Le Blanc, Rory Reid, Chris Harris, Sabine Schmitz and Eddie Jordan - would all return for the next series, which is due to begin filming in September. Evans met Mark Linsey, the director of the BBC's in-house production team, BBC Studios, last week to 'discuss the future.' In a statement on Monday, Linsey pointed out that the show had been sold to one hundred and thirty territories worldwide and said: '[Chris] firmly believes that the right people remain, on both the production team and presenting team, to take the show forward and make it the hit we want it to be.' Evans is expected to receive one third of his three-year fee to produce Top Gear, estimated at almost six million smackers for three years once all his other BBC commitments are included. Evans said: 'I have never worked with a more committed and driven team than the team I have worked with over the last twelve months. I feel like my standing aside is the single best thing I can now do to help the cause. I remain a huge fan of the show, always have been, always will be. I will continue to focus on my radio show and the allied events that it encompasses.' The appointment of Evans was controversial from the start after he had repeatedly denied that he had been approached to host the show following Clarkson's departure. The then BBC2 controller Kim Shillinglaw said Evans's 'knowledge of and passion for cars are well-known, and combined with his sheer inventiveness and cheeky unpredictability, he is the perfect choice to take our much-loved show into the future.' But, Shillinglaw lost her job before the programme went on-air, the first of a string of senior departures to hit the show. Most notably, executive producer and long-time Evans collaborator Lisa Clark left before Christmas, essentially leaving Evans in sole charge. The BBC made Clare Pizey responsible for the show in March, just two months before the first episode was broadcast to generally bad reviews. The Scum Mail was - as expected - scathing, describing the revamp as 'so bad you could practically hear the champagne corks popping at Amazon HQ.' Andrew Billen in The Times picked on the lack of rapport between Evans and Le Blanc: 'Chemistry was what we were looking for here, but their badinage was no more than passable off cuts from an unmade transatlantic buddy movie.' Other reviews were less harsh but, certainly, a decent-sized chunk of the existing audience had, clearly, made up their minds about Evans before the first episode even went out, with sustained hatred aimed at the broadcaster on Twitter taking up huge chunks of bandwidth. Thing is, of course, Evans is quite a divisive figure and as many people genuinely loathe him and everything he stands for as those who admire him. In the event, the series started slowly with many, this blogger included, surprised by just how little the format had changed since the departure of Clarkson, Hammond and May. An 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' attitude appeared to be in place but, what the BBC had, seemingly, failed to take into consideration was that much of the reason why Clarkson's Top Gear had been so vastly popular, not only in the UK but around the world, was precisely because of the interaction between Clarkson, Hammond and May and the exaggerated 'characters' the trio played on the show. Hated by Middle Class hippy Communist quiche-loving Gruniad Morning Star readers, Top Gear was, by contrast, loved by millions of 'ordinary people' who rather enjoyed watching three forty-and-fifty-something overgrown schoolboys cocking about and having a laugh in very fast and very expensive cars. Keith Telly Topping thought the first episode of Evans's version was adequate enough. But, it wasn't anywhere near as different as he thought it was going to be and, 'therein my lie a problem in the long run' as, it was/is 'inevitably, going to be compared - unfavourably - with the previous version,' this blogger wrote at the time. And, indeed, that proved to be exactly the case. They even kept the 'some say' introductions for The Stig, one elements which Keith Telly Topping thought would be the first thing to go. Evans is 'a terrific presenter of live TV,' this blogger added. 'But, I thought on the first episode, he came over as a bit over-ramped, hyperactive and quite needy. He'll need to tone that down. But, it's early days yet. And, Joey was great!' The show did improve as the series went on and, by the end, despite the declining ratings, it was getting far more positive feedback than negative. The general consensus of those viewers that remained - and, more than a few critics also - seemed to be, 'it still looks beautiful, it's still exciting and quite funny, Matt Le Blanc is great, Sabine is great, the two guys that nobody had heard of beforehand (Rory and Chris) are really good, Eddie's ... mad as bloody toast (as usual) but very watchable. If only they could do something about Chris Evans it might just work.' Well, now Chris Evans has 'done something' about Chris Evans so we'll see if it will work. As well as the lack of chemistry on and off screen, one alleged 'source' allegedly 'close to the show' allegedly blamed 'a lack of preparation' because of Evans's 'endless list of other commitments' such as Channel Four's TFI Friday, the Radio 2 show and Children In Need. Mind you, this anonymous - and, therefore, probably fictitious - alleged 'source' made these alleged comment to the Gruniad Morning Star. So, you know, not so much a pinch, but rather a vat of salt needed there. Evans hit back at tabloid - and broadsheet - claims of bullying and that he was 'out of control' as 'nonsensical, facile and fictitious.' And, for the most part, the BBC backed him publicly. But the show also suffered a PR disaster when Le Blanc was filmed in a car with rally driver Ken Block doing 'doughnuts' near to the Cenotaph war memorial in London. Evans - showing all the backbone of a wobbly jellyfish - apologised 'unreservedly' and the scenes were never transmitted despite Le Blanc reportedly being upset that he hadn't been supported more by both the BBC and Evans over what was, in essence, an entirely newspaper-manufactured 'outrage' story. Top Gear remains one of the BBC's most important shows. It' has brought millions of viewers to the BBC, many of whom aren't big users of other BBC services. And, internationally, it is worth tens of millions of pounds to BBC Worldwide and, as a consequence, to the BBC itself (the average annual income Top Gear brings in is, effectively, around the same as the money which the BBC spends on local radio in its entirety, just for a bit of context). While there has been a significant fall in overnight and consolidated viewing figures, interest in and awareness of the programme remains high. But, crucially, it doesn't appear to have been able to recreate the relationship between the presenters that it enjoyed with Jezza, Hamster and Mister Slowly. The banter between the three was at least - if not more - as important to fans as the cars, and much of the audience feel that important element which made it more than a motoring show has been lost.

Here's the final and consolidated ratings figures for the Top Twenty programmes, week-ending Sunday 26 June 2016:-
1 Euro 2016: England Versus Slovakia - Mon ITV - 10.27m
2 Euro 2016: Wales Versus Northern Ireland - Sat BBC1 - 8.94m
3 Coronation Street - Fri ITV - 6.78m
4 EastEnders - Tues BBC1 - 6.53m
5 Euro 2016: Hungary Versus Belgium - Sun BBC1 - 6.52m
6 BBC News - Sat BBC1 - 6.25m
7 Emmerdale - Tues ITV - 6.08m
8 Euro 2016: Italy Versus Republic of Ireland - Wed ITV - 5.77m
9 Six O'Clock News - Fri BBC1 - 5.03m
10 Ten O'Clock News - Fri BBC1 - 4.65m
11 Euro 2016: Croatia Versus Spain - Tues ITV - 4.64m
12 Casualty - Sat BBC1 - 4.50m
13 Euro 2016: Germany Versus Northern Ireland - Tues BBC1 - 4.46m
14 Euro 2016: Switzerland Versus Poland - Sat BBC1 - 4.35m
15 Euro 2016: Hungary Versus Portugal - Wed BBC1 - 4.32m
16 Celebrity MasterChef - Fri BBC1 - 4.09m
17 Pointless Celebrities - Sat BBC1 - 4.06m
18 ITV News - Tues ITV - 4.00m
19 EU Referendum: The Great Debate - Tues BBC1 - 3.99m
20 Holby City - Thurs BBC1 - 3.90m
These consolidated figures include all viewers who watched the programmes live and on catch-up during the seven days after broadcast, but does not include those who watched on BBC's iPlayer or ITV Player via their computers. On BBC2, Top Gear regained its bragging rights as the channel's highest audience puller, attracting 3.57 million (two hundred and fifty thousand up on the previous week's episode). The Great British Sewing Bee had 2.83 million. Sunday night coverage of Glastonbury drew 2.54 million punters. Natural World: Giraffes, Africa's Gentle Giants was seen by 2.25 million whilst the fourth episode of Versailles was watched by 1.78 million. Mock The Week attracted 1.62 million, followed by Life After Brexit: A Newsnight Special (1.36 million), Pointless (1.18 million), Great Continental Railway Journeys (also 1.18 million), Mister Versus Missus: Call The Mediator (1.15 million) and Jack Dee's Referendum Help Desk (1.03 million). The latest Qi repeat drew seven hundred and sixty three thousand. The Last Leg With Adam Hills was Channel Four's highest-rated broadcast of the week (2.50 million), followed by Twenty Four Hours In A&E (1.90m), Gogglesprogs (also 1.90m), Europe: The Final Debate With Jeremy Paxman (1.76m) and Messages Home: Lost Films Of The British Army (1.73m). Channel Five's top performer was, again, The Hotel Inspector with 1.75 million, ahead of the highest-rated episode of Big Brother (1.51 million). The Dog Rescuers With Alan Davies attracted 1.41 million. Sky Sports 1's most-watched broadcast was coverage of Live International Rugby Union: Australia Versus England - the third game in England's impressive winning series - seen by six hundred and twenty five thousand viewers. Sky Sports 2's coverage of the third Live England Versus Sri Lanka ODI was seen by three hundred and twenty six thousand. Live T20 Blast coverage of the game between Middlesex and Somerset drew one hundred and twenty five thousand. News HQ At Six was Sky Sports News's highest-rated broadcast with one hundred and sixty two thousand. On Sky Sports F1, Live Goodwood Festival Of Speed coverage had twenty two thousand punters. Midsomer Murders was ITV3's top-rated drama (1.16 million). Endeavour was seen by seven hundred and seventy seven thousand, Lewis by seven hundred and fifty five thousand and Foyle's War by seven hundred and sixteen thousand. Euro 2016: Sweden Versus Belgium coverage headed ITV4's weekly top ten with five hundred and fifteen thousand. Wales's impressive victory over Russia had four hundred and forty five thousand whilst this blogger's favourite James Bond movie, Live & Let Die attracted three hundred and fifty eight thousand. 'Names is for tombstones, baby. Y'all take this honky out an' waste him!' Rite on. Worthless steaming pile of horrific rancid shat Love Island was ITV2's most-watched programme with 1.66 million people with no shred of dignity or self-respect in them gawping at the rotten goings on. Six episodes of worthless steaming pile of horrific rancid shat Love Island had an audience of more than one-and-a-half million viewers, the only good thing to be said about which is that at least a portion of these appear to have previously been regular viewers of Big Brother given the declining ratings of the Channel Five's own Victorian Freak Show over the last two weeks. Vera headed ITV Encore's top ten with on hundred and twenty four thousand viewers with The Americans seen by sity eight thousand. BBC4's Friday night coverage of Glastonbury had six hundred and ninety nine thousand viewers, in a top-ten list which also included Nietzsche: Genius Of The Modern World (five hundred and twenty one thousand), The Treasure Hunters (four hundred and sixty seven thousand) and Timeshift: The Trains That Time Forgot (four hundred and fifty one thousand). Egypt's Lost Cities attracted four hundred and ten thousand and Lucy Worsley: Mozart's London Odyssey drew three hundred and sixty five thousand. Sky1's weekly top-ten was headed by Agatha Raisin (seven hundred and forty four thousand), DC's Legends Of Tomorrow (seven hundred and sixteen thousand), Supergirl (six hundred and ninety one thousand), Limitless (four hundred and sixty thousand) and Rovers (three hundred and ninety five thousand). Sky Atlantic's list was topped, of course, by the series six finale of Game Of Thrones episode (2.26 million, the highest-rated multichannel audience of the week). The Monday repeat of the popular fantasy drama's previous episode had 1.49 million. Thornecast was seen by five hundred and sixty three thousand, Penny Dreadful, by four hundred and two thousand and Billions by one hundred and seventy thousand. On Sky Living, Bones drew eight hundred and thirty one thousand, Chicago Fire had four hundred and ninety three thousand, Unforgettable, four hundred and forty nine thousand and Madam Secretary, four hundred and forty four thousand. Sky Arts' Download Festival coverage had an audience of one hundred and fifteen thousand. Guitar Star attracted seventy two thousand. 5USA's The Mysteries Of Laura was watched by six hundred and twenty seven thousand viewers. Chicago PD was seen by five hundred and sixty six thousand and NCIS, four hundred and thirty eight thousand. NCIS also topped the weekly top tens of CBS Action (one hundred and twenty nine thousand) and featured in the top tens of FOX (one hundred and forty four thousand) and the Universal Channel (one hundred and eleven thousand) as well as Channel Five. Aside, from NCIS, FOX's list also included Outcast (three hundred and forty three thousand), American Dad! (three hundred and twenty one thousand) and Wayward Pines (two hundred and eight two thousand). The Universal Channel's top ten was headed by Chicago Med (three hundred and twelve thousand) and Second Chance (one hundred and seventy three thousand). On Dave, Taskmaster was the highest-rated programme - no, this blogger doesn't know why either - with six hundred and twenty thousand punters. That was followed by Have I Got A Bit More News For You (four hundred and twenty three thousand), Storage Hunters UK (three hundred and sixty nine thousand), Top Gear (three hundred and forty two thousand), Alan Davies: As Yet Unfunny (His Channel Five Dog Show Is, In Fact, Funnier) (three hundred and thirty nine thousand), James May's Cars Of The People (three hundred and thirty three thousand) and Would I Lie To You? (three hundred and thirty one thousand). Drama's The Doctor Blake Mysteries was watched by four hundred and seven thousand viewers. New Tricks had three hundred and eighty four thousand. Alibi's highest-rated programme was Quantico (three hundred and fifty four thousand), followed by Death In Paradise (one hundred and ninety two thousand), Father Brown (one hundred and fifty thousand), Inspector George Gently (one hundred and twenty two thousand) and The Closer (one hundred and ten thousand). Yesterday's repeat of One Foot In The Grave was watched by two hundred and fifty five thousand and The Green Green Grass by two hundred and fifty two thousand people with nothing better to turn their intellect towards. Words, dear blog reader, fail yer actual Keith Telly Topping utterly and completely. On the Discovery Channel, the new series of Wheeler Dealers continued with two hundred and ninety one thousand punters. Deadliest Catch had an audience of two hundred and five thousand and Gold Divers one hundred and fifty three thousand viewers. Discovery History's Attack & Capture: The Story Of U-Boat Five Zero Five topped the weekly-list with thirty five thousand viewers whilst Nazi Killer attracted thirty one thousand, Nazi UFO Conspiracy, thirty thousand and Tony Robinson's Wild West, twenty three thousand. On Discovery Science, Finding Bigfoot was seen by twenty seven thousand viewers. Discovery Turbo's most-watched programmes was Fast N' Furious: Rolling Thunder (fifty thousand). National Geographic's list was headed by Wicked Tuna which had which had one hundred and seventeen thousand viewers. The History Channel's top ten was lead by Vikings (two hundred and five thousand) and Forged In Fire (one hundred and forty thousand). On Military History, Ancient Aliens and Alien Files Unsealed were watched by thirty seven thousand and twenty nine thousand viewers respectively. The Perfect Murder, Ghost Asylum and I Almost Got Away With It were ID's top-rated programmes of the week (forty seven thousand, forty five thousand and forty one thousand viewers respectively). Holloway: Women Behind Bars headed CI's list (ninety one thousand). The Jail: Sixty Days In drew sixty one thousand. The latest episodes of GOLD's repeat runs of Only Fools & Horses, Absolutely Fabulous and The Royle Family attracted one hundred and seventy six thousand, one hundred and fifty nine thousand and one hundred and forty seven thousand respectively. Comedy Central's largest audience of the week was for the movie The Longest Yard (two hundred and sixty six thousand). Your TV's Corrupt Crimes had eighty nine thousand viewers. On More4, The Good Wife was, probably, the highest rated programme although, annoyingly, the channel appear not to have bothered to post any figures to BARB for this particular week. E4's latest episode Hollyoaks drew nine hundred and seventy nine thousand punters (no new episode of the channel's usual chart-topper, The Big Bang Theory was broadcast this week). The Horror Channel's broadcast of Confined, attracted one hundred and forty eight thousand viewers. Bitten headed Syfy's top ten with ninety nine thousand. Wild Canada had thirty three thousand on Eden. Tanked was the Animal Planet's most watched programme with sixty three thousand. On W, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders was seen by five hundred and twenty one thousand. Say Yes To The Dress was TLC's most-watched programme (one hundred and eleven thousand).

On the evidence of France's pretty straightforward five-two victory over Iceland in the Euro 2016 Quarter Finals, dear blog reader, the trick in how to beat Iceland at football, seemingly, is to ... score lots of goals against them and don't let them score many against you. Interesting theory. Now, why didn't England think of that?