Like everyone in Britain I have long been a huge fan of the television show Top Gear, although we get it only sporadically here in America. You can find it on BBC America and occasionally it pops up at odd times on other cable channels. There have been rumours circulating that the show would eventually come to America. I hoped it would come with Jeremy Clarkson and the gang, but NBC seems to have bought the show and I got a call one day asking if I would be interested in being a part of it.
I do my show full time, and these programmes take a great amount of time to make, so right away I had my concerns about fitting it in. The general rule of television is that it takes an hour for every minute that you see on screen. My other fear is that the show will not be made by car people.
So someone calls me from the network and is clearly not a car person. He says: “You like cars, right?” I say yes. “Like, all kinds of cars?” Well, yes. I like all kinds of cars. Why? “Well, the network has bought the TV show . . . um . . . High Gear? Top Gear? Top Gear! Top Gear, yes. We know you like to build cars.”
I ask: what’s the plan for the show? “Well, like, one week you build a car that flies and the next week you make a car that goes under water.” So I said: you know you can’t build these things in a week.
In my mind I can just see Jeremy lambasting Americans for what they did to his show. So I think: I’ve got to run away from this as quickly as I can. So I tell him that, as much as I like the show, I try not to make my hobby my job.
I like the show just the way it is. Jeremy and the guys are extremely talented, so maybe it would be an idea to do an American show similar to Top Gear but not with the same name, because I think it would be impossible to recreate or live up to the standards of the British show.
Another problem for Top Gear in America is the biting humour and criticisms of the cars. My great fear in America is that, for instance, if Kia was our sponsor this week, we’d have to say the car was fantastic.
I said on The Tonight Show recently that the new Kia was available with a heated rear window, so if people needed to push it in winter they could keep their hands warm. Boy, the phones did not stop ringing. So imagine what Jeremy would have to put up with.
I don’t think you could be quite as freewheeling with your opinions as you can on the BBC, because sponsors pay for the programmes. Sponsors would be unlikely to embrace any criticism.
Americans don’t really see personalities like Jeremy on commercial television. They know that they have to be somewhat watered down. When Jeremy rips into some sponsor such as Ford or Chrysler, well, that’s the last time they sponsor that show. Then what you have is “the meeting” after the show, where they tell him to tone it down. That’s just not what they do at Top Gear.
Some British shows translate quite well here - The Office, for example. But with Top Gear I have such respect for the original show, I feel if they asked me to do it I would be a pale imitation of Jeremy.
It would have to be something completely different, coming from a different angle. But when you see something that’s sort of perfect as it is, it’s difficult. Are you outright stealing, trying to imitate? What are you doing? I would prefer to do a different show rather than try to copy something that works so well already.
Cars are my hobby. Television is my job. When you make your hobby your job it becomes a whole different thing. For me, my great release from any sort of pressure is to go to my garage.
I have a friend who was an attorney but always wanted to open a hot-dog stand. So he opened a hot-dog stand and it was doing okay. Then he opened one on the other side of town and that was doing okay but never really did well. Then he ran between the hot-dog stands and the law practice and he lost all three of them.
So I go to my garage and I shoot my web pieces (see http://www.jaylenosgarage.com) and we talk about the cars. I do it for free - there’s no money in it. We just passed 27m hits, so it’s quite popular, and that’s what I like to do. It’s great fun because it’s like sitting with a bunch of car friends. I don’t want it to be my job.