4.4m watched Top Gear – is that enough?

An average of 4.4 million people tuned in to watch the first episode of the new run of Top Gear. Chris Evans said he would be disappointed with anything less than five million, but there is a positive spin.

That 4.4 million was still better than other show in the 20:00 time slot; it’s audience share of 22.8% was better than the first episode of the previous series – though I believe that was up against X Factor; it is the most-watched programme on iPlayer.

The real test, though, comes next week. Will the audience grow or decline? Tough to tell, as the first episode drew deeply mixed reviews. The response on-line was largely negative, while the critics were split. For my part, I though the films felt contrived and lacked drama, while the new rallycross track used for Star In a Reasonably Priced Car was ridiculous.

The biggest problem, though, was the attempt to hang on to the existing format. But here’s the thing about formats: the audience doesn’t care about them. What keeps viewers tuning in week after week is the people on screen. Even at its worst – and it plumbed some deep depths – the audience kept coming back to ‘old’ Top Gear because Clarkson, Hammond and May were good company. Evans and Leblanc simply aren’t.

Plenty of people have pointed out the previous line-up took a couple of series to truly gel, but they had the luxury of time as neither the audience or BBC management cared. They do now. Will the revamped show been given that same luxury? I doubt it.

Incidentally, behind the scenes show ExtraGear, fronted by Rory Reid and Chris Harris, seemed to go down reasonably well. But probably only because no-one had any expectations of it. I thought it was almost entirely pointless.

Under the previous regime, Top Gear regularly pulled in 8 million viewers. If the new run can only average 4 million or so across the six episodes, BBC high-ups will surely take a long, hard look at it. Especially if the international viewing figures aren’t great and those broadcasters get jittery.

Only time will tell. Don’t be surprised if quite a lot of it passes before we hear whether or not Top Gear has been recommissioned.

Now, roll on The Grand Tour.

What do you think?

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