Amid all the excitement and more than a dash of disappointment over the return of Top Gear, it is going to be interesting to hear what happens on Chris Evans' breakfast show on Radio 2 this week. Now all the hype is over, Evans has to deal with pretty poor reviews and some slating feedback. It might be wise for him to start Tuesday's programme with a 90s' classic (as he's such a fan of that decade) from D:Ream with Things Can Only Get Better.
I'll come to my thoughts on the show itself later, but more interesting to me is the problem I have with his breakfast show and the line he has continually crossed over the last year or more. Evans has started using Radio 2, and the millions of listeners he has each week, as a vehicle to plug his latest venture. In March it was reported that the BBC had verbally reprimanded Evans for "inappropriate" references to TFI Friday last year. A slap on the wrist and nothing more.
Anyone who regularly listens to Evans knows that when he gets excited about something, boy, does he get excited. And on and on and on he goes. He is like that kid at a party who's been given the drum to bang. Too many E numbers and the drum is pummelled constantly for three hours. When he was regularly on The One Show each Friday, there was constant chatter about the show. Funnily enough now, The One Show gets very few mentions, if at all.
Top Gear will get the same treatment, as it has already over the previous few months. Now the programme has started, the chatter about content and guests will increase. Sara Cox was sitting-in on Monday, so Tuesday is the first chance to gauge his approach. My problem is that, purely slapping Evans on the wrist is the kind of pathetic approach the BBC has had to previous big names that have got out of hand. Take Jeremy Clarkson as clearly the perfect example in this case. His behaviour had been increasingly questionable over the previous few years before his final removal. Had the BBC been stronger earlier, it may be that there would still be a top-rated version of Top Gear on the BBC. Jonathan Ross is another example alongside Russell Brand.
BBC sources have told me over the years how difficult it is for producers and senior producers to manage these personalities once they get 'too big'. How can you as an executive producer overrule Evans and the like, if you fear for your job as a consequence? What happens is that the cult of personality rules. The BBC has failed to stamp this out before and in the case of Evans I fear it is doing the same right now. It should clamp down hard on his abuse of the ten million listeners he gets - and tell him to concentrate on what he does best for Radio 2.
Evans is an excellent radio presenter - not my kind of show or style - but he is one of the best in the business, if not right now, the best. But he still needs managing. The BBC has made this mistake before and should learn from it.
As for Top Gear itself, my kindest but probably cruelest assessment of the new show was that it was just... boring. It tried too hard to be something new while keeping four tyres firmly in the style and format of the Clarkson version. Like when Evans took over from Terry Wogan, perhaps it will take time for Evans to feel comfortable in someone else's shoes. All I ask is that we don't get to hear about his progress and the stunts he takes on every morning between 6-30 and 9-30am.
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