It took a long time for the new version of Top Gear to make it to the air. Presumably, the BBC was hoping that signing on new hosts and releasing plenty of footage would create a lot of hype for the new version of the series. It seems to have worked to an extent. This weekend, the new version of Top Gear premiered on the BBC in the UK. While the ratings managed to win the timeslot, the ratings also show that Sunday’s premiere was the worst-rated episode of the show in over a decade.
The UK premiere of Top Gear brought in 4.4 million total viewers. The last premiere of Top Gear aired at the end of 2014, and featured longtime hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, who had all been hosting the show for years. While shows tend to grow staler in the ratings as the years go by, the premiere of the last season with the former hosts brought in 4.7 million total viewers. Looking at the data in a positive way, 4.7 million total viewers is not that much higher than 4.4. In addition, Top Gear also managed to beat the British Soap Awards, which also aired at 8 p.m. that night.
Still, I’m sure the BBC was expecting the newness of the new Top Gear would contribute to higher ratings than normal, especially during the premiere. Top Gear spent a lot of money rebooting the franchise, and signed on some big names, including Matt LeBlanc and Chris Evans, to host the new series. Deadline notes Chris Evans even said less than 5 million total viewers would be a disappointment prior to the premiere. A little over four million total viewers isn’t exactly a success story for the network, although I wouldn’t call it a disaster either.
Reception for the first episode was also mixed. People seemed to be pretty positive about Jesse Eisenberg and Gordon Ramsay showing up. People were mixed on Matt LeBlanc and Chris Evans’ roles on the series and many other fans and critics felt the whole thing was an alright first outing but nothing special as a whole.
The BBC and all of the people involved with the show have had to have known that it wouldn’t be easy to win over the fans who stuck with Jeremy Clarkson and co. for years. There was a lot of upheaval related to the former cast's exit, and hype isn't going to be enough to win everyone over--at least not quickly. Still, ratings often drop after the premiere, and the next few weeks should be enough to know if people will be sticking with Top Gear moving forward or not.
You can catch Top Gear on BBC America in the US. The new season premieres on Monday, May 30 at 9 p.m. ET in the States. More summer premiere dates can be found here.