Car crash TV: why Simon Cowell’s take on Top Gear is the last thing we need

With The X Factor now consigned to the dustbin of television history, Cowell is said to be releasing his inner Jeremy Clarkson with a motoring show. Haven’t we suffered enough?

Simon Cowell and Jeremy Clarkson. Sneery Si and shouty Jezza. Together they bestrode 00s primetime, the dad-jeaned embodiment of a midlife crisis. Now the terribly haired pair seem to be morphing into a sort of two-headed televisual monster. Haven’t we suffered enough?

You could almost hear a nation’s eyes rolling in unison at the news that Simon Cowell is preparing to launch a new motoring show. According to the tabloids, The Karaoke Sauron (copyright Marina Hyde) is developing a rival to the BBC’s long-running Top Gear.

He’s said to be “eyeing up potential producers and talent”. In other words, Amanda Holden and Louis Walsh better nip down to Halfords for some mesh-backed driving gloves.

Cowell does have time on his hairy hands at present. The X Factor became The Axe Factor last month and not before time. These days, punters prefer kinder, cuddlier talent shows like Bake Off and Strictly, or imported South Korean high-concepts such as The Masked Singer and I Can See Your Voice. Why waste time booing tearful teenagers when you could watch Joss Stone dress up as a 7ft sausage?

Sister show Britain’s Got Talent is just about hanging on in there, thanks to scouted variety turns and overseas acts. Its more cynical freakshow elements are leavened by the lighter, wittier touch of Ant, Dec and David Walliams.

However, the point-and-pisstake cruelty of The X Factor was well past its sell-by date … just like gas-guzzling supercars and unnecessary travel.

One of the ubiquitous tabloid “sources” (possibly Sinitta putting on a funny voice) said: “Simon is a huge car lover and a motoring show is something he’s always been interested in doing. Right now, [it feels like there is] an especially large appetite.”

Is there really? Even Clarkson has tacitly acknowledged that the era of pedal-to-the-metal motoring programmes is over. His post-Top Gear project for Amazon, The Grand Tour, has been throttled back to biannual road trip specials.

Jeremy Clarkson, who has garnered more attention as a farmer than a car expert in recent times.
Jeremy Clarkson, who has garnered more attention as a farmer than a car expert in recent times. Photograph: Blackball Media/PA

He spends more time nowadays practising his tension-building pauses on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, while his rural docuseries Clarkson’s Farm got way more buzz than his weary old petrolhead antics. Post-pandemic viewers are more interested in Clarkson slipping on a cowpat than yelling about caravans and bloody foreigners.

Besides, is Cowell even into cars? He owns half a dozen, sure, but he’s got to splash his estimated £385m fortune on something. The dazzlingly dentured mogul spends more time chain-smoking and cackling maniacally on transatlantic private jets and in the back of limos than he does behind the wheel. I suppose he did break his back last year after falling off an electric bike. Does that count?

Cowell enjoyed a TV imperial phase, but now seems tragically out-of-touch. A 61-year-old Alan Partridge-alike, terminally stuck a decade behind the times, wondering why his boot-cut slacks and Cuban heels aren’t cutting it any more. It’s as if he’s scrolled through his mental Rolodex of male menopausal hobbies and alighted randomly on motoring. Hey, it could be worse. He could’ve pitched a show about triathlons, or paleo diets, or hitting on pilates teachers half his age.

Cowell doing a sub-Clarkson car show is a prospect almost too depressing to contemplate. Remember his previous attempts to depart from the shiny-floored talent genre: cookery contest Food Glorious Food, soapy drama Rock Rivals and gameshow Red Or Black? Not ringing a bell? Cowell’s misguided motoring project feels doomed, like those shows, to be another wholly forgettable disaster.

Pop Gear? The Model X Factor? Britain’s Got Tail Lights? Whatever it is, it’s a no from me.


Michael Hogan

The GuardianTramp

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