This past week’s episode of The Grand Tour ended on a somewhat somber note. All seemed normal until suddenly Jeremy Clarkson was in tears. Amidst his normal sign-off he, he broke the news: this is the end of the show as we know it. The Grand Tour will no longer have a tent segment. The original format as we know it is finished.
It’s been seventeen years of the trio hosting the most famous automotive show. Yes, in the world. Now they’re finally calling it quits with the format we’ve come to know and (mostly) love. Though largely the same over the years, the format started with Top Gear and made its way over to The Grand Tour. And it has, for the most part, worked. We all know how it goes: a car or adventure is introduced by one of the presenters from their home-base, be it a studio in a hangar or a tent in the middle of nowhere, and then the episode cuts to a film of said car or adventure. There have been exceptions, known as “Specials,” but largely it has been the studio-and-field combination that has been the primary format.
This setup has allowed a wide spectrum of topics to be covered in various yet familiar ways. From talking about new cars news to driving vintage rarities out in a foreign country, it makes it easy to touch on anything and everything car-related (and sometimes, not car-related at all). Mixing the talk-show bits with pre-made videos allows for better pacing, more content, and a show that has the ability to entertain a massive audience.
It wasn’t perfect
But that’s not to say it hasn’t been without flaws. The celebrity section of TG, affectionately titled “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car,” was love-it-or-hate-it. There might have been some gems from the interview-and-hot-lap segments. For example, Tom Cruise coming around the final corner of the track on two wheels immediately comes to mind. To car show enthusiasts though, it always felt like time that could have otherwise been better-spent on more interesting and exciting things. And the hosts knew this. When the show transitioned to Amazon they tried to replace it with a “Celebrity Brain Crash” joke segment. In this, the celebrities never actually made it to the show for the interview because they were CGI-killed en route to the tent.
This joke wore off after the first episode.
For the most part, it worked. It was easy enough to fast forward through the boring parts. The remaining time was usually allocated to the exciting and interesting things we actually wanted to watch. Things like new car reviews, old car history, road trips, and challenges. They were the segments that made Top Gear and The Grand Tour what it was: an entertainment-forward car show.
But, to me at least, Top Gear and The Grand Tour were always at their best in the “Specials.” The longer-format, single-purpose episodes allowed the team to flesh out ideas to a greater extent. It allowed the viewer to see and learn more about places they otherwise might not have and, like movies, got us more into the action than the traditional segments. It helped that the hosts always seemed to have the most fun on these trips, even if they sort of hated them (Vietnam via motorcycle, as Clarkson tends to remind us). The adventure episodes were wholly immersive. From the Arctic Circle to India, Patagonia, Botswana, the Middle East, and all those places in-between, the specials felt more like mini-movies and fun-fueled documentaries than normal episodes of the show.
The specials were special.
Cutting the tent segments allows the production to do more of this. The focus is traveling the world and driving cars. Not talking to celebrities. Not reviewing the newest economy hatchback. And not working within the constraints of a budget that must be carefully divided amongst segments.
This is a good move. The studio jokes are getting old. Conversation Street gags are stale. The audience interaction always feels forced. Ultimately, the tent segments limit what can be done on The Grand Tour. It limits what the hosts can do and see in their remaining time as the world’s most famous automotive presenters. And so, it’s time to move on, and dedicate that time to showing us what we like most about the show.