Top Gear was heading for a perfect storm, former executive producer Andy Wilman said at the Edinburgh International Television Festival on Wednesday.
Although the much-publicised ‘steak-gate’ incident led to the end of the Clarkson, Hammond and May era of the show, the end had been looming, Wilman suggested.
“We were collapsing under the weight of the work we were doing,” he added.
Appearing at the festival to promote the team’s new Amazon Prime show The Grand Tour, Wilman would not be drawn on how much the company had paid for the series. “It’s a good whack,” he conceded, but denied that it was as much as the rumoured £4 million per episode.
Wilman, who was at school with Jeremy Clarkson and briefly presented a previous iteration of Top Gear, said the legal discussions following the break up with the broadcaster were frustrating.
“It got a bit silly,” he admitted, with lawyers getting involved with dilemmas such as “Can James May still say ‘cock’ or are the BBC gonna sue?”
The result is that the Stig and the Top Gear track have stayed with the BBC, while Clarkson, Hammond and May have got what they wanted, namely the option to make films that saw the trio challenging themselves and various vehicles to dynamic and often ludicrous tasks across the globe.
While Wilman was candid about the circumstances around his departure from the BBC, he was less willing to share some of the details about working with his new partners, Amazon. Both Wilman and Head of Amazon Studios, Roy Price, refused to give a date for the new series, instead promising that the show would land “this autumn”. Wilman said Amazon’s stipulation that the series should be shot in 4K and at a high frame rate was proving demanding, admitting it had been “a big scramble” to get the show from pitching stage to production.
Elsewhere at the festival, Director of BBC Content Charlotte Moore, unveiled a slew of new commissions, including an adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s young adult novel Noughts and Crosses.
Moore also said that she thought it was wrong that the BBC should have to disclose those who were paid over £450,000 as “it will only drive talent fees up”.
This year’s MacTaggart lecture came from Vice CEO Shane Smith, who defended his company’s decision to move into linear programming with the launch of Viceland in the UK and across 57 other territories. It was vital, he said, to be on all screens simultaneously, as well as creating native, sticky advertising and owning the means of production.
He also said other media was doing the younger generation a disservice, saying “media today is like a private club. It’s so closed, young people feel disenfranchised.”
He called Generation Y “the most savvy generation in history” thanks to education and the proliferation of information on the internet.
He claimed Vice’s success was as a result of realising that it needed to change its content from “rare denim, cocaine and super models” to issues the younger generation cared about, such as social justice, women’s issues and the environment.
“Gen Y knows what side of history it wants to be on,” he claimed, explaining that Vice had changed to meet the demands of this socially-conscious new audience.
— EdinburghTVFestival (@EdinburghTVFest) August 24, 2016