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Coronavirus may have put the brakes on Top Gear earlier this year but on Tuesday night the BBC show became the first big UK entertainment TV series to return with a live audience.
The programme was recorded on a large outdoor stage in front of 500 fans in their cars, in what its co-presenter Paddy McGuinness called a “Covid-compliant, socially distanced, classic drive-in show”.
Following the same protocols as drive-in cinemas, parking positions at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey were 2 metres apart. Other safety measures included audience temperature checks and the creation of large marquees for production crew partitioned into individual areas using clear plastic – like something from a science fiction film.
Meanwhile, the presenters McGuinness, Chris Harris and Freddie Flintoff have been regularly tested for Covid-19, served food in resesalable bags, while some crew have been wearing face masks.
Top Gear is watched by more than 350 million people in more than 200 countries, so the expensive safety procedures were necessary to get the Sunday night show back on the road.
The corporation’s commercial arm, BBC Studios, began recording some of the new series before the pandemic. After lockdown eased, producers filmed more of the trio’s driving challenges in the UK – which included a daring Wall of Death sequence – and sought a way to make Top Gear’s usual studio audience segments.
Speaking to the Guardian just before the recording, Harris described the new-look show as “a mixture of a low-rent rock festival meets a 1960s drive-through cinema”.
He said the team felt “blessed we’ve got the chance to do something with a live audience. The producers have come up with some really clever solutions to the problems.”
McGuinness added: “If coronavirus wasn’t a thing and the producers suggested filming it outside I’d be thinking that’s not a very good idea. But I think because people have been kind of cooped up at home they will be excited to be out and at a show surrounded by other people.”
Flintoff said: “When you see the stage and the scale of it, it’s not really ‘making do in the circumstances’, it’s quite spectacular to watch. When the sun goes down, it’s dark and you’ve got all the lights on the stage.”
Though the crowd was more rock’n’Rolls-Royce than Reading festival, the weather held out and the show was a success.
This autumn, Top Gear will be leaving BBC Two, where it has aired for nearly 18 years, to move to a primetime slot on BBC One for the first time.
Clare Pizey, Top Gear’s executive producer, who has overseen the show’s bounce back from the ratings doldrums after the departure of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May and their replacements Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc, said the main challenge of staging the drive-in had been the budget. “It definitely costs more when we do it like this,” she said.
It took about 150 people three days to create the drive-in and the BBC is considering making it an annual event.
Although TV production is revving up again – having been halted because of the pandemic – and viewers are keen for new shows, the continuing presence of Covid-19 means other big entertainment series could follow Top Gear’s lead. Just not during winter.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Top Gear returns with drive-in live audience after Covid shutdown | Television & radio