Entertainment & Arts

Top Gear: Has Matt LeBlanc saved the series?

Matt LeBlanc
Image caption Disclaimer: It's probably not a good idea to drive with the door wide open

The latest series of Top Gear drew to a close on Sunday evening, with fans praising Matt LeBlanc for having "saved" the brand.

He, Rory Reid and Chris Harris now present the show as a trio after the departure of Chris Evans last year.

An average of 1.9 million watched the final episode of the current season - a significant drop from the 2.8 million the series opened with.

But many fans posted positive messages on social media about the show.

Let's have a quick look back at how the latest season has performed in the ratings and how critics and viewers reacted to it.

Image caption David Tennant was one of the celebrity guests this series

Viewing figures

In the age of catch-up services such as iPlayer, the whole issue of viewing figures gets rather complicated.

So, to keep things simple, we'll just stick to how many people watched each episode of this series live, on the night it was first broadcast.

An average of 2.8 million tuned in to the launch - a strong opening for the series, but a peak it didn't manage to match throughout the rest of its run.

Ratings were reasonably stable for the following four episodes, but they dropped significantly for the final two.

Top Gear, series 24: Overnight ratings
Episode one (5 March) 2.8 million
Episode two (12 March) 2.7 million
Episode three (19 March) 2.4 million
Episode four (26 March) 2.3 million
Episode five (2 April) 2.6 million
Episode six (16 April - Easter Sunday) 1.6 million
Episode seven (23 April) 1.9 million

This could be down to the gap in the middle of the series - there was no episode on 9 April because of Golf: The Masters 2017. It seems many viewers didn't return to Top Gear after that.

But what everybody really wants to know about the viewing figures, of course, is how they compare with previous series.

The last season, fronted by Chris Evans, opened with a bumper 4.4 million viewers, considerably more than this year's series launch.

Image caption Many viewers and critics called for Reid to be given more screen time

However, it's worth noting the viewing figures for the Evans-fronted season had more than halved by the end, with 1.9 million tuning in to the finale.

No episode in the era fronted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May had fewer than 2 million viewers.

Indeed, an impressive 5.3 million watched the trio's farewell in 2015 - a figure that none of the presenting line-ups have come close to since.

But programme bosses will likely be happy that five of this season's seven episodes attracted more than 2 million viewers, giving this series a strong and relatively stable audience in comparison to last year.

Plus - once iPlayer figures are taken into account, the figures for the latest series will go up considerably. The first episode alone added nearly a million extra viewers to the live TV audience. Figures for the later episodes in the series will follow soon.


Critical reviews

Critics have responded positively to the revamped Top Gear - although some also had a few suggestions about how it could improve going forward.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Ed Power said: "Top Gear finished its latest season in better fettle than anyone could have predicted in the wake of last year's disastrous Chris Evans-fronted reboot.

"Week by week the crew has visibly gained in confidence and the concluding instalment was arguably the most enjoyable yet."

The Radio Times's Frances Taylor wrote: "It's undeniable that the presenters' dynamic has improved... but there's something still jarring a little.

"The biggest problems have been ironed out this series, and what we've been left with is a largely enjoyable and watchable hour of Sunday night TV.

"It won't take much to give it a tweak here and a buff there and with a little help, Top Gear could well be at the top of its game come series 25."

Tom Eames from Digital Spy agreed the show still needs some work, but said it's broadly going in the right direction.

"Rory Reid needs far more screen time, and they need to invest in more films that include all three of the main hosts," he suggested.

"Plus - fewer obviously-scripted segments, more ad-libbed journeys, more interesting celebrities (or no celebrity segment at all) and you've got yourself a brilliant car show. It's so very nearly there, and we'll definitely be up for more in 2018."


Fans' reaction

Image caption The Stig stayed with the show after the departure of Clarkson, Hammond and May

Viewers were mostly positive about the latest series, although many said there was still room for further improvement.

Matthew tweeted: "If someone said to me 5 years ago that Matt LeBlanc would save Top Gear, I would have laughed... but he has!"

"Brilliant series, well done guys! Restored as great entertainment and fun car show. A bit like the old days, only better," added Brook.

Katherine said: "It's a big improvement on the last series. Still wooden though."

But Andy wrote: "I'd hardly say Top Gear has been saved. There has been a lot of viewers moved to The Grand Tour. It's not Top Gear without Clarkson, Hammond or May."


So, has Matt LeBlanc really "saved" Top Gear?

Image caption The Telegraph's Ed Power said the three presenters have "finally gelled"

Well, partly. He's certainly a more popular front man than Chris Evans was on the last series.

But it would be unfair to give him all the credit for the warmer critical and viewer reaction this year.

Reid has been a crucial ingredient, with many fans agreeing he should be given more time on screen.

Harris is also a key factor, with Eames commenting that he "has clearly been eyed as the show's lead when it comes to credibility".

There's also the total studio revamp the show has had - giving it a glossier, more colourful and polished feel.

Image caption The last episode of the current series was watched by an average of 1.9 million viewers

Perhaps most importantly, however, the reason the show has had a much stronger series this year is it has not been put under so much scrutiny as before.

Tabloid interest in the Chris Evans series was high, and there were many negative headlines about the show's various troubles and viewing figures.

But away from the glare of the media spotlight, it appears to be finally bedding in.

It has found its feet - and its audience. The show now has a core viewer base and appears to have finally won over critics and fans.

We'll wait and see whether its upward streak can continue when the 25th series begins next spring.


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