With Chris Evans’ departure from ‘Top Gear,’ the British automotive series is undergoing its second host change in a little more than a year. But don’t expect a complete overhaul this time.
Sources tell Variety that Evans’ co-host Matt LeBlanc will return for the show’s 24th season, which is set to begin production in September. Contributors Chris Harris, Eddie Jordan, Rory Reid and Sabine Schmitz, who joined LeBlanc and Evans for season 23, are expected to return alongside LeBlanc for season 24. No replacement for Evans is expected to be named — leaving LeBlanc and the contributors to carry the show’s on-camera responsibilities.
LeBlanc is also set to star this fall in the freshman CBS comedy series ‘Man With a Plan,’ his first starring role on U.S. broadcast TV in a decade. Under LeBlanc’s deal with the studio, ‘Man With the Plan’ is in first position, with the studio obliged to make a good-faith effort to accommodate his ‘Top Gear’ hosting duties. ‘Top Gear’ is expected to work around LeBlanc’s CBS shooting schedule.
A representative for LeBlanc directed questions about his future on the show to the BBC. A BBC America spokesperson referred Variety to a previously released statement from BBC Studios director Mark Linsey saying that ‘the right people remain, on both the production team and presenting team to take the show forward and make it the hit we want it to be.’
Evans announced his departure from the long-running BBC Two series, which has been broadcast in the United States on BBC America since 2007, on Monday. He wrote on Twitter, ‘Stepping down from Top Gear. Gave it my best shot but sometimes that’s not enough. The team are beyond brilliant, I wish them all the best.’
Poor ratings and reports in the U.K. tabloids of on- and off-set controversy provided the backdrop for Evans’ exit. The season 23 finale dipped to a season-low 1.9 million overnight viewers in the U.K. earlier this month, fewer than half the show’s average from the previous season. The finale faced stiff competition from the Euro 2016 soccer tournament, but was also beat by ITV’s ‘Antiques Roadshow,’ which drew 3.9 million viewers. In the U.S., the first five episodes of season 24 have averaged 379,000 viewers for BBC America in Nielsen live-plus-three ratings — better than the network’s primetime average, but well below previous seasons.
Evans, a well-known U.K. radio personality, signed a three-year deal last year to take over ‘Top Gear’ hosting duties after former host Jeremy Clarkson was fired for punching a producer. Co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May left with Clarkson, and the three went on to sign a deal to develop a new show for Amazon Studios.
Evans’ own tenure has also been hit by controversy. He has been the subject of sexual harassment allegations, with The Guardian reporting this week that Evans may be questioned by London police over claims dating back to the 1990s.
LeBlanc was added as Evans’ co-host prior to the start of season 23, signing a one-season contract with an option for a second season. The actor had previously appeared as a celebrity guest on the show in 2012.
In June, Britain’s Sun tabloid, citing unnamed sources, reported that LeBlanc had threatened to quit unless Evans was fired. LeBlanc’s publicist shot the report down as baseless. Variety reported at the time that the actor was in talks with ‘Top Gear’ producers over his future involvement with the show as he prepared to begin production on ‘Man With a Plan.’
The Evans-LeBlanc ‘Top Gear’ was poorly received by most critics and fans, but the bulk of negative sentiment was aimed at Evans. Website Digital Spy’s critic wrote in a review of the season 23 finale, ‘When the right people — Matt LeBlanc, Rory Reid, Chris Harris and Sabine Schmitz — are front and centre, there are moments where ‘Top Gear’ feels like it has found its feet.’