By the Numbers: Did Top Gear Ever Recover After Clarkson Abandoned Ship?

Posted by: Jesse Kleib on 11/16/2021

We didn’t even notice but the fifth anniversary of Jeremy Clarkson punching his producer in the face came and went. The news broke in mid-March of 2015 that Top Gear’s path would change forever. On the heels of lots of behind the scenes drama, the most beloved automotive television series ever would come to a screeching halt. Well, at least it would be doing a 180°.

The final episode featuring Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May would hit the air on July 13, 2015.

The trio would hop to Amazon, essentially continuing what they were doing under the name of The Grand Tour. The crew didn’t skip a beat as the initial episode would air in November 2016.

Top Gear, on the other hand, would have to figure out who to replace the iconic hosts with. As it turned out, that would prove to be a bit of a learning curve.

Now that we have put some time in between ourselves and the drama, how are things going? No matter how great Top Gear could be, the production faced an uphill battle. It seems as if the lovable trio of Clarkson, Hammond, and May managed to take many of their fans with them. The incident would be rather polarizing as many thought that the show was nothing without them.

The first season after they left would seem to prove just that as it was met with widespread controversy.

Did Top Gear Ever Recover? Audience Approval Ratings Say…

Most simply put, not really. There have been glimmers of hope, though.

Let’s be honest. Nobody and we mean nobody expected the show to do well following this breakdown. However, terrible inaugural season aside, the broadcast has made somewhat of a comeback on this metric.

Over the last 5 years of Clarkson and company, according to Rotten Tomatoes, audience scores would climb from 82% audience approval in season 18, growing yearly to a whopping 100% approval for season 22.

From there, the new crew would cause audience approval to plummet through the floor. Season 23 of Top Gear, the first with a new set of hosts, was the worst ever on most accounts, with a 5% audience approval rating. It turned out that the host, Chris Evans, wasn’t the best fit for the show. When he parted ways with the production, season 24 would gather a 56% approval rating. From there, fan approval data from the site would remain rather volatile but never rose above 56% again in any of the following seasons.

The data was incomplete for the most recent season, season 28, which seems to be the most popular. Read more about its ratings below.

Forget about approval, though. What about the ratings?

Who cares what people say about the show as long as they’re tuning in, right?

When Clarkson, Hammond, and May left the air in 2015, the show was averaging 6.2 million viewers per episode according to BARB. This was a small step down from their 2014 average of 6.5 million. While season 23 seemed to be widely disapproved, it still managed to bank ratings compared to the following years.

However, with Matt LeBlanc leaving after 2018 and a new crew stepping in for 2019, the show would appear to be taking a step back in the right direction. With the trio of Chris Harris, Paddy McGuinness, and Freddie Flintoff, reports say that their 4.1m viewership in the first episode was the highest score for a launch episode since 2016. The season would follow through with 4.25 million viewers on average, marking the most viewed year since the era of Clarkson.

So What Does This All Mean?

Essentially, those who believe that data tells the story might just believe that Top Gear will never be as successful as it was when season 22 came to a close. With Clarkson, Hammond, and May continuing their massive success after the show, the winningest formula seems to involve them. They not only made amazing automotive entertainment. The three managed to transcend the world of automobiles in a way that we’ve never seen before.

With that said, that’s a tall order to fill. Just because newer shows aren’t living up to the heyday on the ratings scale isn’t to say that they can’t also be entertaining as well. In fact, it’s purely anecdotal evidence but we think that the show is still relatively successful to this day. With the latest presenters being the most popular since the show’s turnover, perhaps there are better days ahead.

At the end of the day, maybe we should just be grateful that we have such a wide array of automotive content to choose from. Top Gear remains a staple of that content to this day.

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