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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Detroit, GM gets a 'Top Gear' visit

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Detroit, GM gets a 'Top Gear' visit

Mike Hale / New York Times News Service

At the beginning of each episode of "Top Gear," History Channel's adaptation of the popular British automotive show, host Adam Ferrara lists things that the American version will not do. No makeovers, no cooking, no singing and dancing, no emotional journeys, no Snooki.

This bit of macho posturing is understandable — but it's not entirely honest. The British "Top Gear" became a worldwide hit by following — pioneering, actually — the golden rule of reality television: that any subject or concept can appeal to a wide audience if you find the right balance of competition and destruction (the childlike smashing of large objects) with humor, sentiment and pretty locations.

The American show, which had its debut in November and airs a Detroit-centered episode this Sunday, tries to achieve the same result by hewing to the same formula.

Three male hosts josh and jibe and introduce taped segments while an audience stands around them, an attractive woman nearly always placed behind the speaker's right shoulder. There is a silent, helmeted, mystery test driver dubbed the STIG. The "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" segment, in which a midlevel celebrity does a one-lap time trial in an economy car, has become "Big Star, Small Car."

The result — for the person with a casual interest in cars, anyway — is a show that at this point lacks the character of the British original but is reasonably entertaining by American reality-TV standards. (The British show has been on the air in its current format since 2002.) The gap between the shows — which easily could have been much wider — can be attributed to problems in translation, beginning with the hosts: the actor and comedian Ferrara, the stunt driver Tanner Foust and the racing analyst Rutledge Wood. They're somewhat younger and significantly more bland and callow than their British counterparts, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, who, to be fair, have had more time to develop their on-screen personas.

The Americans fit into a production that is more straitlaced than its counterpart — that's wary of driving outside the lines. Even when the concepts sound potentially wild, the execution doesn't have the glee or flair of the British show, no matter how much the American hosts high-five over one another's exploits.

One area where the American show is superior to the original is the amount of actual technical information it relays on cars and driving.

Tonight, the three hosts head to Detroit to choose their favorite old GM cars and put them through a series of crazy challenges to decide which one should be brought back into production, with skateboard legend and game designer Tony Hawk getting on the Top Gear test track.

TOP GEAR website:

Watch this episode Sunday December 19, 2010 at 9:00 pm central standard time. Check your local listings.

http://www.history.com/shows/top-gear

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20101217/ENT10/12170328/Detroit--GM-gets-a-‘Top-Gear’-visit#ixzz18PLVvs6u

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