So, the BBC has sacked Jeremy Clarkson. Or, to be more accurate, they are not renewing his contract when it expires soon. In a way, though, there is no real difference. He crossed a line, it cost him his job.
Cue a lot of outrage by fans of Top Gear.
Cue a lot of confused outrage by people who can’t understand why a petition to keep him on reaches nearly a million signatures whilst “more deserving causes” struggle to get any support at all.
The problem, though, is that although the situation itself (person hits and verbally abuses another person) is fairly straightforward, the links between Jeremy, Top Gear and the (license-fee paying) audience is bloody complicated.
I don’t think the BBC had any way of winning this situation. There was no good choice available. I do, however, think they made the “right bad choice”. Whatever they did, people would be outraged one way or another. But better to be criticised for doing the right thing than letting the wrong thing slide by.
As business decisions go, though, the BBC dropped a ball. A ball they had no possible way of carrying, to be sure. But they dropped it nonetheless.
Yes, they have to show that no one person is bigger than their show. Or bigger than the corporation. In the case of Jeremy Clarkson, though, he sort of is the show. Him and James may and Richard Hammond, to be sure, but the major draw of the show is watching all three of them dick around. Lose one, you change the dynamic and the show won’t be the same one that many people tune in for.
On top of that, Top Gear itself is big business. For some people, it is basically the BBC show they watch. It’s what they pay the license fee for. And when the only show you think is worth paying over £100 per year for the license fee risks being changed beyond recognition, people are understandably getting angry at the corporation they are funding for making a decision they don’t want.
And that’s just the UK.
Over in the USA, there are people vocally stating that Top Gear (UK) is pretty much the only reason they are paying for a BBC America subscription. And, unlike the UK license fee, this is purely being paid by choice. If an American decides that Top Gear is the only show worth paying the BBC for, they can stop paying and drop their subscription.
The BBC really had no way of coming out of this in a good light. For what it’s worth, I think they made the only decision they could. Attacking anyone, especially a colleague, just isn’t right. Some sort of reprimand had to be issued and, with contract renewal coming up, it is the logical step. Clarkson had to go.
It’s just unfortunate that, with a show as popular Top Gear’s current (previous?) incarnation, the BBC are going to have to pay the heavy price for making the right decision.
“No good deed goes unpunished” and this deed, however good, is going to cause the BBC some real headaches at least in the immediate short term.