Somewhere between Amazon’s supersized streaming series The Grand Tour and the sputter of a revamped Top Gear on BBC is where Neil Duncanson sees room to park a brand new series that combines “humor, lots of great cars and a whole lot of running around.”
Car Nation, produced by North One Television, is set to launch on BBC this spring. The series puts The Great British Bake Off‘s Paul Hollywood behind the wheel of various iconic automotive brands as he takes to the road to explore the DNA of three European countries and their fascination with certain cars.
“Paul is obviously known as a baker on The Great British Bake Off, but actually his passion is cars and motorbikes. Aston Martins, in particular, are his real passion,” Duncanson told realscreen in an earlier interview.
At the time of the interview, production had wrapped on one of three 60-minute episodes, this one shot in Germany. Work on two more was set to get underway in Italy and France this month, with a Sunday night air date slated for the spring.
In each country, Hollywood will visit various sites in a notable car, from a race track in a Porsche to a nude beach in a VW camper.
“He drives a car from five different decades along the way — the worst car that country has produced, to the best and fastest,” said Duncanson, whose All3Media-owned indie prodco specializes in factual, digital, sport and live event programming.
The idea for viewers is “to come out the end with a feeling for what that country is all about when it comes to cars.”
Hollywood is joined in each episode by “like-minded celebrities” and “special faces,” Duncanson added.
“Everywhere you go you are doing something rather than just watching something. There is a real feeling of achievement at the end of the journey,” he said.
Duncanson said, with positive early feedback from the BBC, talk has already begun to shoot three more episodes in the United States this summer.
The series comes at a time when the BBC is looking for a strong automotive show while it takes a second-run at Top Gear following a disappointing showing from a revamped version of its lucrative flagship brand last year. The BBC was forced to recast the series in 2015 after the high-profile departure of its stars Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. That trio has since moved to Amazon where they launched The Grand Tour, another vehicle-themed show, in November in conjunction with the e-commerce company’s global SVOD push.
The Beeb hastily brought in Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc to salvage the series; however Evans stepped down as host just 13 months later amid flagging viewership (The Guardian reported that under Evans’ tenure, Top Gear‘s viewership fell below two million for the first time since the program debuted in 2002).
The former Friends star, meanwhile, is set to take over as the series’ top presenter when it returns this year on BBC2.
Duncanson said the move to secure LeBlanc into the role for the next two years is a good one, and feels certain that the BBC will get the series back up in the ratings.
“It’s a massive BBC brand and even though the figures were disappointing in comparison to where they were, they were still pretty good. I think they will be fine in time,” he noted.
As for the future of that “other” car show on Amazon, Duncanson was less certain.
“Amazon is a retail business and The Grand Tour is a marketing exercise – a very big, noisy, expensive exercise, but a marketing exercise nonetheless,” he said.
Until the dust settles, Duncanson sees opportunity.
“The good news is, Top Gear and The Grand Tour have made that space really noisy in a positive way, not always for them, but certainly for me and others who make that kind of content,” he said.
“It will make people sit up and go, ‘Cars, we should do something with cars.’”