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Jay Leno turns down NBC's 'Top Gear' offer, fears network will 'ruin' it


By Christopher Rocchio, 04/02/2008 

Jay Leno said he's a "huge fan" of Britain's Top Gear reality series, however The Tonight Show with Jay Leno host apparently had several reservations when he was recently approached to helm NBC's upcoming American adaptation.

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"I do my show full time, and these programs take a great amount of time to make, so right away I had my concerns about fitting it in," wrote Leno in an op-ed piece he penned in Britain's Sunday Times.  "The general rule of television is that it takes an hour for every minute that you see on screen. My other fear is that the show will not be made by car people."

That fear is exactly what happened, according to Leno, who said he had hoped the show's stateside version would include British host Jeremy Clarkson but learned that wouldn't be the case when he "got a call one day" asking if he'd be "interested in being a part" the NBC version.

"So someone calls me from the network and is clearly not a car person," wrote Leno.  "He says: 'You like cars, right?' I say yes. 'Like, all kinds of cars?' Well, yes. I like all kinds of cars. Why? 'Well, the network has bought the TV show... um... High Gear? Top Gear? Top Gear! Top Gear, yes. We know you like to build cars.'"

When Leno learned one week he'd be building "a car that flies and the next week you make a car that goes under water" -- he responded by saying that wouldn't be possible in a week's time with his busy schedule.

"In my mind I can just see Jeremy lambasting Americans for what they did to his show. So I think: I've got to run away from this as quickly as I can. So I tell him that, as much as I like the show, I try not to make my hobby my job," explained Leno.

"I like the show just the way it is. Jeremy and the guys are extremely talented, so maybe it would be an idea to do an American show similar to Top Gear but not with the same name, because I think it would be impossible to recreate or live up to the standards of the British show."

In addition, Leno said he also had concerns that NBC's Top Gear corporate sponsorships wouldn't allow him to poke fun at automobiles the same way the British version does.

"I don't think you could be quite as freewheeling with your opinions as you can on the BBC, because sponsors pay for the programs.  Sponsors would be unlikely to embrace any criticism," he wrote. 

"Americans don't really see personalities like Jeremy on commercial television. They know that they have to be somewhat watered down. When Jeremy rips into some sponsor such as Ford or Chrysler, well, that's the last time they sponsor that show. Then what you have is 'the meeting' after the show, where they tell him to tone it down. That's just not what they do at Top Gear."

While Leno admitted some British shows -- such as NBC's The Office -- "translate quite well" in the States, he doesn't think Top Gear fits the same mold.

"With Top Gear I have such respect for the original show, I feel if they asked me to do it I would be a pale imitation of Jeremy," he wrote.  "It would have to be something completely different, coming from a different angle. But when you see something that's sort of perfect as it is, it's difficult. Are you outright stealing, trying to imitate? What are you doing? I would prefer to do a different show rather than try to copy something that works so well already."

Leno reiterated he enjoys his hobby too much to turn it into his job.

"Cars are my hobby. Television is my job. When you make your hobby your job it becomes a whole different thing," he wrote.  "For me, my great release from any sort of pressure is to go to my garage."

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