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Gentlemen, Start Your TiVos

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TV and cars just don't get along. At least that's what I thought ten years ago, when I was standing on the side of the road, dripping sweat in 100-degree weather outside Pittsburgh, trying to tape a five-second segment on a Chevrolet Lumina for the first of many ill-fated attempts to put Car and Driver magazine on the air.

Everyone thought cable TV and its explosion of channels would be a natural place for car-based TV - but as you can see yourself, surfing the channels and catching today's offerings, good car television is still in its infancy. I'm not talking about expert race coverage of NASCAR - I'm talking about the "hey, let's put on a show!" variety that seems to work its way into the head of every network on cable (or satellite, in our case) and in the halls of the big monthly magazines.

The few notably good shows are multiplying, though. I've talked about Pimp My Ride and Overhaulin' here before (and you concurred - and added BBC's Top Gear to the list as well, with my agreement). They're probably my favorites because they assume the viewer is pretty much a mechanical idiot without dumbing down the story. I couldn't tell you if a brake rotor was going in backward or not, but I can tell you exactly where I want the built-in dashboard hibachi and drop-down 15-inch screen, or why a '63 Corvair Monza Spyder is the perfect car to take down to the frame for restoration (cheap, lots of rust-free California cars available, and unique).

These days I've added one more car show to my TiVo Season Pass - The History Channel's AutoManiac. It has Atlanta's own Bill Goldberg as the host. And until you've been in first class on Delta surrounded by a Smackdown! cast and felt tiny at six feet tall, you don't know how cool that is. And with episodes like "Death Cars" on the docket, who can argue with their content?

Ever since the first automobile rolled off the assembly line, cars have been an exciting part of life. But all too often, they've been associated with death. This episode explores some of the most infamous demises brought about by automobiles. From James Dean, who died in his Porsche Spyder, nicknamed "The Little Bastard", in September 1955, to sex-goddess Jayne Mansfield, killed a decade later in her Buick Electra, to comedian Sam Kinison, who perished when drunken teenagers smashed into his Pontiac Trans Am, we recall stars and the cars they drove on the deadly highways of America. TVPG L

No, it's not Wall Street Week, but it is a step above and beyond those numbing road-test video magazines. But don't take our word for it - ask Mr. Nielsen.
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Comments (4)
  1. Hi Marty,

    Top Gear is indeed a great show, with high production values. The best version, however, is the unadulterated British edition... Discovery Channel's edited and dumbed-down version (for simple-minded Americans who don't know how to convert kilograms into pounds) is really disappointing.

    The problem with AutoManiac is that I often catch some slightly skewed, incorrect or fuzzy statements on the details of the details of cars they feature. (For instance, the Pantera is widely recognized as being a De Tomaso automobile, not a Ford, despite having the FoMoCo 351 V8.)

    At least Bill Goldberg doesn't sound scripted. If I were put in charge of Car and Driver TV, I would fire their current host. Not only is his voice shrill, he sounds like he's reading from the automaker's press release, a la John Davis (Motorweek):
    "If you're looking for excitement at a bargain basement cost, the ______ just might be for you."

    They go on praising the car, until they find a few niggling complaints about the radio dials and then pronounce the car a "one of the benchmarks in its class."

    One last show you should take a look at: Fifth Gear with Tiff Needell. Brilliant driver and good commentary, although the production values are not quite as high as Top Gear.

    Chris Greene

    P.S. If you know of any moto-journalism jobs, I've been a communications guy for ten years with extensive business writing to my credit. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of cars going back to the sixties, and I'm fairly stylish when I have time to edit. (This would not be a good example!)

  2. I agree with the statement by Chris, UK version of Top Gear is the best. I do believe that Fifth Gear is a great fit for TV without the dumbing down for America. It was shown on SPEED, but there wasn't enough to keep it going. I think Fifth Gear would be a better fit on TNT or on Discovery channel. However Chris, you missed on the one reason I think Fifth Gear would work, Vicki Butler-Henderson!!!!

  3. Ugghh..."pimp my ride" as good car TV? You're kidding. Here, take my '84 Caravan and give it a lime green paint job, three LCD panels and a love seat. Sure, its still got a puny I4, but who cares? Its got two waterfalls in the back! Whee!!!

    As for Automaniac, I'm holding off on that one right now. I can't tell if I'm simply jealous of Goldberg or as Andrew noticed above, the technical flaws of the show.

  4. I enjoy Top Gear and Fifth Gear for that they are car enthusiast's shows made my enthusiasts. Other shows such as "Pimp My Ride", Overhauled, and the countless number of Motorcycle Chopper variants are marketing ploys. The technical aspects are limited and the marketing plugs are all over the shows. Though they may be entertaining, these shows provide little more than basic mechanics and a little drama. The usual, get the vehicle, fix it up and reveal process are the plot. Viewers see what happens but get very little in the tech. aspect.

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