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These are the cheeky BBC stars Apple tried to hire

Top Gear: under review by the BBCTop Gear: under review by the BBC
Top Gear's Hammond, Clarkson and DawesPhotograph by Justin Leighton/BBC

I can think of good reasons for Apple NOT to create its own Hollywood-style development and production studio, but Top Gear is not one of them.

In case you haven’t heard, Variety reported Monday that Apple was either flirting with or dead serious about creating its own in-house development and production studio to compete with Netflix, Hulu, HBO and the rest.

The juiciest nugget in Variety’s scoop—indeed, the only hard fact—is that Apple (AAPL) got into a bidding war with Amazon (AMZN) for the services of Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond. They were, until Clarkson punched his producer in the face, the cheeky stars of Top Gear and the main reason their car show became, according to the BBC, the most widely watched fact-based TV program in the world.


Bigger, Clarkson apparently thought before he got canned, than the BBC itself.

If you’re not familiar with Top Gear (I wasn’t before today), the attached YouTube is a good primer. It’s a fair bet that among its fans was Jony Ive, a Brit whose fascination with cars and car design is well documented.

Amazon won the Top Gear bidding war in July, committing a reported $246 million for 36 episodes and making Clarkson Britain’s best-paid TV star.

Which leaves us with a conundrum: What was Apple thinking?

Was it looking for a hit show—an Apple TV exclusive—to anchor its rumored streaming TV service (the so-called “skinny bundle“)? Was it a negotiating ploy, a strategem to bring reluctant content providers back to the table by raising the specter of a competing studio with a war chest of $200 billion? Or is Apple really serious about becoming the next HBO?

I’m not the only one who thinks that’s a bad idea.

“What if Apple produces a string of mediocre shows?” asks Above Avalon’s Neil Cybart, who worries about Apple damaging its valuable brand.

Stratechery’s Ben Thompson goes even deeper:

“Just because they have a lot of money does not mean we should expect them to be magically better at every business they try to enter. Indeed, if anything, we should expect them to be worse by virtue of the single-minded culture they have around building the best possible hardware products… The content business, by virtue of being subsidized by the hardware it is supposedly differentiating, doesn’t have the incentives to be the best or to attract the best talent.”

Below: Top Gear’s best five moments.

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at or subscribe via his RSS feed.