News, first brought to us by the Mirror, that Jeremy Clarkson’s BBC contract bans him from making a motoring show on ITV for 2 years was quickly repeated by dozens of outlets and inevitably re-ignited speculation about the former Top Gear host’s future.
The consensus, seemingly based on nothing other than the initial Mirror report, is now once again that Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May will end up doing a deal with Netflix.
That may well be how things pan out – a Netflix deal makes a lot of sense as it guarantees them a global audience without having to sell the show to lots of different broadcasters.
But there’s something most reports ignore – there’s only a ban on Clarkson working for ITV if the BBC successfully convinces a court that he shouldn’t be allowed to go ply his trade for a rival.
Unless and until a court upholds the validity of any contract, Clarkson is free to go make shows for whichever broadcaster he wants.
The BBC might well believe it’s entitled to try enforcing any undertakings he’s given but doing so risks it looking petty, wasteful and vindictive if a court ultimately throws out the case.
Worse, a legal defeat would give the new ITV programme a massive PR boost which the broadcaster is almost certain to exploit with a ‘the show the BBC tried to ban’ ad campaign.
Even if the BBC successfully convinced a court to halt a new series, being seen to keep the trio off TV screens would simply further antagonise a vocal section of Top Gear’s fan base who already threaten to boycott Chris Evans’ reboot.
Whatever contracts have or have not been agreed in the past, a sizeable number of Licence Fee payers want to see Clarkson, Hammond and May back on TV in a show which looks an awful lot like Top Gear.
The BBC doesn’t want to employ at least one of them for pretty sound reasons. But trying to stop a rival from doing so isn’t the way forward.
If his contract does indeed contain an anti-compete clause the sensible approach would be for the BBC either to waive it or invite Clarkson or ITV to buy him out of it and finally allow the whole Clarkson/Top Gear soap opera to move into more positive territory.