US version of 'Top Gear' planned

LOS ANGELES - The popular BBC car show Top Gear is revving up a US edition.

NBC has ordered a pilot for Gear, which will be announced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (January 19-27). Casting is under way for hosts. As with the BBC version, it will offer a mix of cars, humor and celebrities.

The pilot will be filmed at a secret location around Los Angeles equipped with a race track and hangar where the show will be filmed in front of a audience.

NBC reality chief Craig Plestis said the network already is getting numerous inquiries from car companies that had heard rumblings about a US remake.

"This is a favorite of all automobile companies as it shows their cars in such a great light," he said.

Top Gear, which airs on BBC 2, originally launched in 1977 but has gained wider popularity since its relaunch in 2002.

Among Gear's popular segments that will be replicated in the US are races where the hosts have to reach a destination using different modes of transportation, road tests, challenges like converting and refurbishing existing cars into anything from a stretch limo to an amphibian and celebrities racing a midsize car.

(American Idol's Simon Cowell holds the record for fastest lap time with a Chevrolet Lacetti.)

The UK show is hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May and also features the Stig, a masked test driver. The US version also will feature a quartet of presenters, including a secret test driver.

The BBC originally mulled doing an American version with the original British hosts, but the idea fell through in the summer, mostly over Clarkson's unwillingness to spend extended periods of time away from his family as well as the show's growing ratings success in Britain.

In September 2006, Hammond was seriously injured while taping a test run with a jet-propelled drag-racing car. The episode featuring footage of the crash opened the show's highest-rated season to date, with the season finale drawing BBC 2's biggest ratings in a decade.

Australian multicultural broadcaster SBS recently bought the rights to produce a local version of Top Gear.

In addition to the show, the British "Gear" franchise includes a popular companion car-themed website as well as Top Gear magazine.

- REUTERS

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