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Andy Willman Tells Us Exactly How The Grand Tour Came To Be With One Phone Call

One call. Sometimes that’s all it takes. One call to anyone can ruin a day or cheer them up; break up a relationship or kindle a new one; break a business deal or start something huge. This is the story of the last one.

Andy Wilman, the mastermind other than Clarkson, Hammond, or May, that helped form and shape what we knew as Top Gear for so many years just penned a piece for the Sunday Times in the UK. He details exactly how The Grand Tour came to be. It was a tough time where they had no direction, no where to go, and had to live up to the insanely huge expectations that Top Gear had come to be known for.

As with many great things in life, it all started with one simple call.

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In the end we were saved from our own incompetence by people ringing us, and then the way forward came into focus, a no-brainer, really: we had to go New World, the Amazon or Netflix route. Out in these TV frontier towns we would be left alone to do our thing: we wouldn’t be working for a channel trying to impose its own identity on our show. There’d be no having to make “an ITV-type show” or “a Discovery-type show”. The Amazons and the Netflixes offered a blank canvas — they just want to put out great stuff.

So what happened? Was this something where Amazon just phoned up Wilman and said, “Get to work”? Not exactly.

Although we could now see the runway lights, we still had to land the plane. We needed to do a deal, and when it comes to business, not one of us would get past the first round on The Apprentice. Luckily we had had calls from prospective agents in America, and in the end we plumped for Lance at WME.

Lance didn’t get the gig on account of his social skills. Small talk for him is something that takes up valuable time when he could be doing a deal, so on the phone it’s limited to “Hi” — to make sure you’re there — and then he’s plunging into the order of business. However, even with Lance’s fat-free conversation skills the deal would take months; it would involve many transatlantic phone calls, which presented Jeremy, James, Richard and me with our next hurdle — the conference call. Strange though it may seem for such globetrotters, none of us had performed a conference call, but now that we had to do so, we always gave it 110%. We would all, for instance, make sure anyone in America could hear us by shouting really loudly at the plastic spidery phone thing in the middle of the table. We also learnt quickly to make sure everyone had left the call before saying, “What a tit,” and other friendly observations.

With the experts driving everything along, a contract was signed. By now it was August 2015, and clause 8a, subsection b, stated that we had to start delivering a run of 12 programmes by October 1, 2016. Bear in mind it used to take us a year to make 12 Top Gear episodes when we were in the groove, and this time we had no show, no name and nobody to make the show with no name. We didn’t even have an office. The office problem was temporarily solved by the kindly Eric Fellner, devout petrolhead and co-chairman of Working Title, who lent us a room with two phones and two desks. And so, cosying up next to the team making the new Bridget Jones, we began our resurrection.

The story goes on and I’ll let you read the rest of it here if you’re interested, but what this means is that even with all their fame, fortune, and star power, The Grand Tour came from nothing, much like their iteration of Top Gear did. It was something they put their heart and soul into and it’s exactly why this foursome has succeeded so well.

It’s this hard work, this drive, this passion to do it all again even when they really didn’t have to, that makes us all excited for the premiere.

(Source: Sunday Times)


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