Believe it or not, most of what you watch on television is scripted.
What you may not know is that some shows which appear unscripted, like the BBC’s infamous Top Gear, are also scripted word for word. Everything from the banter between its three middle-aged hosts to its madcap challenges and car reviews has been meticulously planned, before any filming takes place.
Two years ago, Tesla Motors found out what that really meant when its duo of 2008 Tesla Roadsters were doomed to a biased and unrealistic depiction on screen before the film crew even unpacked their equipment or TopGear presenter Jeremy Clarkson had stepped on set.
In documents released as part of Tesla Motor’s libel claim filed against the publicly owned British Broadcasting Corporation earlier this week, the Californian automaker detailed the negative script delivered by Clarkson while reviewing its Roadster, alleging that the infamous scene showing four members of the TopGear crew pushing a supposedly drained Roadster into a hangar was completely staged.
The court documents, filed in the U.K. detail how Tesla’s former U.K. Director of Sales and Marketing expressed concern to the producers of the show after seeing a script on the day of the shoot before filming had even begun.
Tesla versus Top Gear
Describing everything from the car being filmed ‘running out of charge’ to the host’s conclusions of “It’s just a shame that in the real world, it absolutely doesn’t work.”, the Tesla employee reportedly confronted the show’s researcher who agreed that filming the $109,000 sportscar being pushed into a hangar having run out of charge was not acceptable, noting “We don’t want to be sued”.
Without Tesla's knowledge the shoot went on regardless with the script being stuck to rigorously. It wasn’t apparent until after the initial airing of the show in December 2008 just how many misleading accusations had been made by the motoring entertainment show about the car's performance and reliability.
In addition, the show is alleged to have made false claims about both cars loaned to them for the shoot, including the implication that both cars were rendered unusable after spirited driving. These claims are refuted in the court documents, detailing testimony from a Tesla engineer present on set on the day of filming.
Since the initial screening of the episode on U.K. television, the episode in question has been screened worldwide, placed on Internet video sharing sites such as YouTube and even sold in TopGear DVD Box Sets.
It is this continued disregard for Tesla and its cars which has caused the automaker to sue, 2 years after the initial show aired.
Ben Collins (The Stig) With Tesla
If successful, Tesla will win a court injunction preventing the BBC from airing the show in future on its own or syndicated networks as well as preventing the broadcaster from ever repeating such allegations.
Tesla should note however, that scripted or not the multinational, multimillion-dollar Top Gear franchise has repeatedly been accused of homophobic, nationalistic, xenophobic stereotyping. It has dodged many of those accusations in the past by claiming it is nothing more than an entertainment show.
Will such a claim work this time? We hope for Tesla’s sake that it won’t. After all, since Top Gear's former Stig Ben Collins came out of the electric car closet as a fan of the electric sportscar we think Tesla may just stand a chance of winning.