The BBC on Wednesday sacked its most high-profile TV presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, over an argument about a steak meal in a hotel in northern England, during which Clarkson abused a producer for 20 minutes and hit him, leaving the producer to go to hospital with a busted lip.
The future of Top Gear, the most watched auto program worth millions to the BBC in spin-off global TV and live event sales, is now in doubt.
Top Gear is the BBC’s biggest global brand with syndicated sales of the TV show, as well as format sales, DVDs, books, live events and other merchandise worth more than $74 million a year.
Clarkson had finished a day’s shooting of the series and arrived at the Simonstone Hall Hotel in the north of England, where he was told by his producer that a hot meal was not available. Witnesses said Clarkson subjected his producer to nearly 20 minutes of verbal abuse during which the presenter threw a punch.
Clarkson was sacked following what the internal report by the BBC found was an attack in a north England hotel during which producer "Oisin Tym … was subject to an unprovoked physical and verbal attack by Jeremy Clarkson. During the physical attack Oisin Tymon was struck, resulting in swelling and bleeding to his lip. The verbal abuse was sustained over a longer period, both at the time of the physical attack and subsequently".
If #JeremyClarkson producer had been a woman would there have been more sympathy? Support for JC from high profile figures is astonishing.— yvonneridley (@yvonneridley) March 25, 2015
According to the report, the physical attack lasted around 30 seconds and was broken up by a witness. Tymon offered no retaliation.
Clarkson is the most high-profile presenter on the BBC and works with co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May.
Gutted at such a sad end to an era. We're all three of us idiots in our different ways but it's been an incredible ride together.— Richard Hammond (@RichardHammond) March 25, 2015
The BBC was under pressure to retain Clarkson by hordes of fans globally, who signed a petition in support of Clarkson which garnered more than a million signatories.
However, the state-owned broadcaster – paid for by British taxpayers – is set to lose not only Clarkson and his followers, but also its reputation.
Clarkson Driving on the Right?
However, rumours among the media suggest he may be snapped up by a US TV company, willing to forego worries about his punch-up in favour of profits. Star Trek Star William Shatner tweeted: "Clarkson will be fine. Sponsors would be silly not to pick him up and establish a competitor show and the viewers will probably follow him".
The BBC is already facing legal action from foreign broadcasters over the cancellation of the last three episodes of the current season, as well as the postponement of several Top Gear Live shows in Norway.
The BBC may have had to put its foot down over its policy of protecting staff from physical and verbal abuse, but its worth as a global brand is now at stake as it loses its most popular TV face amid public backlash over his sacking.