First episode of new Top Gear misses Chris Evans’ 5 million viewer target

The opening episode of the all-new Top Gear drew 4.4 million viewers, still the most-watched show at 8pm but short of the 5.3 million average of Jeremy Clarkson's last series in charge

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Chris Evans said he would be “disappointed” if the first episode of Top Gear didn’t draw more than five million viewers. Well, the ratings are in – and the BBC2 show managed 4.4 million viewers.

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In contrast, the last time Jeremy Clarkson fronted the BBC programme the show drew a series average of 5.3 million viewers, although the BBC pointed out that Top Gear was still the most-watched show at 8pm last night.

Evans and co-host Matt LeBlanc launched to mixed reviews and a Twitter backlash last night after being tasked with relaunching the most-watched factual programme in the world.

The show was the most-watched programme at 8pm, beating Antiques Roadshow on BBC1 (which drew 3.8 million viewers). ITV’s Soap Awards, also at 8pm, was watched by 3.9 million viewers.

The Top Gear audience rose steadily during the episode, peaking just before the end with 4.7 million.

However, it was also, according to Broadcast magazine’s Jake Kanter, the lowest-rated series opener in at least a decade. 

“If we had to guess about the number of viewers we are going to get on Sunday night, you have got to say you would be disappointed if it was under 5 million,” Evans told The Guardian before the launch of the new series. “Five million-plus would be great, after that it doesn’t matter.”

Former Top Gear presenter James May joked that he was “really looking forward to watching the new Top Gear without knowing what happens in the end”.

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Pointless presenter and producer Richard Osman said last night he belived the BBC’s commercial arm BBC Worldwide would be “over the moon” if the series settled at around 3.5 million viewers, adding, “The Golden Goose appears to be in safe hands.”