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How Netflix and Amazon took different approaches to rebooting classic shows

How Netflix and Amazon took different approaches to rebooting classic shows


Cast chemistry matters

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Discovery Channel

In the last couple of months, both Amazon and Netflix seemed to find a winning, easy approach for creating their own content: find a beloved, nerdy reality show, sign the original cast, and retool it under a new name. The two new shows, The Grand Tour and The White Rabbit Project, brought on the casts of Top Gear and Mythbusters to reboot the concepts that made them great in the first place.

The White Rabbit Project, now streaming on Netflix, and The Grand Tour, which releases new episodes Fridays on Amazon, are a pair of interesting experiments. Both companies arguably just picked up incredibly popular shows that had come to an end, and rebranded them to recapture their audiences. More optimistically, you could say both companies recognized the appeal the stars brought to their shows, and decided to breathe new life into the existing concepts. Both takes are probably true.

Following Jeremy Clarkson’s dismissal from Top Gear in 2015, he and his companions, Richard Hammond and James May, signed with Amazon for three years of The Grand Tour. Meanwhile, Discovery’s Mythbusters ended its run earlier this year (after unceremoniously booting Tory Belleci, Kari Byron, and Grant Imahara, the build team and secondary hosts, in 2015), only to have the concept rebooted as a reality show, for Mythbusters: The Search. So earlier this summer, Netflix signed the original build team for their own show, The White Rabbit Project.

What’s interesting about these two shows is how the companies have taken a pair of admired casts in two different directions. Top Gear fans will find a lot to recognize in The Grand Tour: slick travel videos of Clarkson, Hammond, and May messing around as they test out a variety of cars, race around tracks, and generally make fun of one another. Hammond recently told The Verge, “There was a lot of love for what we did in the past, so why would we get rid of that?”

Hammond added that the similarities went beyond the show’s structure. Much of the crew followed the trio over to Amazon: “the actual camera operators and sound, all of them, we’ve worked with them for 15 years. They’re the best in the world.” The continuity in film style and production helped the cast keep its look and appeal intact.

The White Rabbit Project, on the other hand, strays away from the idea of testing out the myths that defined the original show. Instead, Imahara, Belleci, and Byron rank and compare six items on a range of topics, such as jailbreaks, World War II weapons, and heists. While several episodes feature big builds or experiments, The White Rabbit Project has a structure that’s significantly different from Mythbusters.

But both shows are so watchable because the stars’ chemistry has been carried over from their original series. Clarkson, Hammond, and May still bicker, while Imahara, Belleci, and Byron look like they’re having a blast with one another. I couldn’t stop laughing during an episode where as Kari controls Tory with her mind at dinner:

It’s a hilarious scene not because Kari makes Tory make a mess of himself. (Though that is really funny.) It’s their reactions and movements throughout the meal that really sell the scene.

The Grand Tour has plenty of scenes like this, too. A notable one is when Hammond gets stranded in a crowd of admirers because he annoyed his costars while shadowing them on a road tour of Italy. It’s a scene that feeds on the mutual competitiveness of each member, with hilarious results.

Ultimately, the assured, familiar chemistry between hosts is what makes both shows work. While they’re guided by two different approaches — The Grand Tour simply carrying over the best parts of the original Top Gear, and The White Rabbit Project taking on Mythbusters’ mad science, but with a different format — they share one thing in common. The showrunners of each production understand that the central appeal for viewers is the relationships between the actors. This seems to be why Top Gear has had trouble with its American counterpart, and why the new cast for the BBC 2 show has had trouble connecting to audiences. It’s also why there has been some trepidation toward Mythbusters 2.0, because the cast is such an unknown quantity.

Like any reality television show, these shows live and die by the audience’s personal connection with the casts, and Amazon and Netflix have both nailed that angle by letting familiar faces bolster unfamiliar formats. For that reason, both The Grand Tour and The White Rabbit Project are engaging and entertaining, not only for fans of the shows that so clearly inspired them, but for a new generation of fans who will be discovering them for the first time.

Sean O’Kane contributed to this story.