He may be a renowned gearhead, but Jay Leno is putting the brakes on the idea of him hosting a U.S. version of the BBC's popular car-centric series, Top Gear.
In an op-ed piece that ran in the driving section of Britain's Sunday Times, the Tonight Show host acknowledged turning down an offer from his bosses at NBC to front an American edition of Gear out of respect for the original show and its opinionated motormouth host, Jeremy Clarkson.
"In my mind I can just see Jeremy lambasting Americans for what they did to his show. So I think: I've got to run away from this as quickly as I can," wrote Leno.
"So I tell him that, as much as I like the show, I try not to make my hobby my job. I like the show just the way it is. Jeremy and the guys are extremely talented, so maybe it would be an idea to do an American show similar to Top Gear but not with the same name, because I think it would be impossible to recreate or live up to the standards of the British show."
Since transitioning in 2002 from a magazine-oriented half-hour program to an hourlong format incorporating car reviews, epic races, antique and novelty cars, crash footage and bizarro challenges, the British Top Gear has garnered a massive following worldwide among car enthusiasts.
More than 350 million viewers have regularly tuned in to hear Clarkson go off on the latest and greatest vehicles, and the show has become spawned a number of copycats in other countries.
Top Gear snagged an international Emmy in 2005 in the category of Non-Scripted Entertainment, as well as three consecutive Best Feature nominations at the British Academy Television Awards.
Leno, who regularly posts free videos on his website, JayLenosGarage.com, about his auto fixation du jour, labeled himself a "pale imitation" of Clarkson.
While he notes that NBC successfully adapted The Office for American audiences, Leno didn't think Top Gear could translate as easily and ruled out any involvement.
"Cars are my hobby. Television is my job," he added. "When you make your hobby your job it becomes a whole different thing. For me, my great release from any sort of pressure is to go to my garage."
Of course, Leno's not exactly enamoured with his network bosses these days. The longtime Tonight emcee has reportedly been having second thoughts about his Peacock-forced retirement from late night.
NBC announced two years ago that Leno had agreed to step down in 2009 and allow Conan O'Brien to take over the Tonight Show desk Leno has occupied since taking over for Johnny Carson in 1992
Last October, three unnamed NBC suits told the Los Angeles Times that Leno was balking, and one executive, Mark Graboff, was quoted as saying the Peacock wants to hand off Tonight to O'Brien, but also hoped to stay in business with Leno "beyond late night."
Apparently hoping to soothe any hurt feelings, NBC made the Top Gear offer, which Leno nixed.
And NBC might want to take note of the timing of Leno's op-ed—it came just days after O'Brien appeared as a Tonight guest. Maybe Leno's already making plans for a non-NBC tomorrow.