Chris Evans toning down his role on Top Gear
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Chris Evans is to take a less prominent role at the helm of Top Gear after viewing figures in Britain for the newly revamped motoring show slumped to a new low.
The third episode of Top Gear, the first to feature motoring journalists Rory Reid and Chris Harris, received positive reviews, but was watched by a live audience of just 2.37 million viewers, down nearly half a million on the last week.
The programme, which recorded the second-lowest audience figures since Jeremy Clarkson revived the motoring show in 2002, received praise for the performances of Reid and Harris, who host online spin-off show Extra Gear.
Reid, who won his slot on the show via a public audition, was shown testing the new Ford Focus RS, while Harris, who has a cult following on YouTube, featured in a film involving Ferrari's F12 TDF.
While Evans and Matt LeBlanc will continue to anchor the studio recording, it is understood pre-recorded material featuring both of the lesser-known presenters (above) will be more prominent in the rest of the series.
The new incarnation of Top Gearhas experienced a rough ride under Evans' stewardship, despite its opening episode recording a solid audience of 6.4 million viewers, including catch-up viewing.
Audience appreciation figures leaked to The Telegraph showed Evans' debut episode was rated by viewers as the worst quality show on terrestrial television on the weekend that it aired, with an appreciation index (AI) score of just 60 out of 100, compared to an average of around 82 for a BBC Two programme.
The second episode is understood to have received a similarly low AI score, of 68, and recorded a live audience of 2.8 million, which yesterday had improved to 4.1 million, including catch-up viewing.
Most impartial observers agree that the programme has improved over the opening weeks, with Evans limiting his hyperactive enthusiasm.
The audience for Sunday's third episode will rise from 2.37 million once catch-up viewing is taken into account, but Top Gear recorded lower overnight figures on only one occasion during the Clarkson era. A June 2003 episode was watched live by 2.36 million viewers, just 9000 fewer than this week's show.
Sunday night's episode suffered from going out at the same time as Germany's opening game in Euro 2016, which aired on BBC One.
Figures from overnights.tv, the ratings agency, showed the motoring programme lost 175,000 viewers between the ages of 25 and 34, compared to the previous week.
ITV also aired Coronation Street in an overlapping slot, which led to Top Gear losing more than a quarter of a million viewers over 55.
BBC executives are resigned to the fact that the audience is unlikely to improve over the three remaining episodes in the series.
The programme will go up against Euro 2016 football each week, which eats intoTop Gear's young male audience.
If England finish third in their group and win their second round game, they could play in the quarter-finals at the same time as the season's final episode.
• Top Gear screens on Sundays at 7.30pm on Prime.