Will The Travel Channel's New Car Adventure Show Succeed?

My buddy Jason Harper is starring in a new, one-hour TV show. The show's called Fast Lane. It's about cars and car culture around the world, and it's debuting this week on the Travel Channel. I want you to watch it. Not just for him, but for all of us.

There's a good reason why you'd want him to succeed — even if you don't know Jason from an argonaut. If Fast Lane works, more car-themed TV shows will follow. Nothing propagates across the media landscape like a winning formula. A hit might even convince producers to step outside the the current ARRGH-WHAT-IF-THIS-RUSTY-HOT-ROD-ISN'T-READY-FOR-THE-AUCTION!? formula. Of course, for any of that to happen, Fast Lane has to not suck.

Jason's a longtime magazine travel writer who works the cars beat for Bloomberg. He can drive and he's a fun dude. You'd like him. I could endorse him all day long, but is that enough for TV? Probably not. Either way, we'll find out very soon whether or not Fast Lane delivers.

Fast Lane: Italy, premieres Friday, April 12 (tomorrow), at 1:00 PM EST on the Travel Channel. Yes, that's how the networks launch an unknown. They give him a crap-ass time slot and see how many viewers he can carry along from the previous show.

Structurally, Fast Lane is the latest take on a TV concept some insider-y types have, for a few years, been calling "Anthony Bourdain for Cars." That's a concept you'd think would be a no-brainer for TV — entertaining guy travels the world having awesome car experiences. But so far, no one other than three fellas from the UK have been able to make anything like that work. Not to mention, the most agonizing part about doing a TV show about cars — or about anything for that matter — is attracting the broadest audience while keeping the nerdiest types from murdering you online.

No pressure, Jason.

I haven't seen the show yet, but I'm nervous and excited and terrified for him. After all, he's got a job tens, maybe hundreds, of automotive journalists have auditioned for since the second Bush administration. It's why Top Gear USA took so long to cast. Producers couldn't seem to find any actual journos who could do TV.

The thing about these kinds of reality-doc TV shows is, you never know who's got "it" and who doesn't have "it." Who can connect with an audience and who — for some mystic, x-factor reason —- just can't. How many cat behaviorists do you think auditioned for My Cat From Hell before the producers landed on that bald, rockabilly feline whisperer Jackson Galaxie? Ok, bad example.

To get an idea of what'll be in Fast Lane's purview, what it's like to produce a TV show if you've never done one before, and why Jason might be the right guy for the job, I threw a few questions at him. Here's what happened.

MS: What's Fast Lane about?

JH: It's about car culture around the world. The show obsesses over cars and their origins in the same way that other people obsess over food.

How’s it different than what’s already out there?

It’s about the people and not just cars. There are so many great car cultures in the world, from truckers in southern India to New York taxi drivers. Say you want to hang out at Bonneville, downing armadillo barbecue and banana daiquiris with the madmen who create extreme roadsters out of scrap medal — then borrow one the next morning and break 200 mph? That’s the point of Fast Lane.

What are the chances for a car show on TV these days? Slim or none?

Dude, I spent a year on it, so I’m hopeful. But my take on the overall landscape is that the TV powers-that-be aren’t convinced that the general public wants to see cars. Everything gets compared to Top Gear — in which case you’re damned if you do, double damned if you don’t.

This thing has a travel and culture angle to it, so it isn’t straight-up car porn. But come on, there are 20 shows about making cakes. Cake wars, wedding cake wars, cake wrestling wars… I’m not sure how the cake lobby does it, but they’re doing a hell of a job.

What's the best part about shooting a TV show about cars?

Driving old stuff nobody would normally give you. I almost got arrested — twice — in Rome, doing doughnuts in a historical piazza behind the wheel of a vintage Fiat 500. I actually thought about making a run for it, then realized the Fiat has about 20 hp. The ultimate was driving a genuine Group B Lancia 037 in a vintage road rally. It’s a fearsome, terrible machine. Designed to kill you. Fucking fantastic. Once in a lifetime.

Lancia 037? Asshole! What's the worst part about shooting a TV show about cars?

You show up at the location — which was Italy for the premiere — and there’s a crew of 15 TV professionals eyeing you. They’re thinking, ‘Who the hell is this guy, anyhow?’ And you’re thinking, ‘Who the hell am I, anyhow?’ I did a lot of sweating in the first segments we shot.

Not to be a dick, but what makes you qualified to host a show like Fast Lane?

Well, Spin, as you well know, I’m an unrepentant track whore. And you also know I’m a natural-born instigator. Remember the time I convinced all of the writers on a Lamborghini trip to stay out all night in Sevilla? At 4 am, we told the bouncer of a nightclub that one of us actually owned Lamborghini, the company, and got free drinks. End of the night, we finished off the beers from the hotel mini-fridges on the way to the airport. The hangover hit right above the Atlantic. It was terrible but somehow thrilling. Hosting a TV show is kind of like that.

Yes, and as I remember, you ended up making your flight, whereas I slept in an airport for 11 hours — and was unable to speak in full sentences for about a week. What's it feel like to have a TV show coming out? Are you nervous?

Well, I’m good at being a jackass in public. This is just on a grander scale. I just need fellow automotive fans to watch, so we can prove that cars matter more than cake.

Ok, important business. What car, any car, has a guaranteed spot in your fantasy garage?

We drive all the new stuff anyhow, so I’m getting interested in vintage metal. I don’t want to be a Porsche groupie, but I just got out of a 1970s, race-prepped 911 and now I’ve got the virus. Would an original 3.0-liter RS really be too much to ask?

Fast Lane: Italy, premieres April 12, at 1:00 PM EST on the Travel Channel. So, if you happen to be one of those people who aren't home during the day, set your DVR to record Fast Lane and watch it later. I think that works too.

Good luck, Jason. We're all counting on you.