How Roadkill Happened, and Why It’s Must-See TV
“I’m Freiburger. It’s Finnegan. This is the show where we play with cars and you point and laugh.” And with that, David Freiburger launched Roadkill. Eight years and over 100 episodes later, Roadkill always going strong. In fact, it is one of the most successful and watched automobile TV and video series of all time, arguably right behind the BBC, widely funded and costly produced Top Gear. And we did it ourselves.
I know. I was there.
When Google threw money at us in 2011 to help make YouTube more than just a platform for shaky, user-generated lo-fi videos about laughing babies and dancing cats, I decided MotorTrend The channel would be like a real automotive TV channel, something I had dreamed of doing for decades.
Related: Sign up for the MotorTrend app today for $ 2 to stream over 100 episodes of Roadkill, Roadkill Garage, Roadkill’s Junkyard Gold, Engine Masters and Faster With Finnegan. Plus, enjoy over 8,000 episodes from more successful car shows!
There would be TV-style TV shows covering everything from new vehicles to hot rods to all-wheel drive and motorcycles. Certain programs would be weekly, others monthly, but to keep the channel relevant and interesting, a new program would be downloaded every day, five days a week.
I came up with a full list of programs, describing the formats of the shows, who should be the personalities on the screen (not pretty TV talkers reading scripts, but staff members who actually knew what they were were talking about), and what the shows would be called. Ignition. Head 2 Head. Garage Hot Rod. Dirt every day. On two wheels. Demotion. Wide open accelerator. Epic readers. And of course… Roadkill.
How Roadkill got its name
Google David Freiburger today and you get the descriptor “TV personality”. But in 2011, he was editor of Hot rod magazine, whose title was founded by Robert E. Petersen in 1948 and whose success will lead to the launch of Petersen MotorTrend magazine the following year.
In regards to Hot rod– branded or themed shows for the new channel, I naturally asked David, a man who has forgotten hot rods, drag racing and classic American iron more than the rest of us will know never, any ideas. A build show of some type – a video version of the “tutorial” features that were an integral part of Hot rod the magazine for decades – seemed obvious. But I wanted a show that took the automotive counterculture out of the store and put it on the road.
I was intrigued by the videos David had made for a short media adventure a few years ago. It featured grungy vehicles and dust bags and was powered by a real sense of fun.
“Maybe you are doing something like this,” I said to David as I leaned in the doorway of his office one evening. He was intrigued, interested. I could see the creative wheels start to spin. I peeked into his office and saw a copy of the brand new special edition Hot rod magazine on rat stalks, fresh out of the printer. The title? Roadkill. “And that’s what we should call it,” I said, pointing to the cover.
David said the show would not be about rat rods. “It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Roadkill is a brilliant name. We can make it mean what we want it to mean. And the logo is perfect as is. “
If you haven’t watched Roadkill yet, here’s why you should
It’s funny. It is true. These are men who misbehave with cars. And in chaos, you will almost always learn something. Take episode 108, where Freiburger gives you a chapter and a verse on the Dodge D100 pickup, and how all the D100s are not the same. It made me think that the right D100 could make a classic truck cooler than a Ford or a Chevy from the same era.
Of course, some of the scenarios are far-fetched. But who wouldn’t want to see a Prius run over by a tank (episode 17), cars catapulted from a 300-foot cliff in Alaska (episode 83) or a 2013 Dodge Dart fell 1320 feet from a helicopter on a card drawn on a dry lake bed to celebrate the 100th episode? The latter was a wonderfully exaggerated tribute to the opening scene of the first episode of Roadkill in which a blindfolded Finnegan launched a dart at a map of the United States to see where to buy a car and take it back to LA without spend more than $ 1,500.
The Dart did the vertical quarter mile in 10.4 seconds, by the way.
When the boys try to run an old junker around with little more than tape and ties, they really do. When things go wrong, they go wrong. Find out when they tried to drive a Ranchero in Alaska (episode 2) or off-road a Chevrolet Lowrider Chevy (episode 39).
Frankenstein’s creations like the Vette Kart (episode 35), the rat-rod Jeep (episode 15) and Nascarlo (episode 46) are all their own work. I remember this time when they tried to supercharge a Chevy Monza Spider (episode 16) with five-leaf blowers.
You hear a lot about unscripted drama and reality TV these days. But when MotorTrend entered into a joint venture with Discovery Communications, the experienced TV executives who came and kicked the tires on our local shows were amazed to learn Roadkill is essentially an automotive improvisation. Even in the UK Top Gear, for all the fun and jokes, relied on heavily scripted sets since the days of Clarkson, May and Hammond. Roadkill, these are guys who talk about car stuff, live, as it happens.
And that’s what makes me Roadkill Must see TV.
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