Is Jeremy Clarkson finished at the BBC? The divisive presenter has caused upset with offensive comments and for poking fun at the partially-sighted then prime minister Gordon Brown, but his latest escapade seems to be the most serious yet.
The BBC has suspended him and reportedly pulled the last three episodes of the current series after a 'fracas' with a producer, apparently over catering arrangements. With everything that's going on in the world, his suspension seems a bit trivial for BBC News to be running as its second-top story. But there would be major implications if he left.
Top Gear's been a huge cash cow, both for Clarkson and Auntie Beeb. Its massive popularity overseas generates a reported £150m in revenues each year for the broadcaster's commercial arm BBC Worldwide. The presenter earns a reported salary of around £1m and also netted £8.4m for his stake in Bedder 6, a joint venture with the broadcaster that exploited the Top Gear brand around the world.
But Clarkson's brash persona and outspoken right-wing views have never sat well with the BBC, which generally tries to shy away from controversy and come across as a paragon of objectivity. If this latest incident is as serious as has been reported it could be just the excuse the Beeb needs to be shot of him. Or, of course, he might finally have grown tired of the pressure and decide to leave of his own accord.
Public demand for Clarkson shows no sign of waning though. Less than 24 hours after his suspension, a petition calling for him to be reinstated has attracted more than 300,000 signatures. It's not hard to imagine another broadcaster would be interested in scooping him up, presumably come along with his sidekicks Richard Hammond and James May.
Sky has been trying to big up the value of its non-sport programming for a while now, and netting Clarkson could be just the boost it needs. Big-ticket imported dramas like Game of Thrones and Mad Men have piqued interest, and Sky recently splashed out a reported £25m on producing Fortitude, which would make it its most expensive drama ever.
Of course part of Sky's problem is that it's perceived as a bit blokey, and a Jeremy Clarkson-fronted motoring show wouldn't exactly address this. But nonetheless it could become must-see TV for a decent slice of that part of the population which has yet to splash out on an expensive Sky package. Clarkson could be tempted, given that Sky would most likely be able to pay him more than the Beeb.
After the BBC killed the original version of Top Gear, presenters Vicky Butler-Henderson, Tiff Needell and Quentin Wilson, along with much of the production team, jumped ship to Channel Five to start Fifth Gear. This of course went on to be much less successful than the revamped Top Gear.
But MT wonders if Sky's cash partnered with Clarkson's personality (and another trademark-tickling name) could be a winner. Sixth Gear, anyone?