He has been developing formats for primetime family viewing for over almost two decades and today Larry Bass of Shinawil productions sits down with Entertainment for Business to give a clear indication that there is plenty more to come.

Bass is a master of the television form having produced such hits as Popstars, Dragons Den, Masterchef Ireland and The Voice of Ireland, though in terms of production values and sheer scale all could be seen as preparation for Dancing With the Stars that has dominated Irish TV schedules in the first quarter of last year and this.

It has become a national institution within a short period of time, was that always a picture in your mind?

I’d never be so bold as to assume absolute knowledge of what the Irish audience will do but wherever that show has aired it has been a significant number one show.  from Denmark to Bulgaria, Australia to New Zealand and twice every year in the US, this show has been a major success.

There is something inherent in that and we were confident we would have a success.

The story of how it came about at the BBC was based on a real twist of fate.  They took a format which had run for years, they added in a mix of celebrities, and the hit movie of that first year was Strictly Ballroom so they adopted the name and the rest is history.

It was a decision taken at the time with little thought that it would be so successful and while it took a couple of seasons to find the winning formula, it was a masterstroke of thinking, luck and whatever other magic you need.

I have been trying to get my hands on the show for 11 years.

Initially, the BBC was very reluctant because of broadcasting here through BBC Northern Ireland.  We kept going back and by virtue of doing a good job with trusted formats, we persuaded them we were the right people to take the show to Ireland.

Was it easy to persuade RTÉ to take a chance?

It took a while then after we had secured the rights in principle.  This has been by far RTÉ’s biggest commission and it was a big call on their part to make this roll of the dice on a show that was thirteen years old and already familiar to an Irish audience.

To be fair, they took the chance and it has delivered.  The beauty of the show is that if you cast it right it captures the heart of the nation.  It has something for everything and works just as well for a six-year-old child and an 86 year old granny.

Families watch the show together and that makes it special.  It’s an event they want to share, a real spectacle and it has brought dance to a whole new level of awareness and respect.

At its best, our dancers’ agility, strength and ability is a match for any athlete.  And their personalities are hugely appealing to the viewing public.

The professionals are all in on this show.  They have a great knack for working with a diverse group of talent among the celebrities.

How much effort went into their casting?

We were very lucky.  Our first thing was to cast the dancers.  They start a month before the celebrities ever step into a studio.

There’s agreeing to take part mentally and then there is the physical commitment.  They are asked to train between 12 and sixteen hours a week which is a big commitment and honestly that’s only a start for the celebrities we have had over these two years.

There are lessons to be learned for team sports as well.  The discipline and camaraderie, as well as the levels of fitness it delivers are incredible.

The highs that people get from participating have to be seen to be believed.  That’s what we need to do in order to bring the half a million viewers ‘into the studio every Sunday.

Everybody who plays a part from lighting and costumes to the technical side of the broadcast plays their part but it is the casting that is critical and I think we’ve got that right in the first two years.

Do you keep looking towards next year as soon as this year has started?  You get some lazy criticism that it’s just an RTÉ love fest, does that annoy you?

Lst year we had one RTÉ person on the show, Des Cahill, and one from TV3.  This year we were accused of having no TV3 presenters but Maia Dunphy has a TV3 show.  We are looking for the best cast and there is no bias towards RTÉ.

This year’s press coverage has been off the charts.  The whole country is talking about it and that’s what drives other media interest as well.

The Social Media buzz has been very loud, have you focused on that?

Those things don’t just happen by accident.  We work hard to create the right kind of content that people will share.  We have expanded into Facebook Live this year with a whole pre-show from the studios and the numbers there have been very high.

Is the timing of the show an advantage in the post-Christmas programming period?

There is seasonality.  The Autumn schedule is important when people switch back on after the summer.

After Christmas delivers a more available audience and part of the contract with the BBC is that we don’t go head to head with their show which runs September to December.

In terms of planning for a show of this scale are you always on?

Well, we are already working on next season now.  we have started planning with RTÉ already and there are a couple of good reasons for that.

First, it’s a big show and you have to put a lot of thought into where to go next with it and keep making it better.

Secondly, there is real value in learning lessons from this year while you are in full train with it, not trying to revisit after the event.

One of my fundamental beliefs is that if we are ever in a position to do another series of a winning show we should never accept just rolling it out again.  It should be bigger and bolder and faster.  Nothing should ever stand still.

Innovation has to be at the heart of what you do, even in a format which has been around for a while, perhaps especially so.

Even in our first year, we felt we were innovating on the original format bible we got from the BBC. We introduced Facebook live. We introduced Can’t Stop Dancing.  The BBC then talked of them as ways you can sustain your show long-term even with broadcasters that have had the show for ten years.

 

Join us tomorrow for part two of our interview with Larry Bass where we talk about the celebrities, his hopes for how the show can expand and Marty.