Wednesday 16 January 2019

Bass lives up to his motto

Determined TV producer Larry Bass has learned how to change 'No' into 'Yes', writes Jane Suiter

TV producer Larry Bass
TV producer Larry Bass

LARRY Bass, the TV producer synonymous with mega hits such as Popstars, You're a Star and The Apprentice, is a man on a mission.

"There are simply not enough hours in the day," he sighs as he rushes in from a series of phone calls.

Bass is producing The Apprentice on TV3 and is also in charge of Dragons' Den, which will hit our screens on RTE early next year. Filming on the latter will start soon.

Going to school in the late Seventies and early Eighties, Bass could never have imagined he would be involved with all this.

"I was never very studious and always very argumentative," he recalls. Although he does credit the Holy Child Comprehensive for kickstarting his creativity. The school had its own pirate radio station, the kids chose the music for their own discos, and it was generally progressive. The result, says Bass, was creative kids; his classmates included film director Paddy Breathnach, actress Jill Doyle and choreographer Pat Howe.

He began DJ-ing in pirate radio as a teenager and was soon running a DJ business around south Dublin. By the time he left school, he was making too much money to consider college. But in August 1984, his world stopped. A van Bass had been driving crashed. Bass himself was badly injured, spending four months in hospital, while one of his best friends died. By the time he was able to work again, the world had moved on and he ended up with a job as an attendant at Louglinstown Hospital.

Here Bass goes off on one of his hobby horses about the sheer scale of waste, mismanagement and misappropriation in the Irish public service. Suffice to say, he believes most public bodies need to be reconstituted from the ground up.

"Just because something has been happening some way for years does not make it right," he says.

In the meantime, Bass had been repeatedly applying for a job in RTE without success. The constant rejection must have stood him in good stead, and it spurred him to go back to college.

"We were not a studious family. Kids used to call to our house in the mornings to find out whether we were going to go to school that day or not."

He landed a place on a media plc course in Coolock and then transferred to communication in Rathmines.

His first venture after college was to set up a post-production facility with David Harvey -- now of City Channel. But he soon tired of being in the back office, and in 1999 set up ShinAwiL Productions with director Simon Gibney, whom he had meet at Coolock. The pair were soon run off their feet, making films looking back at Italia '90, the Esat BT Young Scientist Exhibition, and even the Fianna Fail ard fheis.

However, the dotcom bust meant the demise of some of the company's largest clients -- and ShinAwiL almost went with them.

But Bass is a survivor. His mother died when he was only 12, while his father always had to work very hard, so he developed a determined streak.

Gibney left and is now directing several shows, including Podge and Rodge and Fair City. Bass went to Las Vegas to a big industry get-together, where he heard all about a new format called Popstars which was sweeping the US.

"I knew this was a format that would work in Ireland, so I doorstepped Des Monaghan, said this was perfect for Ireland and we'd get Louis Walsh involved."

Walsh said 'no' at first -- but Bass harangued him until he changed his mind.

"I spent a short time selling life assurance, where we were taught that 'No' means 'Yes'," he laughs.

Walsh brought in Simon Cowell, and the rest is history. ShinAwiL became one of the most successful production companies around.

But if TV is a fickle business, music is more so, and after a long run RTE is now resting the format. "Turnover took a dive," admits Bass. But, true to form, he has come back fighting -- winning the right to The Apprentice on TV3 (which is peaking at around 400,000 viewers) and Dragons' Den, which will be shown on RTE in the New Year.

With the credit crunch, sponsorship from financial institutions -- Irish Permanent in the case of The Apprentice, and Bank of Ireland in the case of Dragons' Den -- has been essential.

But he will not be relying on these to keep the company going. Now with Monaghan of Screentime Australia installed as a partner, Bass is preparing to open an office in Belfast to win a greater share of BBC and Channel 4 budgets. He is also in talks with the BBC about a talent show and a Dutch-inspired factual show. He is also developing the corporate video part of the business, while Ireland's Next Top Model is coming to TV3 and a real-life crime series and an Irish sitcom are also in development.

Potential 'Dragons' Den' applicants can apply online at www.rte.ie/dragonsden or by phone: (01) 406 6433

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