Bibi Ballandi, Italian producer and CEO of Ballandi Multimedia, passed away this February after a long battle with cancer. The King of Saturday night shows and master of entertainment and variety programs, known for his humility and his capacity to create a magical world of beauty and poetry, made Italian TV history by changing the model and aesthetics of television. He built up a large group of writers, authors, and directors, who introduced a new way of producing television, deeply infused with his own particular style.
“Fly down to dodge rocks” (Vola basso per schivare i sassi) was the recurring phrase he would repeat to his collaborators. He never boasted of his success, but success was always with him, with astonishing numbers. Bibi made ratings history by pulling more than 12 million viewers with a whopping 43.8% primetime audience share with the Rai 1 show The Biggest Show After the Weekend.
The start of his career in the entertainment business in 2000 was marked by the creation of extravagant TV shows on Rai 1 following the tradition of Saturday night shows but also enriching the variety model with a new twist. Soon, the man who started as an agent of singers, artists and musicians, turned into the undisputed king of the Saturday night show on TV.
Bibi started with C’era un ragazzo (There Was a Boy) with Italian singer Gianni Morandi, then continued with Adriano Celentano’s 125 Milioni di cazzate (125 Million of Bullshit), La Bella e la Bestia (The Beauty and the Beast) with Lucio Dalla, Torno Sabato Sera (I’ll be Back Saturday Night), hosted by comedian Giorgio Panariello and discovered Fiorello, producing Fiorello Stasera pago io (I’m Paying Tonight) and Il più grande spettacolo dopo il weekend (The Biggest Show After the Weekend). Bibi Ballandi was able to achieve incredible results attracting millions of viewers. He also invented the one-man-show formula in Italy with Tonight CasaMika which was awarded for Best Entertainment Series at the prestigious Rose d’Or last year.
All of the best Italian artists worked with him: Andrea Bocelli, comedian Virginia Raffaele, dancer Roberto Bolle and every show produced by Bibi Ballandi was an extraordinary success. Another reason for this is that he had a very intimate connection with his artists; he was involved in their lives, expectations, fears; like a father and not only a producer or an agent.
The show that he loved and was most proud of was the TV event organized in Bologna in September 1997, on the occasion of the Eucharistic Congress in front of Pope John Paul II. Bibi Ballandi was able to convince Bob Dylan and many other artists like Andrea Bocelli, Italian singers Lucio Dalla, Gianni Morandi and Adriano Celentano, to appear and perform at the event. This was a significant religious event which Bibi turned into a TV spectacle that was broadcast simultaneously all over the world.
His deep devotion was an integral element of his personality: he was very religious, deeply and sincerely devoted to the Church and to God. He transmitted his ethical and moral values to his work in the TV Industry and that was unique. He wanted to entertain in an inspiring and uplifting way. His concept of TV was high quality, beauty, dreams, and atmosphere; he created epic shows that became the definition of beauty and grace. It was the trademark of his production style.
He used to say that he was a thinker - someone who likes to discover great talent and creativity and then make it explode in its magnificence: “I like to be part of the process”, he used to say. “I want to make them bigger. Sometimes an artist has a primitive talent and I want to turn it into a phenomenon”. And that is exactly what he did. He frequented local theaters and even small events, searching for new comedians and singers, and contributing to the formation of major stars.
He was also one of the first producers in Italy to understand the importance of international trends and formats. Early on, he found the BBC show Dancing with the Stars, now in its 13th season on Rai 1, and he also created the original singing kids’ talent show Ti Lascio una canzone (Leavin’ You A Song) with the aim of offering a contest where fun and entertainment were the primary elements, not the challenge or the competition.
Entertainment was not his only passion. In 2012, he started a new division called Ballandi Arts, focused on documentaries. In the same year, Sky Arte HD was about to start in Italy. Since the beginning, Bibi wanted to be part of the new Italian adventure. Though he was a simple person, he loved the arts and he produced more than 400 documentaries both for Sky Arte and Rai. In 2015, when Sky Arts Production Hub was set up in Milan as a new production center for cultural output for Germany, Austria, Italy, Ireland and UK, Ballandi Arts intensified its collaboration with Sky and produced the first pan-European talent show, Master of Photography (now in its third season), and many others like Italian Season, The Mystery of the Lost Caravaggio, Rising from the Ashes and Artists in Love. For the first time the same series of documentaries was simultaneously broadcast in five countries.
His unique style of producing series with elegance and beauty made his particular conception of the arts documentary inimitable. Series like Masterpieces Unveiled, Contact in collaboration with the Agency Magnum, The Art Exhibition of the Week, The Seven Wonders of Italy are examples of unparalleled beauty. Their defining characteristic was the capacity to combine Italian aesthetics with International storytelling and Anglo-Saxon pragmatism.
To his teams in Rome and Bologna, he was like a father; a master of humanity and sensitivity with the ability to transmit love and passion for the beauty of the TV shows he produced. For his family, in particular his beloved wife Lella, for all of us, the entertainment, passion, and beauty he created during his lifetime will be unforgettable. He will be forever in our hearts.